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Entry date: 5-22-2022 - Army continued - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

Turning 18, away from home, was interesting to say the least. I’d been, at least tangentially, in the army for a month at that point, and I had a full day to explore the base. Word got around that it was my birthday and there was a small crew of us that were making the rounds.

We had just gotten paid, so I was flush with cash. Between the paycheck and my side hustle slinging smokes, I felt like I was rich. There was still a shitty selection of music at the PX, but I did spend a little money that day at the uniform store. I bought some nice steel toed jump boots. I figured they would be something different than Doc Martin’s when I got home, and they were comfortable. I bought a few berets, too, even though I would never really earn them. I also bought an extra pair of uniform pants and some t-shirts. I think I may still have at least one of them somewhere.

After hitting all the regular spots, one of the guys said they had a surprise for me, and we went to this weird building that was a short walk from the PX. It ended up being a makeshift strip club and since it was my 18th birthday, I was the guest of honor.

This was my first ever strip club experience. Well, sort of a strip club. The girl who danced, and yes, you read that right. The one, singular girl, danced in a bikini. She did not actually get naked at any point, except a quick flashing of her boobs to me during one of the several lap dances I was given. She was not particularly attractive, though, at least to me and I think this was the beginning of the genuine discomfort I have always felt in these places. She seemed so uncomfortable being the only woman in a room full of soldiers.

One of the guys I was with, who was a bit older, kept sliding me beers, which was nice. They had Budweiser cans and I probably had about four of them during the hour we were there. They made me nice and sleepy on top of the Tylenol threes. When we got back to the barracks, I pretty much just ate dinner and passed out in my bunk.

The week after my birthday passed quickly. As I mentioned, manning the phone, and making copies of things, and filing other things kept me busy all day. I had plenty of time at lunch to sell some smokes and shoot the shit with the soldiers passing through. One day the base Command Sergeant Major came to the office, and he was amazing.

He was an older dude and kind of looked a bit like the tennis legend, Arthur Ashe. He had spent time in Phoenix, so we talked about it quite a bit and got along really well. The captain told me to stick with the Command Sergeant Major and take care of anything he needed so I walked around the whole area with him as he looked at things that needed to be fixed, improved, etc.

While we were inspecting the grounds, he was asking me lots of questions about what it was like to live there and my experience with the army. He seemed genuinely interested, so I shared with him my thoughts on things. At one point, he said, “You made the right decision to go home. This isn’t for you. It’s too bad, though. We need people like you.”

It made me feel really good and really bad at the same time. Our talk stuck with me for a long time and would often make me wonder if I really had made the right decision. I could have learned a lot from a guy like that. It almost made me feel bad about the fact that I was turning a good profit while I was there.


When Friday rolled around and we were in formation before dinner, the call for volunteers came and Lionel and I stepped up yet again. We got selected and were told to be by the payphones at 1800 hours so we could get taken into Columbus for a special duty. We were also told to wear our civilian clothes.

What? That sounded crazy to us. It also sounded fun.

We got into our civvies and took a little ribbing from the other fellas for it. I had my JFA shirt and black Smiths pants and black converse. I also had the black horned rimmed glasses they gave me (and I’ve worn ever since), so I was feeling like I was probably going to be the only punk in Columbus that night, but it felt good to be me again.

After a bit of a drive, we were in Columbus at a fairly large gathering hall. There was a big, cavern like room with a high ceiling, maybe three stories high. The room itself could hold about 3000 people, I’m guessing, maybe even four or five thousand. Our job for Friday night was to decorate for the AUSA (Association of the United States Army) Oktoberfest celebration that would happen the next afternoon.

We met some of the AUSA people, who were mostly all older, retired folks, and they told us what to do. There were four of us from Headquarters and Service Company and our first job was to blow up about a thousand balloons. Lionel and I were tasked with taking the balloons and making some sort of balloon sculpture out of a bunch of them that would be taken up and attached to the ceiling. We tried a few things, and nothing worked so it ended up looking like a cluster of grapes. The organizers seemed to like it, though, so up it went.

After the balloons were done, we started setting up the tables and chairs. They were expecting a record turnout for the event and wanted to make sure there was room for tons of people, so we were busy until about midnight setting it all up. As we were getting ready to leave, the organizers made sure with the sergeant we were with that we would get to come back and work again at the event, so Lionel and I were stoked. Another day in civilian clothes and the opportunity to see a ton of people seemed like a great idea.

It ended up being one of the craziest days of my young life.

See you tomorrow.

Liam being silly when he was about four.

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