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Entry date: 5-6-2022 - Almost Zero Hour to Army Green - Letters to My Friends

Dear Friends,

As I look back on the whirlwind that 1987 was for me on so many levels, I can’t help but think of the fateful day when I was back at Christown and being presented with my offer from the US Army. Not to brag, but I had scored very high on the ASVAB test. This was reflected in the extremely long print out of jobs I was qualified to do for our country.

It was kind of obscene, really. I had a huge list of jobs that I would be guaranteed to have if I just signed on the dotted line. Among the ones that I now look back on and just shake my head were translator, nuclear weapons-related work, journalist, and just about anything in medical that didn’t require an MD. I remember the slimy recruiter telling me how great the translator gig would be since there was so much work for good Army translators at the UN in Belgium.

I didn’t want any of those jobs, though. I wanted to go airborne. I wanted to jump out of planes, so I took infantry. What a dumbass. Seriously. I could have gone through all kinds of great training that would have set me up for a killer career after the army and I chose airborne.

It was ill-fated from the get-go.

I talked it over with my mom because I was only 17 and she had to sign off. I talked to my grandfather. I talked to my friends. I argued that I hated school and didn’t want to work some stupid job. I said I would earn a bunch of money for college, see the world, and could even take college classes at the base in my spare time to get ahead.

Essentially, I spewed out all the nonsense the recruiters had been telling me. Eventually, I talked my mom into agreeing to sign the papers and I enlisted in the Army on a delayed entry program. I would get my summer after graduation to sew some wild oats and then I would leave in September for four years with airborne guaranteed. I was going to earn my maroon beret.

Before things became super official, I had to take a physical.

The experience was the closest thing to how joining the military is portrayed in movies or TV. I went down to the MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) building on 7th Street near downtown after a long night of partying. This was the first attempt to get out of it on my behalf.

I had been lectured by my recruiter about how testing positive for any drug would get me kicked out. During one of our many talks I had disclosed that I liked to party a bit and he warned me, pretty sternly, I might add, that the US Army took drug testing very seriously and if I came up dirty, I would not be allowed to enlist.

So, I continued to smoke weed and do a few other things I’ve already alluded to here. The night before physical, I partied it up and had a few substances in my blood and urine, for sure at 7am the following morning when I peed in the cup and had blood drawn. I thought I was toast, for sure, but nothing was ever mentioned. So much for the US Army taking that stuff seriously.

During the physical I was poked and prodded (except in the nether region…I guess I was too young) and had to bend things and such. I told the doctors about my recent concussion that had cost me my sense of smell. They asked so many questions about everything to do with the human body that I felt like I was taking the most intense test ever. I was honest, though, about everything except what I had been doing the night before.

If I remember correctly, I didn’t even sleep the night before. I stayed up all night. I figured, “why not?” What could it hurt? In the end, it hurt nothing. I passed with flying colors, and we were on for a 9/15/87 departure. I even got to be sworn in, but not the official one. It was like the Army and I gave each other a promise ring.

After that, which was probably in March or so, my recruiter touched base with me every week or so. He would make sure I was getting my exercise routine going and I was. My mom and I joined a little gym on 40th Street and Thomas and we went several days a week. I was getting in decent shape. I knew I had to be able to do 25 uninterrupted pushups (piece of cake), 50 sit ups, and run two miles in less than 15 minutes (I think) to pass my fitness test once I got to Fort Benning.

I was ready on all fronts and as the day got closer and closer, it was a weird mixture of being very nervous, scared, and excited. I had never left home before. Well, except for the time the summer before when I ran away for a weekend. That’s another story (damn, I have to stop writing that). I was going to be, sort of, on my own for the first time in my life. It really was exciting and, in many ways, I was ready to go.

Sure, there were a few things I was on shaky ground about. I had met a girl. I have mentioned Suzi a few times. I met her with about six weeks to go before I was supposed to leave. She was a force of nature, to be sure, and I have to think it was the mohawk I was sporting that caught her eye. We met at Dick’s Drive In which was a popular place with folks my age then in Tempe. It made leaving very difficult, for sure, but what could I do. Uncle Sam and I had our promise rings.

See you tomorrow.

Michael, Frog, and Mark the night before I left for the Army. Picture by me.

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