Tag Archives: character

BASIC

5:30 a.m.
Rain, low/mid 40’s
August 28, 1990, my 18th birthday
Ft. Leonard Wood, MO

Up at that hour, I wished I was getting my gear loaded in the truck to fish or hunt.

No dice.

I was doing push-ups. In a parking lot. With a rifle across the back of my hands. Our entire platoon was. Ponchos, kevlar helmets, BDU’s, boots and full canteens. Rain in puddles around our hands and boot-toes, reflecting street-lights and the steam from our breath. I don’t remember why we were doing them, other than someone did something wrong. I quietly hummed happy-birthday-to-me between push-up counts. It was going to be another kick-ass day.

I’m not being sarcastic either. I loved basic training. I still hold to this day that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Our wedding reception/pig-roast a decade later and the birth of my kids shortly after that soundly rounding out the list.

I had to get my mom’s permission when I enlisted at 17. Had to admit in front of her that I smoked pot before too. Hey, its a federal offense if I said never! and then came up hot on my first piss-test…at least that’s what the recruiter said. Mom signed and left the room. I was due to report for duty in Missouri on August 3rd, 1990. The first day of Desert Shield.

Becoming a Combat Engineer was a 13-week come-to-Jesus meeting between my small-town, undisciplined self and a half-dozen Drill Instructors hell bent on forging steel from my small-town, undisciplined self. Tank-trail road marches. Push-ups. Mud and barbed-wire low-crawls. Explosive-device identification classes. Push-ups. Field-triage first aid classes. Road marches. Rifle and grenade ranges. Push-ups. Muscle failure PT at dawn. Foxholes and midnight perimeter guard. Push-ups. Mine field-sweeping exercizes. Nuclear, Biological and Chemical training (aka the gas chamber). Road marches in gas masks. Push-ups.

The impending war in Saudi was held over our heads from day one.

You’re all going to the desert, the Drill Sergeants would bark. Every last swingin’ dick.
If you don’t pay attention, you’re gonna die.

The harder I worked, the better I performed. The better I performed the less the Drill Instructors kicked my ass, which in an odd twist of psychology, drove me to work harder.

I wasn’t the scrawny, insecure, undisciplined kid that was late to the puberty party anymore. Not another kid lost in the wild, confusing, irrelevant shuffle of freshman year at a State school back home. For the first time in my life, I was on my own path. A leader and part of something much bigger than myself. It scared the shit out of me. But it was something I could own and be proud of.

I didn’t wind up going to the desert, assigned instead to an Ordnance Unit in Germany, then returning to serve stateside. Many of my friends did though…and many more served in Panama, Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan…are still serving.

I’ve moved on in another direction with my career and life path. But my time in the military and my cohort are never far from my thoughts. They never will be. Their sacrifice makes the freedoms I enjoy possible…freedoms I know I take for granted at times. Like the ability to write this blog. Or even something as simple and pure as spending time in the woods or on the water with my dad or my kids… for that alone I can’t express enough gratitude.

In the end, I wouldn’t have the perspective I do today without the…ahem…gift of those push-ups on my 18th birthday. I’m thankful, and proud, that I do.

Charlie - 35th, 3rd Platoon, Ft. Leonard Wood, 1990

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Filed under The road, Time in service

CHARACTER

I’ve been silently beating myself up a lot lately for being strict with my kids. Sometimes down-right hard-ass. I feel like I’m in a constant state of giving the evil-eye or saying use your head for something other than to put a hat on (which in turn draws the evil-eye from my wife). My struggle is between ensuring they have respect for others (and each other) and a voice telling me to lighten up, relax, let them be kids: Little lego-parts or several boardgames left out on the livingroom floor – no worries. Pushing each other into furniture, snowbanks or recycling bins on the porch – looks like fun. Leaving a prize in the toilet for whoever’s next in line – no biggie. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s tough for me. I get hung-up on the little stuff. And while I have theories, in the end I really don’t know why. Psychology is a bitch.

This past Monday, I had to work late and was subsequently late for my son’s wrestling practice – which I usually help coach. Still in my street-clothes, I pulled up a seat against the wall in the wrestling room with some other dads and watched Cam practice. He had no clue I was there. It’s been said that character is who you are when you think no one is looking. Well, I had a rare chance to see how my 6 year old handles himself thinking that dad wasn’t around.

When the coach blew his whistle, he listened. When the coach hollered “double-leg takedowns. Go!” he took his partner to the mat like the move was second nature. After he took him down, he extended his hand and helped him up. A dad sitting next to me hit my arm and said “you’ve got a good kid.”

Coach blew his whistle and started to get the kids lined up, smallest to biggest, for “wrestle-offs”–the two smallest kids wrestle to a take-down, the winner takes on the next in line and so on. Turning to go line up, Cam stopped and looked around, spotting me and my big grin. We exchanged thumbs up and I told him “you shoot first.” He turned and walked over to line up, standing taller than I think I’ve ever seen him. He was ready to roll.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey