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July 12, 2009
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I’m glad I’m not in the Air National Guard anymore, because I, along with my former comrades, would die. Not only would we die, but also we would die stupid, likely due to a friendly fire incident or taking a wrong turn on an Iraqi road trying to locate beer. We would kill our allies by putting them in a suicide mission while they tried to rescue us from our ignorance and our profound ineptness regarding the rules of engagement.

I say this with no malice, as I thoroughly enjoyed my experience serving my country, the state of Indiana, and my fellow Guardsmen. It’s just that we were prolific in our incompetence when it came to our ability to perform our job.

I was a full-time Guardsman, which meant I protected an air base for the state most weekdays, and one weekend a month and two weeks a year my job as a Security Police officer would revert to military status.

Regardless of our titles, we all committed job atrocities on both state and government time. The following exchange occurred between my shift supervisor and me at three in the morning. I was supposed to be in a guard shack monitoring base activity but instead was half asleep in the control room with two other Guardsmen:

Shift Supervisor: ”John.”

Me: “Hmmm.”

SS: “ Let me see your gun.”

Me: “‘kay “(hand him my loaded .38 pistol)

BANG.

For no explainable reason our shift supervisor fired a bullet from my .38 into the control room floor, barely missing the Desk Sergeant’s foot. Wide-awake now, I looked at my supervisor, “Bob, what happened?” I asked.

“I just shot a round into the floor,” Bob said, with an air of logic that made me feel like I asked a stupid question.

“Why?”

“I forgot it was loaded.”

This struck me as odd because Bob was the one who handed me the ammunition for my gun at the beginning of our shift and watched as I loaded it. Still, I accepted his answer because at three in the morning at an isolated military base with nothing to do except fight sleep, watch a clock, and guard the cornfield’s of Indiana from the omnipresent threat of the Godless red hordes of the Soviet Union, I understood Bob’s mind was fogged with the kind of stagnant thoughts that convinced him that shooting a hole in the floor made sense at the time.

Nothing jars one back from the edge of sleep like almost being shot. We realized that our commanding officers would probably be displeased by the now smoking hole in the floor, even though it was an honest mistake. The military’s like that though: rule oriented. Shine your boots, cut your hair, salute senior officers and don’t fire handguns for no apparent reason in a confined area: Picky, picky.

Bob went down to the gun vault and started searching frantically and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Fife- like  for a spare bullet, one that had not been indexed. At the end of each shift we had to turn our weapons and ammunition in, and if I came up a bullet short I would have been accountable for it. Keep in mind: your tax dollars were funding this absurdity.

Bob found the bullet, which I quickly chambered into my hastily cleaned .38 in an effort to rid it of the gunpowder smell. Problem solved? Not quite. Sergeant Jakowski, who by now had recovered from almost having his big toe shot off, came up with the ingenious solution of super gluing the carpet over the bullet hole in the floor. Who knew that superglue and gunpowder cause a chemical reaction which results in noxious smoke? None of us did. Two cans of Lysol later, the smell was masked enough to almost pass muster. Now we had to get rid of the foreign scent of Lysol, which we did by chain-smoking for the next two hours until we were satisfied the room had reverted back to its natural state of stank and grime.

The morning shift came in and nobody suspected a thing.

And stuff like this happened all the time.

Airman Donaldson managed to lock himself in A T-38 training jet he was supposed to be guarding after he discovered how to open and lower the cockpit.

Master Sergeant Patterson would embarrass us all by donning a camouflage flak jacket and helmet, putting on pair of too tight short shorts and combat boots, and then drunkenly run around the flight line, protecting an old fleet of Vietnam era F-4 fighter jets from falling into enemy hands.

And then there was Sergeant Golen.

God, how I miss Golen, and although I feel somewhat responsible for the verbal bruising and dirty tricks that we played on him on a nightly basis, I’m usually able to alleviate any feelings of guilt by reminding myself just how much of dope he was.

You see, we couldn’t help ourselves. Golen would attach shuriekens, or Chinese throwing stars, to his web belt. Imagine, on the remote (very remote) chance that an organized terrorist strike on the base occurred, and assume that said terrorists possessed enough weaponry to take out several Security Police officers armed with standard automatic rifles, there would be Sergeant Golen throwing his shurikens, standing in a kung-fu stance, slinging them into the skulls of our attackers as they tried in vain to escape the fury of Golen and his star throwing prowess.

Of course, I don’t believe this. In fact, I believe the terrorists would have had a good laugh. And then they would have shot him based on principle.

Once, on a particular exciting evening, an errant deer stumbled onto the base and Golen tried to chase it down with a bayonet. Deer are fast, and the bayonet was useless. I always wondered if Golen had thrown his shurikens at it. He did manage to cut himself on the bayonet, though, and mumbled an excuse that it was sharper than he had thought.

I remember Golen standing outside his guard shack, a black beret perched on his head, oversized mirrored sunglasses hiding his eyes, and muttering inane clichés like, “I feel like something’s going down tonight. It’s in the air.” My, oh my, we all thought, somebody is making up for some dramatic emotional deficits, of what, we could only speculate. I personally think he slipped in to the Guard in order for the military to make its quota for the mentally challenged.

Our local paper had a daily feature called today’s smile, in which a picture of someone would be printed in a small box. Underneath the box there would be a caption explaining why the person was smiling; Kathy is smiling because it’s her birthday. Golen’s wife had recently been the feature in Today’s smile, and with naughty glee my roommate and fellow Guardsmen, John, plastered the feature on a noticeable place where Golen was sure to see it. Golen’s wife is Asian, and John had crossed out the original caption and replaced it with, Shun-cho is smiling because it’s a Ninja holiday. Next to Today’s smile was the shift roster, and John had crossed out Golen’s wife’s name and put LBFMPBR, an acronym for Little Brown Fucking Machine Powered by Rice. It wasn’t the overt racism of what John had written that made us laugh, we had nothing against Asians, well all of us except for that one creepy Staff Sergeant who had a pair of blood stained pajamas that hung over his bed from a Viet Kong he had killed, no, we were bored, and Golen was our entertainment.

Golen came in, ignored our smirks (he was used to being smirked at wherever he went) and looked at the roster and Today’s Smile. He stood there for a second; silent, and then slowly turned around and with a quivering voice and said, “I have six bullets in this gun. The first one’s for me and the other five are for you.” He walked out, quivering, almost ready to cry. We didn’t smirk and for a moment and almost felt sorry for this poor shlub who was unable to grasp his idiocy. We sat for a moment or two and reflected on our shameful behavior until John got up and drew a moustache and beard on Shun Cho’s face. Then we laughed.

I, also, was a disgrace. Part of our job was to train for combat as the last bastion of defenders of an air base, and this ability required us to shoot firearms well, which I did not. I remember, after a night of heavy drinking, being on a firing range shooting my .38 pistol at a stationary target about twenty yards away. My hands were shaking and my headache was getting worse with the incessant retort of guns being fired around me. I aimed, shot, and accidentally hit a rock five feet in front of me, which exploded and sent shrapnel flying into the face of John, who jumped up in alarm, afraid that he’d been hit with a round. I once sat on guard duty for half a day with blanks in my gun (thankfully, their were no communist attacks that day!). Another time on the range, I was firing my M-16 and shot the clothes wire in half that was holding up the targets. I drank, smoked, and stole on government time. I was no better than a politician and didn’t need to be. At least that’s what we told ourselves. We’re the Guard, man. We’re always the last to go. We’ll never get called up.

Desert Storm changed that notion, and around the country Guard and Reserve units were told to get their personal things in order, including a will, because they were going to war. My unit never did get called up, and the U.S won Desert Storm. Golen’s shurikens remained in their pouch, never tasting the fresh blood of the savage Muslim.

    Those who serve in the Guard and Reserve today do so knowing that they may be the first to be called up in times of conflict, and many train accordingly, with dignity and resolve, proven by their daily victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, I can’t help but worry about the reservists who signed up for the extra cash so they could pay off their truck. Or those who have so romanticized the notion of being a soldier that they have ended up like Golen, becoming dangerous to themselves and to others.

 A reserve force, by definition, is nowhere near as well trained and motivated as our full-time soldiers who live and breathe military culture daily. When a reservist is called to active duty, he must give up his job, his wife, perhaps even his life for whatever cause the government has directed him to fight for. And it as honorable calling; I just hope the Golen’s don’t do more harm to us than our enemies.  

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