Ryan had so many stories to share with us after we met him at the USO* last night – some good, some not so good, but never was he negative in anything he had to say. He is ordinarily on the quiet side, so for him to jabber on and on about everything was a pleasant surprise. I think he said “it’s the little things” at least a dozen times, in reference to what he now appreciates.
While at OSUT, Ryan attended church once out of curiosity, but he did not find it to his liking. I don’t think he’s ever been to a service before, with the exception of his baptism into the Catholic Church as an infant (I wanted to make Grandma happy). He’s been inside churches before, especially back when he was a Cub Scout, but I don’t believe he’s ever sat through an actual service.
So, he went along with most of the other guys to a non-denominational Protestant service, as he wanted to partake in a new experience. He said it was interesting to see how things worked, but it just wasn’t for him. He also said they had to march to and from the service, and his feet were already so torn up, so he figured he’d rather stay behind, cleaning his rifle and picking up cigarette butts, opting instead on working meditations and reflection instead.
Speaking of his feet – wow. I sent him moleskin, which he said did relieve some pain, but after he came home last night and began to settle in, my heart just ached for him. I waited tables for several years, I delivered newspapers in gym shoes through black, salty slush, and I’ve stood at cash registers for entire full-time shifts without an opportunity to sit, and never have my feet looked so bad. I do believe some hot water and Epsom salts are in order, along with some sage-infused olive oil rubbed into them while chanting to help them heal. I can now see where his physical issues reside, so while he is home, I will be helping him toughen up his feet the gradual way.
I’ve learned quiet a few details about his post’s military culture, which may or may not be similar to the cultures of others. The following are outlined for the curious, though it may be unsettling or offensive to some readers:
There are fundies down there, some of which are high ranking, but they are indeed the minority. Even the Chaplains, which some would assume would be the most likely to push their beliefs on others, are actually very considerate and tolerant. Most folks are Christian, but that is not the highest point of their identities. Actually, many of the recruits and personnel seem to be merely Christian by default or happenstance, but then again, he hadn’t gotten quite as much of a chance to get to know them better. To further clarify, even the fundies do not truly concern themselves on another person’s beliefs, as the Mission is number one. But, they relish discussing their beliefs, even passively, at every opportunity. Ryan just figures “that’s their thing” and went with it as being the tolerant person he is. It’s not like their last names are Phelps or anything! Anything and everything posted on the message boards (and their accompanying pictures) is viewed by the Drill Sergeants, and the information is passed around freely. They don’t judge a recruit by his family outright, but they do take certain behaviors into consideration when sizing him up. Some Drill Sergeants’ preferred term of endearment is “damn retard”. (I guess they didn’t get the memo.) Using the derogatory word “fag”, even ala South Park, is unacceptable by anyone. However, calling someone a Chapter 15 is standard, though Ryan did not specify if it was only the recruits calling each other that or not. Ryan knows that is insensitive and just plain wrong, but he sure has taken a liking to “…unlawful carnal knowledge” sprinkled in any and all conversations. Jeez, I’m not even that bad! Outright misogyny is not tolerated, whether or not a woman is present or even in earshot. However, like the tap dance around calling someone a “fag”, calling someone a “buttercup” is the norm. As too in Texas, football is sacred, and pro athletes are revered as saints. The food is fairly decent, even for someone who is overly picky. Raw, fresh fruits and vegetables are widely available, though vegans would not be able to consume the required 3000 calories a day, since there is simply not enough “chow time” to consume the few animal-free offerings. Desserts are available, but pity be to the recruit who takes a slice of chocolate cake! In the MREs, the cookies are okay to eat, but the candy snack packs are to be turned into the Drill Sergeant.
Taking all of that into consideration and then some, I’m not at all surprised Ryan was so appreciative of the little things, even the simple act of sleeping between the sheets. Most guys sleep on top so they can save a few moments in the morning making the bed from scratch.
The Chaplain did speak with Ryan about his return, and acting as a gentle liaison on behalf of Ryan’s favorite Drill Sergeant and the Commander, he basically told Ryan the Army could put him to much better use than as an Infantryman. He told Ryan about looking into becoming an Officer, as he believes Ryan would do very well there, based on his knowledge of military history, his high line scores and his tenacious spirit. The admissions director at West Point is now heavily recruiting from the enlisted pool, as their graduation rates are depressingly low. With the war now entering its tenth year, I can only assume at least some of the legacies may be opting to choose a civilian career.
Ryan seems very interested in exploring that option, as he meets the basic qualifications, and he has a Battalion Commander vouching for him. It does indeed sound like a wonderful opportunity, and I believe with the recommendation letters he received, he definitely has a crack at it. Without quoting verbatim, here are just some of what the Commander had to say:
“…I fully appreciate the importance of selecting the right individuals to become Soldiers in the United States Army. PVT _______ has demonstrated the requisite mental attributes and skills to serve. His intelligence, maturity, and professionalism make him uniquely qualified. He has my highest recommendation…
“…It would be a disservice if he were not granted another opportunity to serve as a Soldier…
“Ryan _______ is extremely motivated and displayed all the intangibles of having ‘heart’…
“…If every Soldier had the desire and motivation that Ryan _______ possesses, our jobs as leaders would be considerably easier…
I do not give my recommendation lightly.”
I told Ryan I have reviewed literally hundreds of resumes and attached reference letters, and never once have I seen one so glowing and from a VIP. I showed it to my boss, and he was equally floored, as were everyone else who read the letters. Needless to say, I sent an inquiry email to the admissions director at West Point with the letters attached, just to see if it would pique his curiosity at all. (I received an auto-response he’s away until Tuesday, so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if I hear back.)
So yes, at this point, it appears a door has been closed but a very large window has been opened! In hindsight, I find it interesting too Ryan entered under a Full Moon and returned under a New. Sure, it can be construed as pure coincidence, and the cynic in me says that’s all it is, but the Pagan in me wants to believe otherwise.
* I will say I truly love the USO. I have been looking for a place to volunteer time rather than money and/or goods for several years, and it seems to be just the sort of thing that suits me well. Half of it looked like Tony Soprano’s media room, with big comfy chairs and couches centered around a giant flat screen TV – sports bars take note! Another portion was more like a breakfast area in a nice hotel, with plenty of healthy and snacky foods and drinks freely available, as well as free computers open for folks to check their email and such.
The one at O’Hare is also always open and away from most common areas, so it’s pretty safe and secure. That’s just so nice for military personnel traveling; they don’t have to drop money on a hotel if they’re unable to afford it or worry about missing their flights. And, because it is located before the security checkpoints (and nearest the parking garage), it served as the ideal place to meet Ryan – O’Hare is just so incredibly big and meandering to flying novices like us!