A couple of weeks ago we had our last drill as B Company, 134th Signal Battalion. (Yes, this post is quite timely.) Of course, the battalion colors had long since been cased – the deactivation ceremony took place before we even returned from Iraq. Nonetheless, it was the last drill with the “Midwest in the Mideast Alumni Club,” if you will; going forward, everyone would be either retiring, ETSing (Expiration [of] Term of Service), or going to various units throughout the state (or elsewhere).
We even wore the old green uniforms instead of the desert tan – a look that’s sooo 1998, especially compared to the intriguing-yet-ugly new Army Combat Uniform (ACU).
That Saturday night, Bear and Twizzy and I decided to hit up the local watering hole and acquire some food (since I had eaten some poisoned M&Ms earlier in the day and had thus skipped dinner due to some amazing stomach cramps). We walked in (still in uniform, of course) and ordered a couple of drinks, and sat around trying to maintain a conversation over the clumsy mixing of the amateur DJ. Then it sort of hit me: here I am, soldier in the United States Army, veteran of the Iraq war, sitting at the bar with my “war buddies.” It was a scene of “life imitating art,” a type of scene that, to me, happens on TV or in movies or video games but not in real life, and certainly not when I’m the main character. (Hey, is that egocentric or what?) It was also a self-conscious realization that people seeing us didn’t see Delobius or Bear or Twizzy; instead, they saw “US Army Soldier”, with whatever connotations that may have had for each observer.
A man came up to us and slapped a $10 bill on our table, saying thanks for serving, and walked away. The generosity of people still amazes me – I just spent my whole day playing Mario Kart at the armory while waiting for other people to get their TA-50 inspected, and this guy just gave me money for it! I know, I know – he was expressing his gratitude for those of us in uniform and our service, not for the specific mundanity that fills much of our time in the Army.
Still, it seemed like the start of some kind of joke: “Three soldiers walk into a bar…”