I spent last week at the Rosemount armory training on these cute little satellite terminals. It was a bonus quest of sorts – the kind of training opportunity that crops up once in a while that makes for a nice change of pace from fixing peoples’ computers.
Of course, we went out for lunch every day that week, and when you’re tooling around the suburban Twin Cities in uniform, it doesn’t take long before you feel a little out of place. Everywhere we went we were greeted with stares of various kinds: confused stares, furtive stares, admiring stares. Some people thanked us for our service – which is welcome, to be sure, but it always leaves one uncertain as to how to respond (“you’re welcome”? “anytime, anywhere baby”? “RED BULLS!”?) – while most others just seemed unsure of how to handle our presence.
One poor waiter at Ruby Tuesday stammered when he talked and looked like he might pee his pants at any moment; of course, it didn’t help that P.P. whipped out his Smith & Wesson combat folder with a blade about 3.5″ long (all black finish, natch) and started admiring it just as the guy walked up to the table. We encountered other soldiers, too: a manager at one restaurant was in the Guard, as part of DISCOM (Division Support Command); at another, we encountered a trio also from Rosemount. A waitress at yet another place asked if there was an installation around here – she didn’t think so, but then six soldiers walked in. She had just moved from Georgia, and had been active duty Air Force. She said, “I should’ve gone Guard instead of active duty…would’ve been way easier!” Guess she didn’t see the combat patches on our shoulders.
And there’s been an explosion of military pride here, even though Minnesota is far from any major active duty installation of any branch of service (Ft Snelling and Ft McCoy don’t really count). It seemed like every other car had National Guard plates or veteran plates or the new Iraq War Veteran plates, or a US Army sticker, or something. One guy’s rear window was festooned with Army stickers – 1st Cav Armor, staff sergeant rank, Desert Storm vet, OIF vet – and his Florida license plate had the Army seal and read SSG [name]. That’s some hooah shit right there!
It’s both pleasurable and burdensome to know how people look at you when you’re in uniform. Always in the back of my mind is the knowledge that for many people – especially here, far from the military traditions of the south – I might be one of the few soldiers (sailors/airmen/marines) that someone would see. Whenever I put on the uniform, whether I want it or not, I am the Army – my behavior, bearing, and apperance reflect on all soldiers everywhere. It’s something that’s easy to forget, and especially for young soldiers, it can be a strange burden to bear. But in this time, in this war, the battle is fought as much in perception, the media, the imagery as on the streets of Baghdad or Fallujah.