Going around in public in uniform is like being a combination leper – rock star. Depending on the venue, you can be either, or both – but it seems to be always at least one of the two.
It’s hard to tell which it might be on any given outing. A few weeks ago, a group of us soldier types went to a local burrito purveyor for lunch. As we were getting our drinks, Hootkoop nudged me and said, “Hey Delobi, Carrot-Top over there won’t stop staring at me.” I glanced over, and sure enough, a tall scrawny white guy with a bush-like hairdo was just staring at us, apparently shocked or something. This is fairly common. Also common is the head-turning as you enter someplace – nothing makes you feel self-conscious like a crowd of heads rotating to follow you, turret-like.
The rock star treatment is almost as common as the staring. This is particularly common when you’re by yourself, or with a large group (4+ soldiers). Typically, it takes the form of someone approaching and thanking you for your service. If that’s all it is, then it’s appropriate, and appreciated. But the “U.S. Army” on the left breast of my uniform must translate into “Please Talk To Me About Inane Shit” in some dialect with which I’m not familiar, because sometimes people come up with absolutely incredible things to say.
One day I went to the gas station down the street from the armory to get some cash. Having retrieved the money, I decided to break a $20 bill, so I grabbed a candy bar and headed for the register. On the way there, some random guy – halfway out the door, mind you – looked over his shoulder and yelled, “Hooah, sergeant!” What do you say to that? I think my response was something like, “yup.” Once at the register, the vacuous blonde girl asked me, “So like, what do you guys do all day?” I thought about saying something snarky like, “oh, you know, impale babies and bunny rabbits on bayonets,” but thought better of it. I told her I did computer support. A relieved look crossed her face. “Oh, that’s good. Because if you had to, like, stand out in front of a gate all day, that would really suck.” I could do nothing but agree with that bit of wisdom.
Wearing a uniform also invites descriptions of everyone else’s military service. Most commonly, it brings out the tales of the dirtbags and how they were somehow “robbed” of some promotion, duty position, or award that they oh-so-rightly deserved. Either that, or it brings out the crusty “in-my-day” type of stories intended to one-up whatever hardships you might have experienced.
Speaking of dirtbags, I saw that guy at the GameStop store the other day. I had to restrain JoKur from going up and busting him out. I wanted to do it myself, though – “So, how was Iraq? Kill a lot of hajis, did you? How’s life as an ’11-bullet-sponge’?”