In the winter of 1992, I enlisted in the United States Army, per way of my local recruitment center, situated in a strip mall between Don Reuben’s Mexican Grill and The Dollar Tree. I had a desire to go to college and pay for it and a greater desire to get the fuck out of my house ASAP. And a convincing friend named Bill Smith. Bill had already enlisted and was given the spiel about an instant upgrade to Private 2.0 for becoming, what I was told AFTER I had arrived to basic training, a “buddy fucker.” I was a perfect candidate: wide-eyed, trusting, directionless and I came from a cult upbringing so I’d believe damn near anything (I’ve since then sloughed that off, so don’t get any ideas about bridges or snake oil).
I arrived at Fort McClellan in beautiful Anniston, Alabama in one of the coldest winters that area had seen in over 60 years. Yaaaaaaaaaaay. It’s where I experienced my first snowstorm and also my real first taste of pure, unfiltered racism, the likes I haven’t seen since. Taking into account I’ve lived in Brooklyn. I passed more signs that said “no niggers” and the specific “no nigger haircuts” than my suburban LA County brain could handle. It took me all of one day to realize, “I think I’ve made a horrible mistake.” That coupled with the fact that after years of doing what I was told and following the company line, with bouts of rebellion against my dad and against the church in which I was raised, I decided NOW was the time to start questioning everything. I was a bad soldier. “Move that post!” “Where? What’s it for? Why?” “DROP!” That became code for ‘do push-ups’ after almost no time in training. I did my fair share of push-ups, not for insubordination, but more for just being kind of a pain in the ass. I thought I was HILARIOUS. I was alone in this thinking. “Private Norvick, you’re kind of like a square peg in a round hole.” “Drill sergeant, all my life. Just waiting for my square hole.” “DROP!” I wasn’t alone, really. Pretty much most soldiers, from what I could see, were kind of pains-in-the-asses in their own special way. You had the ex-Folk gang member from Chicago who tried to fuck his way through the female barracks and from what I can tell, might have. You had the sleepwalking frat boy who kept talking about cheese in his sleep. You had the die-hard, hillbilly good ol’ boy, who just couldn’t stop rolling his eyes at the drill sergeants (to be fair, he was probably the best soldier on the whole base and could shoot the wings off a gnat). It took all sorts to defend the country, I guess. Most of my time in the service consisted of running around in the Alabama wilderness avoiding brown recluse spiders and smelling like the grease trap from a Burger King.
Things were rolling along smoothly and I had finished basic training and had graduated to AIT, or ADVANCED INDIVIDUAL TRAINING, in my MOS, or MISSION OPERATION SPECIALTY, of fifty-four bravo, more commonly known as Nuclear-Biological-Chemical Soldiers. Now for the fun stuff. I thought. I did get to go through a nuclear reactor in full gear and I did work with CS gas (tear gas) A LOT. And when I say “work with”, I mean “get thrown in my face by drill sergeants constantly.” It was also a lot of filling up smoke machines with smoke juice on the back of Hummvees (before there were Hummers, they were actual army vehicles) or learning how to give epi-pen shots in case of a nerve gas attack. NBC is more about support and trying to keep people from dying, I wasn’t the Mad Dirty Bomber Who Bombs at Midnight.
Coming up to the end of AIT, I had a small accident. I had a bum ankle through high school and it decided one day, “FUCK THIS RUNNING. I QUIT.” I sprained it. Badly. I was informed in the infirmary that I had possible tendonitis and they COKED ME UP on codeine. This was right at the end of training. I had one more PT test to do and I wasn’t even close to fully recovered, but I could walk and run. Unfortunately, I looked like someone had shot me in the butt when I did. And because I made the awful, awful mistake of stating on my recruitment papers that I had a pre-existing problem with my ankle, ZERO FUCKS GIVEN by them. They gave me two choices: heal up, recycle and go through training again, or try to do the run then and if I failed, I’d get the GI Bill money I’d earned and an honorable discharge (not medical because I wasn’t broken enough). I had no real desire to recycle, so I said, “Let’s do this.” What I did was two miles in 17:54. I was required to do it in 16:36. Home again, home again, jiggity jog.
I found out later that orders had still been issued for me to be attached to a special forces unit in Hawaii. I would’ve been their on-site NBC guy and from the timeline that I worked out, that unit would’ve been sent to Somalia. During 1993. Black Hawk Down in the house. I don’t know that I would’ve died, but let’s just say that it does play itself out in my head on days like today. My friend, Bill, was deployed there and made it back, I’m happy to say. I know that I’m lucky that I was sent home regardless, but I have definitely changed a lot of my philosophies about war and its glorification since then. I still mourn the loss of children thrown at other children to make old men feel young again. I’m happy I live in a country where I get to say that on the internet, but less happy I’m in a country where that’s true more often than it should be. I don’t thumb my nose at this country, but I do question why war is becoming less of a necessity and more of a constant. Happy Memorial Day everyone.