It’s not all that often that I actually sit down and tell stories about my time in the military. Some of them I have honestly forgot. Others are actually a little too painful to put in print yet. I’d like to think that my contribution to the Michael Moore book “Will They Ever Trust Us Again?” encapsulates my feelings on the war in Iraq and things about the military in general. But those are stories for another time.
However, there are a few tales here and there that are of an extremely positive and memorable nature. Take for instance something happened when I was in basic training. The division that I was placed in upon my arrival at RTC Great Lakes was what was called a 900 division. To quickly explain it, we performed ancillary duties around the base and performed ceremonial tasks during presentations and special events. So if you have ever been to a military pass in review ceremony, we were the people holding the flags and marching really straight. Every other day we would rehearse these extremely choreographed marching patterns. We had to be really on the ball with this stuff, because every week when there was some sort of special event we would be pressed into service. Marching around with the flags and standing still for long periods of time.
People thought we kind of had it easy, because they thought we got special treatment. For the most part, this was completely untrue. When most of the other recruits on the base would be sitting doing nothing on a Sunday, we would be rehearsing for hours at a time. Because when it came down to our own graduation, we would be performing the flag movements for our own graduation. Talk about pressure.
But for the special treatment, every once in a great while we would have something come up that would require us to go off base. For someone that had spent the past couple of months where their entire world was this couple of acres forty miles north of Chicago, the opportunity to go off base was a very big deal. Our occasion to go out into the real world was that the Chicago White Sox were sponsoring a basic training division. And they were going to be swearing them in at Comiskey Park before a game. Coupled with the fact that we were going to be standing in for the national anthem, we were pretty psyched. Some of the folks in our group had probably never seen a patch of grass as big as that ball field. We were now all going to be standing on an honest to god major league ballfield.
The ceremony itself was pretty short. They marched the sponsored White Sox division right up to home plate, had them do the swearing in, and ushered them off before anyone really noticed anything different. Then the rest of us formed along the warning track while they played the national anthem. As a baseball fan, being part of the national anthem during a pro baseball game was a pretty awesome experience. I remember that the wind was blowing pretty heavy that night. Must have made for a very awesome visual. If that’s the only time I ever step foot on a major league ballpark, that ten minutes was worth the other four years I was in the navy. Due to the start time of the game, and the fact that we had to be back on base by ten pm, we had to rush back on the bus before the first pitch was thrown. We had done our job and we were back on our way to Great Lakes. I did take a couple of steps onto the centerfield grass right on the edge of the warning track. Pretty damn cool.
About a third of the way back to the base, our RDC(drill instructor) realized that by the time we got back it would be way past chow time. And seeing as how we all did such a wonderful job, there was no way he was going to settle with just giving us warmed over sack lunches. That and he was hungry as hell. So he makes the announcement that as long as we don’t act like total fools, he was having the bus driver stop at a McDonalds and we had forty five minutes to gorge ourselves. Now imagine this, we had all, sixty or so of us been stuck on the base for a couple of months. We were being told on ten minutes notice we were pulling into a McDonalds. I swear to you there were people miracling money right out of thin air. Somehow I managed through sheer force of will conjured up forty dollars. I can only imagine the shock of the people behind the counter when we pulled up. Sixty people all in dress white Navy uniforms pulling up to the McDonalds counter. I think that day was the single largest of consumption of fast food in the history of fast food. I remember personally consuming two Big Macs, one 20 piece, a large chocolate shake and a bag of fries. Quite literally, a whole bag. A whole field of Idaho potatoes gave their lives just for this one serving of French fries. But an hour or so later the illusion was split and we were back on the base. But at the very least, that evening gave me a positive story that I can tell people for the rest of my live. Like when I knocked Oliver North into a wall by accident. But that’s another story for another time.