Shattered

There really was a time when I was the All American Boy. An overly-sheltered White boy from the suburbs of a major city in the Midwest. I have stood before a Congregation and announce my calling to the Ministry. I never played sports, for one reason or another, but my parents didn’t believe in snowblowers or gas powered lawnmowers (At least, not until I moved out), so I was in surprisingly good shape for someone who has seen every Gilligan’s Island episode.

I desperately wanted to be GI Joe. We took the ASVAB at my technical school, and I scored a 96%. This was not because I knew all the answers so much as I was a dyslexic Printer who sees forms differently than other people. I was always the ‘forms guy.’

The core blood of most Printworks in the 90’s was medical forms. The challenge was that Hospitals in the Northeast are old and well established. It was not uncommon that a form ordered in bulk in the 70’s had finally run out, and you’d get a rush order for the next box that would last for 20 years. There was also the chance that it was another Shop’s form, but it wasn’t going to be anymore.

No matter how intricate the form, I could have it reproduced in 20 minutes, down to the ‘mistyped’ form number signature, 3° skewed, that shops use to identify their work. I could have an original form in 15. This was on a CRT monitor using Aldus Pagemaker.

It was in this stage that it was finally discovered that I was dyslexic. Years of being labeled an underachiever in school, and it took a Printing Teacher looking at my notes to find out. To me, a form looks like a completely different creature than what you would see, and if I were asked to print a multiple choice ‘fill in the circle completely with a #2 pencil’ form, based on the answers I knew, I was able to match, with apparent great accuracy, the randomization of the rest of the form.

It was intentional, I assure you. The Army recruiters would tell a story about ‘some girl’ who had been ‘told the whole time that, on the ASVAB, when in doubt, put “C.”‘ So, test day comes and she put “C” for every answer, passed with an 86% and caused a massive scandal. So, we were told to do the best we could with what we knew but skip any of the ones that we weren’t sure about. We were then told to ‘Christmas Tree’ the rest. If it looked like it should have a dot in a specific space for proper dispersal, give it one.

Though I was obviously thrilled at achieving a grade that assured me of Officer’s Training, the Realist in me could admit quite frankly that I had only known half of the answers legitimately, and even some of those I changed when they didn’t look like it matched the randomization I had in my brain. Part of me wondered if that might not be the point, but I was 17 with an overdeveloped sense of guilt.

My original plan was to become Chesty Puller. The Recruiting Office was one of the few places that I was allowed to ‘hang out’ at as long as I liked. I was not only enamored with becoming a Marine, it also helped that the Marine Recruiting office was right across the street from Pizza King, which always had the coolest video games in their lobby, and both were on my walk home from the Library. My parents thought I was at the Recruiters a lot more than I was, and always willing to vouch for you if you at least stopped in to say, “Hello.”

In the end, I betrayed their kindness. The Army Recruiter swept in with a better story, assuring me that he would give me choices that the Marines could not. ‘Do you know that the Marines make you buy all of your uniforms? We give you the first set for free. Hell, you don’t get a decision on MOS in the Marines.’

Much later, I came to realize that this was because 17 year olds make bad decisions.

With GI Joe firmly in mind, I decided that my quickest path to the Green Berets was Infantry. Luckily, being the 90’s, this was not a deadly decision. Not so lucky was the fact that, prior to Afghanistan, they were still teaching Infantry the old-school way, with 30 miles road marches and 5+ mile runs.

It was during one of these 5 mile runs that both of my tibias (shin bones) broke. It was the beginning of the end.

I turned down 4 offers of Medical Discharge before I accepted the fifth. I had been holding out for an MOS change, but when you have been on crutches for a year and even Walter Reed Army Medical Center can’t put you back together, you get labeled a ‘Soldier Without Potential.’

It was good for me. If I had it to do over… I would have been a Marine.

Anon. Infantry Soldier jumps the rail at the Fort Benning Infantry Museum to pose with a display. 1995

Anon. Infantry Soldier jumps the rail at the Fort Benning Infantry Museum to pose with a display. 1995

I am pretty sure this is the only picture of my in Uniform. I am standing funny because I have left my crutches behind on the railing.

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