A Soldier's Choice
It is quite unnerving to be summoned to the Battalion Commander’s office, even on a good day. However, when your Section Chief bails you out of a German jail just two days prior, you know your visit will not be a pleasant one.
I don’t know which bothered me more, the armed guard at my side or the fact that no one would believe that I was justified in my actions.
As we approached the closed door of Colonel Radcliff’s office, I found it odd that he had two guards stationed on either side of it. They must have been newbies because I didn’t recognize either one of them. This was not my first trip to his office, but then it was the first under these circumstances.
“So much for his famous open door policy.” I muttered as we came to a stop three paces from the door.
“You’d do well to check that attitude soldier.” The guard at my side scolded, before announcing our arrival.
“Send him in!” Colonel Radcliff barked at him from behind his desk.
I marched into the room, snapped to attention, and saluted the Colonel. “Sergeant Crow, reporting as ordered, Sir!”
“At ease trooper.” He commanded, returning my salute before retrieving his cigar from the ashtray.
I let my gaze drift over the two men in the room as I assumed the at ease position. One bore a single star on either shoulder that marked him as a general. The other soldier was a Command Sergeant Major. Both men bore the much-coveted Ranger tab and were holding black berets. I guess JAG was sending in the big guns for this one.
“This is General Seaton and Sergeant Major Stevens. Sergeant Crow, I have just been going over your records here. This is quite a mixed bag I’m holding in my hand. On one hand, I see several medals and achievement awards. This is absolutely stellar for a soldier your age. On the other hand, you are constantly in some sort of trouble, always pushing the limits of the law. Did you know your squad leader recommended that we seek your discharge on a section 8? Do you know what that means?”
“Yes sir, I do. It means Lieutenant McCrae thinks I’m crazy.” I answered, hoping it wasn’t a rhetorical question.
“Your damn right he does. It says here that he observed you jumping out of your barracks window and nearly landing on him. Your room is on the second floor, why would you do such a thing?”
“Sir, we were almost out of beer and the PX was about to close. I thought the window would be a much faster means of egress than the stairs.” I replied, trying not to let my face slip into a smile.
“Well, your just a regular comedian aren’t soldier?” Colonel Radcliff asked, clearly boggled by my audacity.
I knew better than to say anything. There was clearly no right answer to that question.
“It says here that you have been busted six times for assault. You must really enjoy fighting. Do you have an inferiority complex son?”
“No sir, I just have a little trouble knowing when to stand down.”
“And now you have stabbed a German civilian. What’s worse you did it in front of the Polizei. Of course, you couldn’t go with them quietly, you took it upon yourself to fight with them as well.”
“Sir, I stabbed him with the same knife that he tried to stab me with. That is what I was trying to explain to the Polizei. It was self-defense. I would have went with them quietly but they were handling me rougher than I thought was necessary, especially when I hadn’t done anything wrong.” I interrupted to plead my case.
“Oh, I see now. It is all a conspiracy. I suppose everything else in this report is just some sort of misunderstanding as well and the Polizei just happened to miss the fact that their boy had the knife first?” He baited me.
“No Sir. I have done everything else that you see in that record and worse, but the Polizei rolled up just in time to see me sink the knife into that German’s backside.”
“You stabbed him in the ass?” He asked as he shuffled through the papers on the desk in front of him.
“Yes sir, I told him when he pulled it on me that if he didn’t put the knife away I was going to shove it up his ass.”
All three of them broke into laughter. I guess the German Police had omitted that part of the altercation from their report.
“Well son, at least you warned him first.” Stevens quipped, still smiling.
The colonel nodded at him before returning his attention to his papers. I could feel both the General and Sergeant Major appraising me as I stood there.
“Your report also says that you have a knack for languages. You have listed six different ones that you are fluent in.. What drives a man to learn so many languages?” He asked, peering up at me over his glasses.
“I found it’s a great way to meet girls, sir.” I replied through a smile, rousing another round of laughs from my otherwise silent observers.
“You applied for Ranger training within two months of your arrival here. There is a war going on son. We are liberating Kuwait. You don’t feel that my unit is good enough to fight with?” He asked, leaning back in his chair.
“Sir, the way I see it, I am going to fight in this war sooner or later. I just want to be as highly trained as possible when I do it. You have a fine group of men assembled under you, but when the shit hits the fan, I don’t want to be surrounded by good soldiers. I want to be surrounded by the best.”
“Why was he rejected Colonel?” Seaton asked after casting a glance at Stevens.
“His squad leader claimed he was psychologically unstable.” He replied with a shake of his head.
“Ah hell, who isn’t in this day and age?” Stevens added with a nod.
“Well son, have you given any thought of what you are going to do when all of this is over?” The Colonel asked, returning his attention to me.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question sir.”
“I mean to say, you can’t soldier forever. You tour will be up in another year and they won’t let you re-up with the criminal record you have amassed. If the Army doesn’t want a man with a criminal record, how many civilian employers do you think will be willing to give you a chance?”
“I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead, sir.” I replied softly, realizing for the first time that I was not only accountable for my actions, but for the affects my actions would have on my future.
“What do you think, Sergeant Major Stevens?” The Colonel asked, watching him rub his chin.
“He is a little rough around the edges, but he has the look that could blend in with about any of them and it sounds like he has the tenacity to get the job done.”
“We have a mission for you that is highly unorthodox. It will put you through a highly modified Ranger course. If you choose to accept it, your record will be wiped clean and you will never see a courtroom over your latest transgression.”
“What’s the catch?” I asked wondering what they wanted from me that would be worth so much to them.
“You will only have two months of training in an undisclosed desert location. You will live off of goat meat and dried dates. You will live, eat, and sleep with the six men that will be with you on the mission. You will learn to speak as much Kurdi as possible in that time. When you deploy for your mission, you will not be wearing your Army Uniform.”
“Will I be issued an Iraqi Uniform then?” I wondered aloud, not sure if I liked where this was heading.
“The clothing we have seen worn by the Iraqi troops makes a mockery of the word uniform. But you will be given something that will pass for one.”
“What’s the assignment, sir?” I asked, realizing that this was sounding more and more like a suicide mission.
“I can’t tell you that, son. The only other thing I can tell you before you make your decision is how long you will be on the mission. We are asking for two weeks. Just two weeks worth of work and you get a brand new start.”
So, I must decide between a life with no future and a life that will probably be cut short. I wondered what I would be doing for those two weeks. Oh well, sanity has never been my strong point.
I held my breath, looked at each of the men in the room one final time and said: “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”
This is a story line that I have been toying around with, but I am not sure I want to pursue. It is worlds apart from what I normally write, so I am looking for input. Would anyone out there like to see more stories along these lines?