17 August 2009

Valance - Part II

To understand where Valance ended up, there are some things that need explaining.

DLI is supposed to be the marriage capital of the US Army, and possibly of all the combined armed forces. I don't know whether that is true or not, but it sure seemed that way. It felt like everyone was getting married. It makes sense when you realize that A) this was the first time away from home for almost all the student population, and loneliness ran rampant; and B) unless you were married, you had to live in the barracks and with the restrictions that came with those accommodations.

The loneliness would be quickly abated, thanks to the newbie sharks. These were soldiers (both male and female) who knew when their unit would be receiving incoming soldiers from basic training. They would circle the company area and offer to help the newbies find their rooms, carry their bags, and generally just be friendly. The ulterior motive was that, when the "lonelies" hit the newbie, they would remember and return the kindness they recieved.

For most soldiers in initial training, the barracks issue wasn't that big a deal. Most trainees went from basic training - which ran 8 - 13 weeks, depending on which branch of service - to their advanced training post - which typically ran a few months more. Not so for those of us that were blessed by our creator with the potential ability to learn a foreign language. Right smack dab in the middle of our initial training we got to spend between six months and a year and a half (depending on language) in a strange limbo status. We had finished our basic training but weren't considered "safe" yet. Obviously we had to be watched closely until we had completed the full cycle of training. The only way not to be chained to the barracks was to live off post and the only way to live off post as a solider in initial training was to be married.

Now, I don't know if Valance was the shark or if he got sharked, but he found himself a . . . female. I don't remember her name but I definitely remember her. The infatuation between the two lovebirds was sickening. (I won't mention my own plummet into the morass of love at DLI now . . . maybe later)

One of the other issues with being in the barracks is that members of the opposite sex weren't allowed in each others living quarters without the door fully open for all the world to see what was going on. Oh, and PDA (public displays of affection) is strictly forbidden. These restrictions were in place to keep impressionable young Americans from acting on the aforementioned infatuation and limit instances of the bed-sheet boogie from happening.

This didn't stop Valance and his . . . female. They were all over each other. The problem was that she was all over anyone else who showed an interest. As a side note, the subject of her chest size (or lack thereof) came up one day and she just had to show everyone what God had given her. Just plain classy. Knowwhaddahmean?

So, Valance and his . . . female got married and moved off post. Frankly I was more than pleased. Valance had been the bane of my own romantic aspirations more than once. My other roommate and I had a non-monetary wager on how long the marriage would last. Neither of us collected because of what happened next.

The lovebirds had been off post for about a month when she disappeared. The official term is AWOL - absent without leave. She found a new guy - another soldier in the unit - and decided that she was done playing army (and house, for that matter) and took off for San Francisco.

Valance was shattered. His already fragile psyche traversed all of Dante's descripted hells. Since he was technically still married, he was allowed to remain in his off post quarters with the hopes that his fair maiden would return.

She did, with the help of the friendly neighborhood MPs. (another side note, I freaking loath MPs. Biggest bunch of thieves and ne'r-do-wells I have ever met) In their brilliance, rather than bringing her back to the company HQ to face discipline, they took her to her home of record - where Valance was waiting and stewing. I guess it was just too damned far to go that extra mile and a half.

Valance went nuts. To his credit, he waited until the MPs left to beat her. He was nuts, not stupid. If this seems an anti-climactic ending, it would be. . . if it were the end. Shortly after leaving, one of the MPs Ssense started tingling - or perhaps he realized how stupid it was for them to leave the runaway bride with the guy who had the "crazy eye". They showed up in time to keep Valance from doing any real harm.

At this point, the company commander brought both of them back onto post to live while they sorted everything out. Things mellowed out for about a week - and then it happened.

It was Monday morning formation. We had been up for a few hours, having done our daily exercises and eaten breakfast. School was due to start in about 45 minutes. We had been in formation for about 10 minutes before the commotion started. Because of my assigned place at the far front side of the formation, I missed the beginning. What I did see is everyone dropping to the ground and then heard someone yelling "He's got a weapon."

As the bodies fell to the ground (voluntarily, not in Columbine fashion) the fear was so thick you could almost touch it. . . for everyone but me. What I saw had me doubled over in laughter.

Valance was standing there getting the crap beat out of him by a couple of other soldiers. He was dressed in a black button up shirt, black ski pants bloused into his Cocoran Jump Boots, and a black beret. He had black sports paint under one eye. He had what looked like an M16 and three bandoliers of ammunition. It was a sight that I will never forget.

The story gets even better. Valance made the absolutely worst choice of where to appear for his "attack". He popped up right between an old Infantry sergeant who had just failied Polish and was feeling pretty bitter about the world and a Special Forces soldier who had just finished his "Q" course and was keyed for action. Valance never had a chance. It turned out that Valance's weapon was a modified AR-15. Modified to shoot only .22 calibre rounds. Now, I'm not saying that being hit with a .22 round wouldn't hurt, but it likely wouldn't be deadly. On top of this he only had a 5 round magazine. So, even though he had over 210 rounds of ammunition, he really only had 5 shots before someone would have got him. There is no way to quickly load a magazine for an AR15.

The final sad note about Valance is that he has the dubious distinction of being the first person of whom I had knowledge who tried to commit suicide by cop. When the MPs showed up (yep, the same idiots who dropped off his wife) he was doing everything he could do to get them to shoot him. They just subdued him and put him in the squad car.

Last I heard, he was serving life in Leavanworth for attempted murder.

I still wonder if that Lysol laced cigarette was at the root of his insanity.

16 August 2009

Valance, Part I

Commander's Cup RunImage by United States Army Garrison - Presidio of Monterey via Flickr

While there are several time periods in my life that I would consider influential, there are two that stand as anchor points. Interestingly enough, both of them lasted roughly two years.

The first was my time on active duty in the US Army and the second came around three years later when I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They both helped shape me into the person I am today - for better AND worse.

For a year and a half of my military service I had the pleasure of being stationed at the Presidio of Monterey, California at DLI. Like many acronyms in the military, DLI can (and does) stand for a number of things. The official name is the Defense Language Institute and it is one of the two best language training facilities in the world. One of the unofficial names of the installation is the Drunken Lust Institute (alternately the Drunk and Lust Institute - your choice).

To further entrench this concept there is the myth of the eagle. On the lower edge of the base, overlooking Monterey Bay, there is a monument to John Drake Sloat. John Sloat is the man credited for claiming California the US. The monument is of a stylized eagle. The myth says that on the day a virgin graduates from DLI, the eagle will take flight. The eagle is still there today. There are those who proclaim that they knew of someone - or that they personally, who met the criteria and disproved the myth, but I remain skeptical.

While there, I served with a number of characters who were just plain bizarre. There were those who wanted to leave the military so badly that they allowed themselves to be "caught" in homosexual relationships. There was the "Ether Bunny" episode at the Navy barracks. Closer to me personally, I lived on a floor with two soldiers who ended up being convicted of attempted murder and one who went just plain nuts.

The guy who went nuts was my roommate. I hasten to point out that I believe he was a few bricks short of a load before he ever met me.

His name was Valance. His military designation Valance, NFI NMI. (No First Initial, No Middle Initial) He had legally changed his name prior to enlisting to that of a fictional character from novels he had read as a kid. He tried to explain who the character was but I never really quite understood.

Valance was a screwy kid. He smoked a carton of cigarettes a day. Not a week. A day. I was grateful that A) the military had instituted the ban on smoking in the barracks unless everyone agreed and B) that my other roommate was as much of an anti-smoking nazi as I was. No smoking in our room. Even though I hate cigarette smoke, I do believe that everyone has the right to screw up their life however they want, as long as it doesn't impact me. I would never mess with anyone's cigarettes. Except Valance's. I guess he was the exception that proved the rule.

Two instances that come to mind. The first was the time that I told him I could balance a cigarette across the top of the pack, hit the filtered end and it would flip three times and I would catch it with the filter in my mouth. He was stunned. He had no idea how that could be done. So I showed him. I balanced a cigarette on top of the pack, lifted my hand . . . and crushed the pack.

The second was the day that I was just bored. Bored, bored bored. There is nothing worse than a nineteen year old solider who is bored. Things . . . happen. Valance had left his pack of cigarettes out. And I was bored. I believe we had been cleaning for an inspection so I had a can of Lysol handy. Did I mention I was bored? And that it was a new can of Lysol? I spent the rest of the afternoon spraying that can of Lysol into one cigarette. It took all afternoon because it would saturate and I would have to let it dry before I could spray some more.

Once the can was empty I placed the doctored cigarette on Valance's bookshelf in plain view. While the thought was tempting, I was not trying to poison him, just tick him off. The tampering was evident and, when he asked what had happened, I quickly (and joyfully) let him know what I had done in agonizing detail. I enjoyed the ensuing hissy fit immensely. Not as much, however as I enjoyed the following Sunday.

I mentioned that Valance smoked a carton of cigarettes a day. He could afford this because he bought them at the PX, which, at that time, still offered better pricing than the local economy. Valance would take great pains to ensure that he bought his weekly ration Sunday morning so that he would be set for the week. That Sunday something happened that kept him from reaching the PX before it closed. And he was having a nicotine fit. He just knew he wouldn't make it into town and back before curfew and he had to have a smoke.

And then he remembered. There was one sitting on his bookcase. Now, before you come to the conclusion that I was a complete bastard. I did try and talk him out of smoking it. The attempt wasn't even half-hearted. Mostly. To be honest, I didn't want to catch the crap that would be flung my way if he collapsed and it came out that I had been responsible for the doctored cigarette. The Army has strange concepts about personal responsibility. If he got sick, it would be his fault for smoking what was obviously doctored. If he died, I would be responsible for having put it in his path. Reminds me of the class on how to end one's life in Basic Training. But that's a story for another time.

So, yeah, he smoked it. Fortunately(?) he didn't die. The question about how fortunate it was comes in part two. But you needed to know the background to know why I feel that I played a small, if insignificant, role in the future events in the life of NFI NMI Valance.
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Writing samples: Parker 75Image by churl via Flickr

I have been itching to write for some time. And more than just blog entries (though I'm sorry I have neglected those as well). I have ideas running through my brain that would be great foundations for short stories, novellas, or even (dare I suggest it) a novel or two.

I also realize that my writing is more than rusty. I think I can rip out a fairly decent blog post, but I know I'm no longer at the level where I would even consider submitting my work for publication.

So, I'm going to take a page from one of my favorite blog authors - Daniel Howell. I started reading Daniel's work when we both played World of Warcraft. I found his page as a great resource for the game. He also ended up posting stories from his life. I ended up enjoying those even more than the game related posts.

Unfortunately, as anyone who plays WoW knows, for many players there comes a time where they must choose between the game and real life. That happened for me about the same time as it did for Daniel.

While he chose to sever his connection to the game permanently, I am grateful he continues to write at his new blog "Brain Needed Space".

Taking a page from his playbook, I will be writing stories from my life that I find (or found) amusing, touching, or in some other way worthwhile. I will pull from my time spent in the US Army, serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with friends that have become as close (or closer in some cases) as family.

I hope you enjoy the writing. I encourage critiques on style and structure. Please feel free to comment on subject matter as well. If you have issues with anything I have done or with groups with whom I have (or am currently) affiliated, you can post, but don't expect me to respond. I won't engage in a battle of wits with the unarmed and I don't participate in flame wars.

That being said, I hope you enjoy my writing and look forward to your input. Look for the first post shortly following this one.
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06 August 2009

Guess who's back, guess who's back, guess who's back . . .

Close up of a western style saddleImage via Wikipedia

I wish I could bust rhymes like eminem. Not what this post is about, though.

I am back in the saddle (for the umpteenth time). Life is heading back in the direction it should. I got a J.O.B. that looks like it will stick this time. It doesn't cover what I need, but it's steady income and, for once, I like both the job AND the people with whom I'm working.

Outside of that, I am currently working on two projects. I am helping develop a social networking site focused on the cruise industry. It's actually pretty exciting. I am also taking my sales/construction experience and developing an in-home sales training program that primarily targets home improvement companies but secondarily to anybody that sells in-home.

Not that any of that is even remotely interesting to anyone reading this, but that is where I am at.

I will also follow through with my commitment to start my weekly posts on the Constitution. I'm back to reading in those areas and am excited about sharing what I learn.

Also, I will probably post again later today because we had an experience this week that just SCREAMS to have its story told.

so . . . until later . . . .

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