In my past life, circa 2007, I was living in San Antonio, TX. It was my first real post-high school venture outside my hometown, and oh boy, was it an experience. I lived 2 blocks from the Alamo and about 100 feet from the Riverwalk, and I had a fun job managing a coffee shop on post at Fort Sam Houston.
Now, Ft. Sam is an interesting base. At the time, it was one of the only bases that had Air Force, Navy, and Army all together which gave it a unique dynamic. It was also the training center for many of the MOS’s (essentially, soldier jobs). The cafe I managed was part of the mini-PX, one of the spots where the still-in-training enlisted soldiers were limited to when they were still under constant scrutiny of their commanders. The PX was across the street from a set of substandard barracks, the home of training 68-W. Combat medics.
Being one of the only females on post allowed to dress like a female meant I was often a sight for sore eyes, at least until I opened my incredibly sarcastic, teenage mouth. It wasn’t a bad spot for scoping out the rather dashing foreign soldiers who were studying there, either. (Sending some love to Captain Italy and Lieutenant Estonia right now. *gush*)
Reality Hits Hard
All joking aside, spending so much time with soldiers really changed the way I saw the world. Most of the combat medics I met were sold on the MOS by recruiters who flat out lied to them – telling them they’d be working in hospitals, essentially nurse assistants. The lucky ones get to do that, but if they’re deployed it’s a different story. Combat medics are generally an incredibly important part of a squad on the front lines, bandaging up their friends in firefights and praying they do a good enough job patching them up so they don’t die before they get back to base.
Given the bleak reality they discovered when they started their job training, everyone tried to keep things light whenever they could. They’d practice sticking each other with IV’s, pumping their arms full of saline to beat San Antonio’s insane heat and humidity. They’d take turns trying to get my number – even though they were fully aware I was married to one of their battle buddies. We’d party on the weekends, and I’d make sure they got taxis back so they’d make it in time for first formation. I took a lot of shit from those soldiers, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
John, my boss, took me out for lunch one day, and on the way back, we came through an entrance I didn’t know about. I always entered from the south side of the base, since it was closest to my apartment.
On the northernmost point of the post, was a smaller entrance than I’d yet seen. As we pulled through, we were surrounded by identical rows of white tombstones. Everywhere. As far as the eye could see, death stared me in the face in the most dignified, graceful way I’d ever seen.
I’d seen graveyards. Even walked through them before, but I cannot begin to describe the difference in the way this one effected me. The stark uniformity of a military cemetery was too much. Even in death, they were in straight lines, as if this was simply the final set of orders they would ever receive.
And then it became personal. I knew some of those men and women I knew were going to die. They were soldiers, but more than that they were people. Friends that I knew.
It was a poignant reminder – that in the end, no matter our struggles and beliefs and hurts and joys, we are all the same. In the end, we all die.
Today, I remember that cemetery and all that was given so I could choose to live the life I do. To live a life that will be worth the sacrifice others make daily.