By Vicki Hudson
I remember that first time, the picture fresh in my mind. A silent screen video flickers across my memory. I knew it was coming. Still, hearing the voice on the phone with the memorized phrase, “raging bull” took me by surprise. I had known that phrase for ten years. Year after year, I’d heard the training phrase, “grazing bull”; someone calling me on the phone as a practice alert. Later, as I progressed in rank and responsibility, I made the calls, or directed they be made. Each call was really just a verification of information done once a year, a random ten percent each month of those on the unit roster. We called that document the alert roster, though no one ever thought it would be used to alert anyone, except maybe when the date our weekend warrior duty would change from the annually briefed yearly training calendar.
That September evening, I sat in the drenching humidity of a North Florida summer in my tiny cement block apartment in the woods of Gainesville, the call was not for verification. Real world. A real situation. A real war, or what might become one. I’d already known for a couple weeks I would be called. I’d spent each day dumping out and re-packing all my gear, over and over and over and over again. Days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, I’d been transferred from one military police unit, a prisoner of war camp being deactivated as a unit in the Reagan-begun downsizing, to a military police combat support company in need of a platoon leader and executive officer. A transfer from one reserve unit to another typically took four to nine months. This one took 72 hours. The company’s active duty war trace commanding headquarters was already on their way to the Persian Gulf. Soon, the company would follow and it needed another officer.
“Lieutenant, this is First Sergeant Knowles,” the deep voice opened a void in my being. “Raging Bull,” he said. “You understand this is not a drill?”
“Yes,” A word hard as rock dropped into the phone.
“I’ve already called the platoon sergeant.”
“Okay, good,” My mind was numb.
‘Report in two days at the Unit building.”
“Okay, see you then.” I hung up the phone.
I was excited, nervous, and anxious. I was afraid and impatient.
I came of age in the post Vietnam era. The Cold War had come to an end and legions of Russian tanks rolling through the Fulda gap seemed less and less likely. The Berlin War had fallen the year before. This was a peace-time Army and I was an anomaly, a reservist who studied on my own time, who read the journals and field manuals and followed political goings on to stay current; the weekend warrior who practiced and learned her craft in the Profession of Arms. Unlike so many others who just showed up one weekend a month, did their eight hours and waited for the check to come in. The unthinkable was happening. I was ready to do what I’d spent ten years, half as an enlisted soldier, preparing for. I was sure and confident.
The alarm jolts me awake.
“I hate this fucking shit,” I grumble.
Two weeks. Two weeks of waking up on a cold Georgia morning, the night air biting in the dark early morning. I roll off the rack and fumble for sweats, socks, and sneakers. Slowly, I trudge outside.
“FALL IN!” The order is yelled by the Company First Sergeant.
I stand in front of my platoon. I can still see some stars within the India ink sky. This is the fourteenth morning I’ve swayed still sleepy in front of my thirty-two soldiers.
Thoughts bounce off the walls of my skull.
I want to go home. I don’t want to wake up at four-friggin’-thirty in the cold Georgia morning, in the dark. I want to be wrapped up in my nice warm bed at home.
The words echo in my thoughts. Home. My apartment, my bed, my dog, my stuff.
I want to go home.
I can’t go home. I…. can’t…. go…. home. The soldiers behind me can’t go home. We have to be here, doing shitass PT in the dark, in the cold. None of us can go home.
Reality slapped me cold as the frigid air. I finally understood. I was going to war. I didn’t know a thing.
Vicki Hudson is a Mustang who retired after 33 years active and reserve duty that included five commands, three war zones and convoy commander 17 times in Iraq. She is a cross genre writer. See www.vickihudson.com to read the first chapter of her novel in process and information on anthologies Vicki is editing that are seeking submissions. When not writing, Vicki rocks an enhancement shaman in Azeroth. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/vickigeist.