by Timothy Redmond
January 10, 2002
My second year in law school, I dated a classmate, Connie. Connie was sweet and attractive, with beautiful, long, brown hair. At school she was all Ann Taylor, but on the weekends she could rock the Bebe. I used to sing to her rare, old Irish songs:
Her eyes they shone like diamonds
You’d think she was queen of the land
And her hair hung over her shou-ou-der
Tied up with a black velvet band
Connie was also—how shall I say this—of a type of young woman who goes to law school. Dedicated to “social justice” (whatever that means), she came to Maryland for the stated purpose of pursuing public interest law. She was very political (guess which party), and enjoyed nothing more than being offended. We had a good time, and would work-out at the gym, and sometimes cycle the Baltimore and Annapolis Trail. But Connie had that annoying graduate school habit of going around telling people, “That’s not funny, that’s not funny.”
One day, Connie and I were at my apartment studying, and she saw a postcard a buddy of mine from 7th Group had sent me. The postcard was of an aerial photograph of Fort Bragg. Pictured was the long, sweeping arch of Ardennes Road and Grubber Road as they ran perfectly parallel to each other for miles. And laid out along these roads—running four deep—were identically built four story concrete barracks, row upon row of them. They seemed to go on forever. And above all that, written in bright, cheerful letters were the words, “Greetings from Fort Bragg.” Connie saw this postcard and her face went blank. She didn’t even look offended, just shocked. “When I look at that picture,” she said, “I see the apocalypse.”
I remember that I chuckled, and said, “You should.”
We broke up soon after that.
Having loaded up our team connex, ISU-90, and other cargo containers with our team gear, the Team Sergeant formed us up in the parking lot and gave us the safety briefing. “Listen-up, Numb Nuts,” he said. “The major jumped through his ass getting you guy’s orders for POVs—so don’t screw it up.” Having set the proper tone, Bear transitioned into his sergeant-as-facilitator mode. “We will all have cars at Fort Bragg, and we’re driving down as a team. None of you will be out of my sight at any time. And I want us going the actual speed limit, not what everybody else is driving.”
We each carried an MBITR radio—an intra-team radio with earpiece and microphone attachment for hands-free communications. “Our comms are up,” he said, “so you pricks will be able to talk all the trash you want.”
I let out a low cough.
With an irritated glance toward me, Bear continued, “For some dicked-up reason, Scrapper has to get his undergraduate transcripts from VCU, so we’re all gonna have to drive alongside him into Richmond.”
“What the—“ said Boy Band.
“I don’t know,” replied Bear, “He needs it to un-fuck himself with the state bar.”
“Thank you, Team Sergeant,” I half-shouted, “for giving me this opportunity to un-fuck myself. . . You guys can watch if you want.”
“We should be in North Carolina before 1100,” continued the Team Sergeant. “We can stop off and get lunch in Rocky Mount, and be at Bragg before 1300. We have incorporated into our travel plan ample time to fart around Fayetteville before the battalion formation. I’m going to go to the Soldier’s PX on Reilly, you’re all invited to come along, but wherever you go, you need to have your bright, shiny asses standing tall in Sniper Stadium at 1500 for battalion formation.”
We then each got into our cars and convoyed out of Fort A.P. Hill. It was a remarkably warm day for January, and we each drove with our windows down. We were wearing our Green Berets and Oakley sunglasses; we were driving off to Fort Bragg, home of the Special Forces, our jump-off point for the war. We each knew—without doubt, without having to say it—that we would never die.
“How do you feel, Scrapper?” The captain asked me over the radio.
“Like a mean motherfucker, sir.”
We drove south down Route 301, gassed up at the trunk stop, then merged slowly onto Southbound Interstate 95. I was second car from the front, behind Jiggy, followed by Boy Band, then Crunk, then Spooky, the Team Sergeant and lastly Captain McMann.
As we neared Ashland, I realized I haven’t been to the South—the real South—since since I left Fort Bragg four years before. I could smell false-spring in the air, and was reminded of my younger years: playing rugby for VCU, sleeping in the wood line all over Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall. A feeling of nostalgia came over me, and I remembered a song Jerry Garcia used to sing. I got on the radio and sang a few lines: “Take me back to the place where I first saw the light / To The Sweet Sunny South, take me home / Where the Mockingbirds sing me to sleep every night / Oh, why was I tempted to roam.”
“Meh,” said Boy Band, “not a big fan of the South.”
“Me neither,” replied Jiggy.
“What’s wrong with you people?” said Crunk. “The South has the best food, the best women and the best weather. The people are respectful and pleasant to be around. I love the South, gonna retire there.”
“Jiggy, I thought you were from Cajun Country—the Deep South.” Captain McMann said.
“From there, Sir. Never goin’ back.”
The radio erupted. “Uh-oh! Sounds like there’s a Jiggy, Junior running around lookin’ for his Dad!” Boy Band said.
“Sportsman’s Paradise indeed!” Crunk replied.
“No, it’s nothing like that” Jiggy said. “I just . . . it’s a long story.”
“Well, we got nothing but time,” Bear said.
“Well, see,” Jiggy finally replied, “I’m from a good-sized town in Louisiana—as you all know—and, growing up, I wasn’t the only Jason Boudreaux in my class. There was another Jason Boudreaux—smart, handsome, fun-to-be-around Jason Boudreaux.”
“Good Jason Boudreaux, is what you mean,” said Boy Band.
“And you’re evil Jason Boudreaux,” said Cronk.
“Well, no—“ said Jiggy.
“More like Goofus and Gallant?” I asked.
“No, I wasn’t a jerk, I just wasn’t him. I didn’t dislike the guy, it’s just that
people would always compare us—and he always won.”
I turned up my radio.
“So, it’s our senior year—and by now I’m a full blown skater punk. I’m winning skateboard competitions on the weekends and traveling around with a skater team, and having a good time. The other Jason is—you know—class president, straight ’A’ student and all around super-nice-guy.”
“Such a disappointment you are,” said Boy Band with a Jewish-mother accent.
“Anyway,” continued Jiggy, “one weekend in the spring of our senior year, I go to Dallas for a skateboard competition, and smart-guy, captain-of-the-team, Jason Boudreaux gets killed in an automobile accident.”
“You killed him, didn’t you . . . and now you want to confess. I can see that,” said Crunk.
Jiggy continued, “And, naturally, that was the weekend my car decides to break down in Dallas, and I can’t get back to school on Monday. So, anyway, Monday morning Principal Moulinex gets on the P.A. system and says, ‘Class, I have a tragic announcement to make. . . your schoolmate, Jason Boudreaux, was killed in an automobile accident over the weekend.’” Jason paused, and you sort of knew where this story was going to go. “Now the whole school is freaking out,” he went on, “they don’t know which one of us is dead, and—apparently—there’s a lot of confusion, and some crying, but not that much crying, because—well, who knows, right?” I could see Jiggy driving directly in front of me, and I notice that he’s starting to pull away.
“And, of course, I know absolutely nothing about Jason’s death or the simmering freak-out that’s about to happen when I come be-bopping into school on Tuesday morning. But, holy cow! The avalanche of hysteria that went off as soon as I walked in the front door! Girls are crying, guys are slamming lockers, even the teachers were pissed. Some cheerleader comes up to me and she’s screaming at me, ‘Why couldn’t it have been you? Why couldn’t it have been you?’”
Jiggy went silent for a long period. “Man,” he said at last. “Those people can screw themselves.”
No one said a word. The teasing had stopped, the laughter had died away. Jiggy then noticeably picked up speed, and we all followed along. He moved into the left hand lane and began passing people. I waited for the Team Sergeant to say something, but the radio was silent. The Team Sergeant didn’t say a word. We hit 90 mph and nothing was said, we just stayed with him.
Eventually, Captain McMann’s voice crackled over the radio. “Jiggy, you know we’re right here with you, right? You’re on our team now, and we’re not going to let you down. We’re not going anywhere, but you can’t run from us either. You’re on the team, Jiggy”
Jiggy’s break lights flashed on a couple times, and I could see he was slowing down gradually. “Yes, Sir” he said, “I’m on the team.”
In Richmond, we exited off I-95 onto Boulevard—we could have exited closer to the University, but I wanted to take a scenic drive through the Fan District. I’ve always loved the Fan, with its Edwardian and Victorian townhouses, and distinctive walk-up apartments. But most beautiful of all is Monument Avenue. We drove down Monument with its broad cobblestone pavement, elegant houses, and grand statues to the heroes of the Confederacy—Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Jefferson Davis.
“What do you think of that, Crunk?” Boy Band asked. “The most magnificent street in the city is lined with slave-ownin’ Confederate ‘heroes.’ That piss you off?”
“’Heroes’, looks more like the largest collection of second place trophies in the world. Last I checked, these guys lost the war.”
Boy Band laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “still, my wife would kill to live in one of
“Yeah,” said Crunk, “mine too.”
We drove out of Richmond and on to North Carolina making comments—positive and negative—about everything Southern. “And here’s another thing,” said Boy Band, feigning irritation. “What’s up with ‘unsweet tea?’ You have ‘tea’ and you have ‘sweet tea.’ The opposite of sweet tea isn’t ‘unsweet tea, the opposite is just ‘tea.’’ Saying ‘unsweet tea’ makes it sound like there’s some process—unknown to Yankees—that turns sweet tea into unsweet tea. It’s ridiculous. Take a hot dog and a bun; if you don’t have a bun, it’s not an ‘un-bunned hot dog’ it’s just a hot dog.”
We pulled into the Crackerbarrel outside of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. “I’m going to get that big hamburger they have here,” I said to Jiggy as we adjusted our berets walking through the parking lot. Just as I said this, a woman came up to me—terribly excited—and said with a deep Southern drawl, “I just want to thank you’ll for what you’ll are doing.”
I was completely thrown off guard, and couldn’t imagine what she was talking about. “I’m just going to get a hamburger, Ma’am,” I replied, perplexed.
We went inside and Jiggy gave me a friendly shove. “’Just going to get a hamburger’. What the heck was that?”
“Dude, I don’t know. No one in New York ever thanked me for being in the Army. Not in D.C. either.”
We were seated at a large round table, and people kept coming up to thank us for our service. The first thing the captain did when the waiter arrived was tell him that under no circumstances would we allow anyone to pay for our lunch. The waiter mentioned that two people had already offered.
The waiter was good at his job and very friendly toward us. “You won’t see that in Fayetteville,” I said.
“I know,” agreed Captain McMann, “everybody in Fayetteville is rude and surly.”
“You’d hardly think you were in the south,” said Bear.
“Fayette-nam ain’t the South,” said Crunk. “Fayette-nam is an entity unto itself, full of hustlers and brawlers and . . . it’s just crazy.”
“Yeah, but I kind of like it,” I said to general agreement.
“Me too,” said Boy Band. “The thing about Fayetteville is that it’s just got so much . . . energy—the place is always bursting with life. Everybody’s got a chip on their shoulder, but—hey—everyone’s ready for action, too.”
Captain McMann agreed. “Any town whose economy is based on the wants and desires of a 19 year-old paratrooper is going to be a pretty rambunctious town.”
“Liquor stores, pawn shops, strip clubs, gun stores and used car lots—what else could a PFC ask for?” said Bear. “Hell, I’m a master sergeant, and it’s pretty much all I want.”
We got into Fayetteville a little before 2:00 p.m. and Jiggy and I went immediately to ‘Kim’s Number One’ on Yadkin Boulevard (not to be confused with ‘Kim’s Number One’ on Bragg Boulevard or Kim’s sister, ‘Yon’s Number One’ on Reilly). We got haircuts at Kim’s, and while there I also got my boots shined, one of my uniforms pressed, and had some patches sewn on to another—all for under $15.00.
We got down to Sniper Stadium about twenty minutes before formation, and already there were about 300 guys there. It was one big reunion.
“Hey, it’s Panama Mike!—Mike!”
“Scrapper Dan! Haven’t seen you since the Q! What are you up to, you half-steppin’ Irishman?”
“Same old. What about you, still hanging around the playground with action figures sticking out of your pockets?—you filthy degenerate.”
“Seen anybody else from out class?” Mike asked.
“Just got here. How about you?”
“Yeah, I’m here with Too Sharp, and I saw Wishbone—remember Wishbone Philips, and he’s in the same company as Handsome Johnny—but I haven’t seen him yet. Where are they tellin ya you’re goin’?” Mike continued, a note of concern in his voice.
“The Stan, man,” I replied. “We’re goin’ to the Stan. How about you?”
“Man, you lucky bastard. They’re telling us Colombia,” replied Mike, “but it seems a little hinky.”
“You think they’ll cank the mission?” I asked.
“I don’t know, doesn’t make sense. ‘Men, there’s a war in Afghanistan, so, of course, we’re sending you to Colombia.’”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “sounds like the Good Idea Fairy had too much free time.”
“Wishbone said the same thing about his mission,” Mike continued. “Says they’re supposed to be going to the Philippines, but he thinks that’ll get canked too.” Mike then looked at me with pure envy, and he shook his head. I felt bad for him, we were going to the show, he was just gonna get jerked around.
When the formation was over, we were released back to our company commands and issued barracks. We were staying over by the All American parade field, in what was known as “The World War II Barracks”—small, wooden, open-bay barracks with completely open bathrooms, so the guy at the sink, the guy on the toilet and the guy in the shower could all keep an eye on each other.
After we unpacked and got our bunks squared away, Bear announced that he was hungry, “Let’s go to Luigi’s. Scrapper, you drive, and I‘ll drive, too.” We piled into the two cars, Captain McMann, Bear and Spooky into the Team Sergeant’s car, and Jiggy, Boy Band, Crunk and me into my car—it never occurred to anyone to guess which car they were to ride in.
“Remember that hooptie you used to drive,” said Crunk, “when you first came to the unit?”
“That ‘hooptie’ gave me 320,000 miles.”
“I remember that thing,” said Jiggy, laughing. “Remember how the door locks used to just pop on and pop off when you were riding down the road? You’d be sitting there and ‘pop’ the locks would go up, then ‘pop’ they’d go back down again. I swear, that car was possessed.”
“I rode that car all across Alaska and the Yukon Territory, then down the Frasier Pass and across the U.S.”
“Oh no,” groaned Boy Band, “Not another ‘my big trip out of Alaska’ story?”
“Right, with his brother,” Jiggy chimed in, “the successful lawyer.”
“Hey, lets keep the punches above the belt,” I said. “But, yeah, . . . that’s pretty much right.”
“Remember,” said Crunk, “how he had that—what was it, a trashcan lid— propping up the front seat?”
“And you had that replacement front light,” Boy Band said, “that you just bolted onto the bumper—looked like a popped out eyeball.”
“Yeah, well, it was a beater, and it went down hill in a hurry. When I lived in Baltimore, I parked on a parking deck. And the last week I had the car the muffler fell off. And that damn thing was so loud it used to set off the car alarms on the parking deck as I drove past them.”
“What ever happened to the car?” said Crunk.
“It was such a piece of junk that I started leaving the key in the ignition. Some kids finally stole it, and about three months later the cops called and said, ’Mr. Scanlon, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we found your car. The bad news is it was horribly vandalized.’ I went to check the car out—it was exactly as I’d left it.”
We drove down Ardennes Road, passing the 82nd Airborne Division’s Museum when all of a sudden the Team Sergeant stopped his car in the middle of the road. All the other cars on the road stopped as well, and people begin to get out. I pulled over as well, but I had no idea what was happening. Just then I heard the sound of “Retreat,” and I realize they were lowering the flag. Jiggy, Boy Band, Crunk and I got out of the car and, facing the music, came to parade rest. I looked down Ardennes Road, and there were hundreds of soldiers frozen in place. Standing exactly where they were when they heard the music.
Retreat ended and I heard the report of the cannon. Old Glory was being lowered. I came to attention and snapped a sharp salute. The sun was setting, a mild breeze was in the air, and I had only one thought, God it’s beautiful. God but it’s beautiful being a soldier.
Excerpted from As You Were, a novel-in-progress.
Timothy Redmond is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. A Major in the Virginia National Guard, he is a former Special Forces demolition sergeant, and served in Afghanistan in 2002. He is writing a novel about that experience.