Chapter 2 – First Dissed, Then Discharged
After seven months on active duty – all of which were spent in military training environments – I was released from the Air Force in early October 2018. I was thirty-years-old at the time. It felt good to be out. Retrospectively…I mean, you wouldn’t think someone would have fond memories of “boot camp,” but the two months I spent in basic training were actually kinda fun. It’s a bizarre social experiment where you take a group of sixty dudes ages 18 to 39 from all over the country and from every different race, creed and socioeconomic background then shave ‘em bald, lock ‘em up together in some shitty, roach-infested, asbestos-laden hellhole for a couple months and see if a uniform group of indoctrinated soldiers comes out the other end. Where else in the world does that happen? Where else in the world could I hear fight stories from a Samoan boxer, speak in Spanish to a Venezuelan immigrant that loves eighties music, learn about wave brushes and hear about ghetto-ass dice games gone wrong from a black guy who grew up in Buffalo, learn about temple garments from and befriend a Mormon fellow who likes the E. 1999 Eternal album by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as much as I do, and – among many more examples I’m not gonna list – hear from a Chinese-born gynecologist about pussies that stink so bad he could smell ‘em from across the room when entering to give an examination. Never again will I be in a situation that offers the opportunity to meet such a diverse group of dudes in one place at one time. Lots of good laughs were had during those two months.
Then after that came Aircrew Fundamentals which, like basic training, was held at Lackland Air Force Base but in a different part. It wasn’t my favorite experience, but it was manageable. Our teacher was cool and learning about how planes fly was kinda interesting, but the food sucked and the dorms there were super infested with mice and the shower drain was unfixably backed-up with stinky black water and I was sick with diarrhea about half the time I was there and had to walk around with my cheeks clenched all the time, tryin not to shit myself and…I dunno. It just wasn’t really all that fun. I couldn’t wait to get the fuck outta there. And so, right after that was when I was sent to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. I had really high hopes for the experience and thought I was gonna love it, but right from the start I felt like a wild animal trapped in a cage. I didn’t make too many friends there, the rules felt suffocating, and – long story short – I was just very unhappy. Things didn’t work out how I saw ‘em workin out for me at the DLI before I enlisted. Instead of learning a cool new language and feeling like I was getting my messed-up life back on track, I ended up getting really depressed and having a mental breakdown. I was in such a rut that I felt like blowin my fuckin brains out and literally couldn’t take another day of the same shit, so like – in spite of having an A and in spite of having direct orders to do so from one of my Senior Noncommissioned Officers whom I made aware of my current mental state – one day I just refused to go back to Arabic class. For that transgression, I spent the day in jail then was sent to a psychologist who was quick to declare me unfit for military service. After a couple long months of waiting for my discharge paperwork to be processed which I spent sweeping and mopping floors around the squadron, I was finally let off the chain. The minute I sat down at the departure gate of Monterey Regional Airport on my way home, I felt an enormous weight lifted offa my shoulders.
A few days prior to that bon voyage, however, I had to report to the office of Lieutenant Colonel So-And-So and stand at attention before his desk while he explained in no uncertain terms what a disgrace to the uniform I am. The lieutenant colonel was a goofy man of about forty whom I didn’t respect. The first time I met the guy was upon my arrival to the DLI when me and about ten other students who’d just gotten there were placed around a big oval table in a conference room and told to introduce ourselves. He used this time and us as an audience to brag about all his military accomplishments – particularly what a deadly marksman he is. He also kept trying to quote poetry, literature and/or famous speeches throughout this encounter, tripping over every second or third word and pausing for five seconds at a time trying to remember the second half of quotes he’d begun verbalizing. A couple months later he’d go on to wear a kilt to a squadron picnic where he tried to rally the troops with a William Wallace-esque speech that fell flatter than a mastectomy patient.
So there I was standin in the office of this two-bit millie-whiffer (a millie-whiffer is a man who hangs out by bicycle racks waiting to smell women’s bike seats) listenin to him go on and on about how the military did nothing but give, give, give as they invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into my training and I did nothing but take, take, take. After he was done tellin me how I’m the world’s biggest piece o’ shit, he asked if I had anything to say for myself. Truth is, I’d already been more than adequately ashamed of myself before having these aspersions cast in my direction. In addition to failing there in the military which in itself was quite devastating for me, I carry an abundance of shame with me wherever I go. It accumulates inside me like one of those cartoon snowballs rolling down a wintry hillside. “None of these things you’re saying could possibly make me hate myself more than I already do,” is the reply I formulated in my mind, but out loud I mumbled nothing more than a “No sir” as I struggled but successfully managed to choke back my tears. He then had me sign a form recognizing that – in the future, if I were to get the urge to do so – I would not be allowed to rejoin any branch of the US Armed Forces. After that, I was dismissed from the office of Lieutenant Colonel Goof-Ass whereupon I made sure to not let the door hit my ass on the way out. A day or two later, I was granted an Uncharacterized Discharge which is about halfway between Honorable and Dishonorable and also means that I don’t qualify for any sort of veteran benefits. It was at this point I flew back to Chicago with the intention of picking up where I left off washing windows and cleaning gutters alongside my old man.
Ya know, it’s funny though. In spite of having signed that document sayin I’m not allowed to rejoin any branch of the military, over the past couple years I’ve still been getting quite a few text messages from military recruiters – specifically from the Army with whom I was originally gonna join before ultimately having opted for enlistment with the Air Force. In fact, I just got one a couple months ago that said, “Good evening. My name is SSG Kevin Something and I’m an Army recruiter here in Chicago. I’m going through old records and following up with individuals that passed the ASVAB but didn’t end up enlisting. Why didn’t you go through with enlisting? What happened?” And like, normally I just ghost these fuckers, but to this particular inquiry I responded, “Umm…uh…umm…my penis fell off. Yeah, yeah. My penis fell off and uh…the doctor said it wasn’t a good idea for me to join anymore because uhh…I might hemorrhage from my hemoglobin modules and ya know – other medical mumbo jumbo like that that I don’t quite understand.” He just said “That sounds terrible” and – I don’t know if this means that they’ve given up on me or what – but I haven’t heard from any of ‘em since.