Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"Dancing Lessons From God", Part 14

“Charlie Rock”

Monday morning rolled around and we went back to the inprocessing building to wait for our assignments. While we were there Stephanie finally arrived and was happy to see some familiar faces. So we waited and waited and eventually were given our orders. Mine said “C Co., 121st Signal Batallion, Kitzingen”. I’d never heard of that unit or that place but by that time I was so anxious to get to my unit and get started on my new life that I didn’t care where it was. I was happy to hear that a few of the other people I’d come over with had received orders either to the same base as me, or ones in the same area, so we all got on the bus marked “Wurzburg” and took a seat. As it turns out, Wurzburg was the home of the 98th Area Support Group which encompassed three main military communities: Wurzburg, home of the 1st Infantry Division; Kitzingen, which was made up of two small bases; and Geibelstadt, which was the home of a Chinook helicopter base nicknamed “Big Windy”. All three places were within about a half hour of each other so everyone stationed at any of them all had to go to the reception station in Kitzingen to do their inprocessing. The bus pulled up and I stepped off, looking around and surveying my new home. My excitement was just off the charts, I couldn’t wait to explore my new surroundings. But first there was the business of filling out more forms, getting an initial welcome brief, and meeting my new unit. They had called all of our respective units while we were filling out the plethora of forms and informed them of our arrival. When we were done, we were released to the hallway outside where our unit representatives were waiting for us. I looked around at all the faces wondering which one I belonged to. I hadn’t known very many active duty army people before so I had no idea what to expect or what they were like.

Most of them were in the hallway yelling out the names they’d been given but I wasn’t hearing my name so I just stood next to my duffle bag and looked around. After a few minutes a sullen, hard-jawed soldier walked up to me and I met the man who would have the biggest influence over me for the next two years.

“Are you Thibodeau?

“Yep, that’s me.”

“I’m SGT Hanover, your NCOIC.”

By the time he left Germany almost two years later, I would consider him a very good friend but my first impression of SGT Hanover was not a good one. He had a pissed-off look on his face that seldom changed. His mannerisms and actions seemed to say that he didn’t want to be bothered with me, that he had better things to do. He had a real tough guy look about him too, a look that commanded respect, even though he was the exact same age as I was. I wasn’t really intimidated by him but I was a bit worried that this guy was not going to be pleasant to work for. His uniform was crisply pressed and his boots were impressively shined. I quickly noticed that SGT Hanover was a man of few words. In fact he seldom said anything unless you asked him a direct question and even then his answers were usually one or two words at best. Some people go to great lengths to try and project a tough guy image but this guy was the real deal. He didn’t even have to try.

With him was a really skinny, scrawny black kid whose uniform hung off him like it was two sizes too big. Hanover introduced me to him as PFC Geathers and told me he was also in our section and we would be working together. Compared to Hanover, Geathers looked like a cartoon and I was privately relieved that not everyone I would be working with was going to be like Hanover. We picked up my bags and Hanover instructed me to follow him. I did so even though he walked so fast that I had trouble keeping up and he led me down to the barracks where we dumped my bags in a small room that wasn’t much bigger than the office that I occupied at the job I’d just quit. I wanted to take it all in but Hanover was moving so fast that I didn’t have time to even check out the room. Apparently the entire battalion was preparing for a big inspection and so everyone was on edge and running around trying to make sure everything was straight. We walked through the barracks and suddenly a larger than life figure appeared before us: Sergeant Major Paul E. Scandrick. SGM Scandrick was the battalion Sergeant Major, which meant he was the highest ranking enlisted (non-officer) in the battalion. He was about 6’3, had an impeccable uniform without a wrinkle on it, and cut an imposing figure. Everyone around seemed to be scared of him but, coming straight out of the civilian world, I hadn’t yet figured out how you were supposed to act around such people. I got a quick indoctrination. SGT Hanover introduced me as his new soldier and SGM Scandrick welcomed me. He was very nice and informal so it never occurred to me that I was an E4 addressing my battalion Sergeant Major which meant that I supposed to be doing so from the position of parade rest. Instead I stood there and addressed him like I was talking with one of my buddies back home, hand gestures and all. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through SGT Hanover’s mind as he watched his new soldier talking to the Sergeant Major in such a manner but he quickly leaned into my ear and whispered “Get at parade rest!”. Within about a millisecond I realized that this was a whole new world I was in. I’d been in the army reserves for 7 years but active duty was different. Hell, one time a Sergeant Major walked into the reserve center and when I yelled “At ease!”, everyone laughed at me, including the Sergeant Major, who then told me “I appreciate it son but we don’t do those kind of things around here…”. Well, I felt pretty stupid but quickly snapped to parade rest and shut up. SGM Scandrick welcomed me once again and then took off down the hall. Looking back, I think I even saw him chuckling as he was walking away. With that, Hanover turned and told me to follow him to the company area so he could introduce me to the First Sergeant. By this point, Hanover had to be wondering to himself “what the hell kind of terrible soldier have they given me?”. It had been about an hour since I first met him and he hadn’t uttered more than about six or seven sentences to me in that time. I was determined not to let him get to me and as we walked I tried to talk to him a bit.

“So how long have you been in Germany?”

“Few months.”

“How do you like it?”

“It fucking sucks.”

“Really? What don’t you like about it?”

“Everything. Fucking lazy ass soldiers, always complaining about working too much or bitching that they had to miss chow. I wish I was back at Bragg, I hate this place.”

Yikes. This was exactly what I was afraid of when I was debating whether or not to join the army. Hanover seemed to be the living personification of everything I feared the army would be like.

(Stay tuned for Part 15...)

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