Without further ado, I give you the next few chapters of "Dancing Lessons From God"...
Before I could get to Germany I would first have to fly down to Fort Jackson, South Carolina to do all my inprocessing, get issued all my uniforms, get all my shots, all that wonderful stuff you have to do when you join the army. Fortunately, because I was prior service and had only been out of the army reserves less than two years, I was not forced to go back through basic training again. If I was, I probably would not have done it. Basic training is of those things that you’re so glad you did and proud you made it through but you never, ever want to do again. Ft. Jackson is the main basic training base for the US Army so there were plenty of young scared faces on the plane. We stopped over in Charlotte, NC on the way down and as I was sitting in the food court waiting for my flight, who walks by but Drew Bledsoe. In 1998, Bledsoe was the New England Patriots starting quarterback. He was only a year removed from a Superbowl appearance and was a major celebrity back home. Nobody else seemed to recognize him as he and his two travel companions stood in line waiting for their food so I nervously went up and said hi.
“Uh, excuse me…Drew?”
He turned and looked at me.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“Pretty good…um…I’m actually from outside of Boston and huge Patriots fan…I just enlisted in the Army and I’m on my way to Germany for the next three years but I just wanted to tell you that the thing I’m going to miss most about home is watching you guys play on Sundays…”
“Cool, thanks. Germany huh? I’ve got a couple of friends who are in the army there, they say it’s awesome, great beer”
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it…anyway, just wanted to say hi…good luck next season”
“Thanks, good luck in Germany man, you’re gonna have a great time there”
I felt pretty stupid but I’d never really met anyone famous before and had no idea what to say. I ran right over to the pay phone and called Mike and Jen to tell them about it but they were not home so I left a frantic message on their machine telling them of my encounter with Mr. Bledsoe.
With my brush with celebrity behind me I got on the plane still a bit excited about meeting one of my hometown sports heroes. When I got off the plane in Columbia, South Carolina later that night I was snapped back into reality. There was an E7 in his dress uniform screaming his head off at everybody. Get your shit! Get in line! No talking! Eyes straight ahead! I said no talking! Are you deaf?!
“Holy crap, what have I gotten myself into?! Am I crazy?! What the hell was I thinking?!”
I’m standing there with all the young basic training recruits, most of them just out of high school, and for the first time I’m thinking that I made a big mistake when the guy spots me – I guess I must have stood out among the younger people – and walks over to me.
“Oh no, what the hell did I do? Why is he walking towards me? Shit, this was a bad idea!”
He stopped about 10 feet away and pointed at me.
“Are you prior service?
“OK, get out of that line, you don’t need to be with all those new guys.”
Fortunately the prior service people were treated a bit better than the basic trainees since we had already been through it all before. We had to go through all the same inprocessing that they did but we had separate barracks and had a lot more freedom. I made some good friends during the 5 or 6 days that we were there waiting to go overseas which made the trip a little easier to deal with. There was one guy who really just begged to be made fun of. He was from the upper peninsula of Michigan. My brother used to work up there and told me that people make fun of “UPers” quite a bit as they see them as backwards rednecks. Well, let me tell you, this guy fit the bill. We called him “Youpee”. He actually brought a hockey stick with him. We were like “You know you can probably buy a hockey stick in Germany, right?” But he couldn’t stand to part with his hockey stick. We were allowed two checked bags and one carry on and Youpee used his hockey stick as his carry on and asked us about a dozen times if we thought we might be able to get a game together when we get to Germany. It was nearly May. That was Youpee. Another guy, from Montana, told me that he enlisted active duty to go to Germany for one reason and one reason alone: so he could ski the Alps. You must really love to ski if you’re willing to join the army just to do it. There was a kid named Bosh who was just crazy. He had a tongue ring and used to try and tell us that he had once done a secret airborne jump into North Korea. We just kind of humored him and said it must have been quite a harrowing adventure. He’d lived a hell of a life for a 19 year old kid. Then there was Stephanie. Stephanie was the very definition of white trailer trash. She was 24, from the swamps outside of Tallahessee, Florida, had worked in a bar since she was twelve years old, had three kids, wasn’t married, and had one of the thickest southern accents I’d ever heard. She was mildly attractive, loved to gamble, and was very friendly. I hadn’t met very many women like her in my life so I was kind of intrigued by her. We all flew to Germany together except for Stephanie who had to remain at Ft Jackson to testify against a married E5 who had repeatedly tried to coerce her into having sex with him while he was supposed to be supervising our work detail.
(Stay tuned for Part 2...)