combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 04 Fall ©Oct 2006

a Cautionary Tale

          She didn't like him driving such a hot sports car. She thought it sent the wrong message to other women. He wasn't a bachelor any longer, he was her man. She had to protect her investments: youth, beauty, energy – herself. Can't go wasting all that on a man who'll run off with the next woman who falls for the car ... or the shiny gold bar on the driver's swelled chest.

          So she did the only thing she knew to do: she bribed him.

          "You know that big new truck you saw? I think you should get it as a graduation present to yourself. You deserve it ... think of it as a well-deserved reward for your brand new commission. Besides, a man needs something to haul his stuff in."

          With a sinking heart, he made the trade. It wasn't so bad. It did make him feel strong and manly, above the little people with their little cars. Sure, he'd miss driving his old car – it was a real chick magnet! But the truck made him feel POWERFUL! And, his wife was right, he did deserve it.

          Soon, he'd be rumbling around in tanks, a real leader of men, but the truck made him feel stronger now, and taller – definitely taller. Also, hauling big stuff, like the generator and the lumber he'd just bought, made him feel about as manly as he'd ever felt.

          Sort of made him swagger a little.

          One bright day, his orders for bow-lick, the Basic Officer's Leader Course, arrived and he was, on many levels, quite nervous. This was his first assignment away from home. However, if he was reading the geopolitical scene correctly, it would be the first of many.

          Should they move wherever he was assigned? What was housing like? More importantly, would his wife leave her good job to go with him, and follow him from post to post?

          His wife blind-sided him. "Take my car to BOLC," she said, "it gets better mileage than the truck." Her choice of words stunned him. My car, but the truck? He was too shocked to do anything but concur. Once again, she had taken command of, and made real, a situation that still felt vague and overwhelming to him. All he had to do was to follow orders: show up on time, at the right place, in the right uniform.

          When he departed for BOLC, he couldn't meet her eyes. His lion avoided her lioness, and she rode her power as she did his – the truck – confidently, not looking back. He hid behind his new cooler-than-cool sunglasses, and when he arrived at Fort Benning, comforted himself with a raft of paramilitary purchases: a state-of-the-art set of binoculars, a big complicated wristwatch, and a frighteningly sharp combat knife.

          The first day, he felt lost. Although the four-hundred man classroom was only half full, a mass of soldiers filed out after the last class of the day. To restore his own confidence, he walked slowly while the others ran – to the smoking area, to their cars, to pester a reluctant teacher with questions. He thought of the good-looking, tall, desert boots he wore – buckle boots were an Armor tradition. He thought they made him look as he wanted to be: sophisticated, smart, a leader. They clearly set him apart from the sea of Infantry pogues in his class.

          He stopped abruptly in the hall, and, not surprisingly, a classmate barreled into him. The classmate muttered an apology and barely missed a step, but the pudgy soldier seemed mentally as well as physically off-balance.

          To regain some sense of control over his fantasy image of himself, he eased from the stream of exiting troops and stood up as strong and tall as he could under a bright skylight, ready to play his next scene.

          He deliberately pulled a case from a chest pocket. He loved his uniform, and its many pockets. Just as deliberately, he removed his shiny, new, wraparound sunglasses from their case, replaced the case in its pocket, and with both hands and a small flourish, donned the glasses.

          He caught himself before he smoothed his thinning hair. No need to draw attention to that, he thought.

          With studied defiance of the post's rule prohibiting tobacco usage indoors – after all, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do – he lovingly drew a tin of the snuff du jour from another pocket, and took a dip.

          His image of himself was now complete, and he was sure that anyone who passed by could see how strong, how masculine, he was.

          A persistent DLIC was questioning the instructor, who was trying to escape and evade into the designated smoking area. All were oblivious to the chubby pogue, an ROTC campus star made small in the active duty Army, yet he nodded amiably to them, as if to signal an attentive audience that the show was over – they could leave now.

          Out of the spotlight and into the anonymity of the shadowed hallway he stepped, leaving the performer persona behind. He walked down the hall a man, like any other – offstage, neither tall nor swaggering. When he emerged into the bright sunlight, he seemed dazed, despite the protection of his beloved sunglasses.

          He poised before entering the parking lot, on the edge of an abyss, summoning his courage before stepping off into it to find his wife's car. He felt like a combatant ready to cross a field under grazing fire, or a soldier dispatched into a minefield.

          He advanced to his wife's car and stopped, checking the perimeter. Good. No one looking. He climbed quickly into the chartreuse Volkswagen. Soon lost amongst the exiting POVs, he headed for the BOQ and another night of miserable isolation.

          Every night, he phoned his wife to ease his loneliness. Every night, she seemed more confident, more positive, more assertive than before.

          "I love driving my truck," she said. Not the truck. He heard her clearly.

          The damage was done. Her truck?

          "Yeah, you know, it makes me feel strong, tall, and, um, kind of sexy. When I climb out of it I actually catch myself swaggering, or strutting, as my grandma would say." She giggled, missing his groan of dismay.

          "I've got to go, hon," he said, hanging up the phone.

by Jill J. Christensen
... who is a writer, editor, and illustrator, currently employed at the U.S. Army Infantry School. She has compiled an infantry glossary as a professional resource, and contributes the pictorial column entitled The Observation Post to this magazine.

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