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To kill time on an otherwise boring and mundane tower guard shift, Brown thinks about what he calls his Big Four:...
To kill time on an otherwise boring and mundane tower guard shift, Brown thinks about what he calls his Big Four: Should he leave the Army when his enlistment term ends in a couple of months? Should he convert to Islam like so many young African-American men do? Should he pop the question to his girlfriend, Tywanna?
And most important of all, what is in that package Tywanna said she sent to him, by DHL so that it would get there in time? Tywanna is his one and only; he loves her and her daughter, Danielle, more than anything. He can envision their life and their future together. And then Brown receives the package, and it changes everything. There's no turning back,
there's no do-over, and his life will never be the same.
Should I ETS in April? he thought. Yeah, man, time to end the Army thing and return to civilian life. ETS stood for "end term of service"—something at the very front of Brown's brain, for it was the first of his Big Four. He shrugged. Yeah, National Guard's been good to me, but it's time to report to Fort Living Room civilian life.
He took another sip of his ice-cold Coke as his second big issue—religion—came to mind. Should I convert to Islam? Yeah, man, I think so. Many brothers do. I think I'm a go on that one.
Tywanna, his girlfriend who lived back home in Lubbock, was the third of Brown's Big Four. Brown thought about her every day. Should I pop the big question to T? he thought as he kept scanning his sector. I think so. Time for the big C—the big commitment. Tywanna's the girl for me, man. It's time to tie the knot.
And then there was the last of his Big Four issues—something about a package Tywanna said she had sent him. Brown rubbed his chin as he thought about how Tywanna had e-mailed him three days earlier, saying she mailed him a package, sending it DHL. It's weird, man—this late in the game and T sends me a package? Wonder what that package is all 'bout.
Brown was twenty-two years old and a landscape worker out of Lubbock, Texas. He was one of roughly 120 members of the 2-142, an Army National Guard unit (2-142 stands for Second Battalion, 142nd Infantry Mechanized) that was also based in Lubbock. Back in April of 2002, the 2-142 got activated—their mission: to guard Camp Delta, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which was housing the newly arriving Global War on Terrorism detainees. Now it was December of the same year, and the 2-142's six-month mission was on its last day, meaning Brown was on his last tower guard duty.
Brown was nearly six feet tall and tipped the scales at a portly 220 pounds. He stood up from his wooden swivel stool and stretched his legs. He was wearing his BDU uniform—the camouflaged battle dress uniform. He was also wearing a soft cap and black military boots.
He started pacing around his tower, Tower Three—a sturdy twelve-by-eight structure made of plywood. Suddenly he heard, "Attention all towers, attention all towers." The voice was emanating from his portable Saber radio, a radio that was standing erect on the floor next to the wooden stool. "This is the SOG. The time is oh two hundred hours. Commence radio checks in sequence at this time."
In three long strides, Brown reached his stool and picked up his Saber radio. He heard a strong voice, that of Ricardo Ruas, or Rosey, as he was called, say, "Tower Two."
With his right thumb, Brown pressed the radio's mike button and said, "Tower Three, good to go."
He released the button and heard, "Tower Four, Tower Five ...," all the way to the final tower.
Ah, seven more hours of this boring shit, he thought. Then we got a few last-minute chores, and then we get on a chartered plane and head back to Texas. Yeah, man!
He sat down on his wooden stool and took another sip of Coke.
"Good job, all towers," he heard loud and clear from the Saber radio. "Y'all stay vigilant on your last tower guard shift. SOG out."
Brown put down his Saber radio. Good old Staff Sergeant Harrison's got sergeant of the guard duty tonight. Seems only right for our beloved squad leader to have our final shift.
He shifted a bit on his stool to get himself comfortable, and then he resumed visually scanning his sector. It was 2:00 AM and dark out, but the Camp Delta compound was well lit, and off to the right, about a quarter mile away, Brown could clearly see Camp America, the small enclave of wooden cabins called hooches where Army soldiers like himself lived. Camp America was well lit as well, as was the dining facility, the Sea Galley, next to it. The Sea Galley was a Quonset hut composed of a thick white tarp hung over a metal frame.
Best I check on my TA-50 gear, man. He looked down to the left at the plywood floor, and there he saw his Kevlar helmet, M16 with magazine, pistol belt and two ammo pouches, two canteens, and his chemical mask.
My shit's good to go, he thought. And then, for no particular reason, he glanced to his right, and that's when he caught a glimpse of the graffiti written on one of the tower's plywood walls.
Shit, man, I've been on Tower Three before, but I forgot 'bout all the graffiti and shit on this tower.
The graffiti messages were scrawled on one of the tower's plywood walls. They were mostly written in ink—black or blue or red—but a few were written in gray pencil lead. He started reading the graffiti to himself:
Someone kill the hard charger!
GITMO—the least worst place
I don't need Python pills—God gave me a BIG ONE.
Twenty days and a wakeup
For a good time and a BJ, call Joe at 7236.
That was immediately followed by Does Joe give good BJs?
Below that, Brown read, If God loved gays, he would've created Adam and Steve. Death to all fags!
Brown read some more:
Jody got my bitch, but I'll get Jody when I return home.
Then carved in red ink was 666, followed by Jesus rules!
And then the last graffiti message:
The real illegal immigrants came on the Mayflower.
What the hell, Brown thought. I need to kill some time here on this boring-ass shift. Lemme think 'bout this graffiti crap.
He thought about the first graffiti message: Stop-loss sucks.
Now there's a true fuckin' statement if I ever read one. Shit, I've got no regrets for signing up with the Texas Army National Guard. How long has it been? Over two years ago? But this stop-loss crap is really pushing me to get out of the Army when my ETS pops up next April.
He took a quick sip from his can of Coke, which he had placed on a thick wooden plank. The plank braced one of the tower's four supporting beam poles.
Fuckin' stop-loss, man. That's just a damn fuckin' way for politicians and the higher-up military brass to cover their asses and tell the public we don't have a recruiting problem. And it's also another way to avoid a draft, really.
Higher-ups say if you're in a critical MOS—military occupational specialty—or if your unit's really needed, then you can't get out of the Army, at least not now. That's a tough pill to swallow. Sign up with Uncle Sugar's Army for four years, and then your four years are over, and you think yous turning to good old Fort Living Room and civilian life, but right then Uncle Sugar says, "Oh no, soldier—I got your ass. I declare a stop-loss, and you can't get out right now 'cause the country needs you."
Brown suddenly thought about Congressman Charles Rangel. Shit, man, when I think 'bout it, Brother Rangel is the shit with this crap. Rangel's my favorite politician, man, hands down. In my book, the brother should run for prez. Heck, Rangel says we need the draft, and he's probably right. Plus, I like Rangel's idea that a draft would level this unbalanced playing field; it would force rich kids to serve in the military too. That way it wouldn't be just the poor and the disadvantaged having to carry the load of fightin' Uncle Sugar's wars. That sounds like a plan to me. Brown pumped his fist. Brother Rangel for prez, man.
Brown stretched his thick neck by rotating it to the left and then to the right. He took another sip from his Coke can.
Fuck, man, whoever wrote that 'Stop-loss sucks' graffiti sure got it right. Me, I consider my black ass lucky 'cause no one's told us the 2-142 comes under a stop-loss. That's why when April comes 'round, I might just get out right then and there 'cause I ain't affected by no stop-loss, and I'm a lucky bitch my ETS is up.
He glanced down at the floor and shook his head in frustration. Friggin' injustice, man. There's such a disconnect sometimes between the higher-ups and us dudes doing the grunt work. Politicians and higher-ups can just declare a stop-loss—the country needs you, blah, blah, blah. Fuck, man, how many of those higher-up high-class shits served in the military? Bush the prez, man—well, at least he did some time in the National Guard. Clinton, man, that dude was too busy having some fun with an intern and a cigar. Shit's fucked, in my opinion. That's injustice right there. Unfair written all over it. The politicians tell us we have an all-volunteer Army—my fat black ass we do.
Brown slapped his ample bottom and then took another sip of Coke. Why the fuck do we need stop-loss measures for anyway? Brother Rangel served in Korea. He's been through the real deal—brother knows what's up, what the true crappy and smelly shit tastes and smells like. That stop-loss crap does suck, and it's unfair. And even if Prez Bush served some, I bet anything his daughters won't serve a day in the military. Same story with Clinton's daughter.
He looked at the next graffiti message: ETS=freedom.
Yeah, that's true too, man. Again, my black ass is lucky on that one. Heck, the more I think 'bout it, the more I'm leaning toward returning to Fort Living Room and civilian life. Overall, I got no regrets joining Uncle Sugar's Army—hell, they's payin' for my college and shit. But that full twenty-year military career thing ... Nah, man, that shit ain't for me. Me, I'm looking forward to returning to civilian life 'cause the way I see it, four years of military service is enough. Yep, I'm leaning toward getting back to my job and getting my two-year associate's degree. I just gotta go to night class, that's all.
Brown ran his hand over the top of his head. He had everything worked out. After getting his associate's degree at the community college, he would transfer to Texas Tech in Lubbock and get his BA in criminal justice and sociology. I dig that shit—sociology, politics, economics, the criminal justice system. That shit's real. Who knows, maybe someday I'll be a politician just like Brother Rangel. Get me a white-collar job; a necktie job. Anyway, that "ETS=freedom" shit is the bomb, man—for real.
Brown stood up and slowly walked to one of the four telephone polelike beams supporting Tower Three. He did that because his CamelBak was hanging from an old rusted nail driven into the beam. Taking his time, he gently placed the black nipple portion of the black tubing of the CamelBak in his mouth. He then turned the open valve and began to suck in some cool water.
Ah, that feels good. As much as Brown loved Coke, he knew it had a dehydrating effect on his body. He removed the CamelBak tube from his mouth, and then he turned the valve to the cutoff position and proceeded to sit back on the wooden swivel stool.
He looked at the next graffiti message: Someone kill the hard charger!
Another true statement right there. Hard-chargin' Captain Boswell. Dude's all high-speed and shit, but there's no secret why we call him the hard charger. Word is he pushed the higher-ups over in Austin to activate our unit. Don't know if any of that shit's for real, but it wouldn't surprise me any. Plus, I'm no fan of by-the-book Boswell.
Brown recalled being demoted by Boswell after getting into a fight with a Marine at the Windjammer Club. Motherfucker busted me in rank. When was that ... September? Yeah, back in September. Sure, I got out of hand, but that jarhead was looking at me funny. Friggin' jarhead started the shit too, but no—by-the-book Boswell didn't see it that way; he don't support his troops, man. Brown mimicked Boswell, saying in a whiny voice, "I've got to set the example, Brown. Fighting will not be tolerated in this unit." Brown jabbed his finger toward the wall as he spoke, remembering the painful conversation in Boswell's quarters. "You're no longer a specialist, Brown. I'm busting you to private first class."
Sweet fuck, man. Higher-up disconnect once again right there. Shit, it's dudes like Boswell who got it all wrong—dudes like him don't give a rat's ass 'bout stop-losses.
He arched his back in order to stretch it, and then he interlaced his fingers and cracked his knuckles.
In my opinion, Prez Bush is another hard charger. I just hope Bush plans his shit straight in Kuwait and Saudi. Damn higher-ups—lots of power there. I forget who wrote that power is a great aphrodisiac, but whoever wrote that shit got it right. I just hope the prez and the other higher-ups don't get on some power trip; I hope they don't get too excited 'bout shit and fuck things up for the guys like me—guys with their boots on the ground.
Brown took a gulp from his Coke can; it was a gulp that made him swallow hard, cough two times, and belch. He took a few deep breaths. Ah, that feels better.
He placed his can of Coke on the flat wooden plank in front of him. He looked at the next graffiti message: GITMO—the least worst place.
Ah, that shit's all 'bout them T-shirts for sale over at the Navy Exchange. Some dude came up with that saying for the T-shirts, and now 'em shirts are selling pretty solid.
He quickly looked at the next message: I don't need Python pills—God gave me a BIG ONE.
Brown smiled. Heck, that's some dude writing 'bout Specialist Juan Lopez, the one and only Johnny Python. Friggin' Python, man. That dude's been chasing pussy here ever since we hit the ground back in June. Dude's all wild and open 'bout his shit too. Hell, I couldn't believe it when he told us his wife—his own wife, man—sent him these Python pills and horny goat weed shit to make his stick harder. Talk 'bout an open marriage. And his Python pills and horny goat weed are on that little wooden plank directly above his cot back in our hooch—all out in the open for us Fifth Squadders to see. Python's always chasing pussy wherever and whenever he can: Windjammer Club, Tiki Bar, bowling alley, movie theater, Windmill Beach. Wherever there's chicks, Python's chasing 'em and asking 'em for dates and shit.
Brown took another sip of Coke. Shit, that reminds me—the chick situation here's a real tough nut to crack. Not that that's an issue with me 'cause I'm tight and loyal with my Tywanna, but I know there ain't much in the chick department here at Gitmo. Shit, there's a saying here at Gitmo: "Get more at Gitmo," but everybody knows it ain't true 'cause there's so few chicks here. Like in our unit, man. None of the girls in the 2-142 came to this Gitmo mission 'cause this here is considered an infantry mission, and women ain't allowed in the infantry. Brown suddenly thought about the unit from the Mississippi National Guard, the unit that was over at Camp America. That unit had some women because they were MPs, and women were allowed to be MPs. The women worked inside Camp Delta, which was better duty, Brown felt, than what his unit was doing—pulling boring shifts in the towers and at vehicle checkpoints.
Shit, man, Python's always asking those female Mississippi MPs out on dates. Also the Marine, Navy, and Air Force chicks—he asks them for dates too. I've noticed when I'm out drinking beer or shooting pool at the Windjammer Club that 'em chicks stick to their own branch: Marine chick jarheads stick with Marine dude jarheads; Navy chick squids stick with Navy dude squids; Air Force chick zoomies stick with Air Force dude zoomies. That's just the way it is, man. For real.
Brown cracked his knuckles, and then he extended his legs to stretch them. He looked at the next graffiti message: Texas rules!
Amen to that, brother. Lone Star State's where it's at. I just hope our former governor turned commander in chief, Prez Bush, knows what he's doing with that troop buildup in Kuwait and Saudi.
Brown looked at the next message: Twenty days and a wakeup.
Shit, man, that was written by some dude who had twenty- one days left here. Twenty days and a wakeup. Heck, it's now wake up, do our last shift, pack, and get the hell outta this "least worst place" called Gitmo. Them twenty days are past, man. Last day is today. Six months in this hot, humid place is long enough.
Excerpted from A Package at Gitmo by Paul Bouchard Copyright © 2010 by Paul Bouchard. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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