Every child always wants to know how his mother and father met. I tell mine, it all started with a flat tire on a jeep. But maybe that is getting a little ahead of my story.
My name is Kelly, born Kelly Wooten. I was the younger of two sisters in a small southern coastal town. When I was a senior in high school I managed the astounding feat of getting married, getting pregnant and getting divorced all within that single school year. Okay, the events didn't occur exactly in the order I listed them.
Stu and I were doomed from the start. We were in lust, not in love. We were two frightened teenagers taking responsibility for a night of fumbling passion in the back seat of his dad's 71 Camaro. Neither of us had the slightest idea of what a marriage entailed, nor were we ready for such a step. Given the facts, it was sort of amazing we lasted six months.
Here I was, living with my parents, who made the best effort they could to support their daughter and her thank-god-not-born-out-of-wedlock son. My father worked in a mill and my mom was a waitress. They had worked hard all their lives and now it looked like they were going to have to keep working. There weren't many jobs available even then to someone who's last semester of high school was spent with morning sickness. None of them had a future. Then my sister came home on leave.
She had enlisted in the Army as a clerk-typist the summer she graduated. She had just made Specialist 4th class and had the news that she was being assigned to a recently reopened post only an hour and a half from home. She had a car, nice civilian clothes and actual money in her pocket. A week later she and I went to the recruiter's office.
This was 1977. Vietnam was finally officially over. The Army was, frankly, a wreck and enlistments were so low that even with my lousy grades I met the standards, except for one little fact. The Army wasn't taking single parents.
I sat down with my parents, my ex-husband, my sister and the recruiter. Stu was terrified of taking Jeremy. In his defense, I will point out that he had no family support available. His parents were divorced. His mother had moved away and his dad's only interests were drinking beer and hunting deer, in season or out. Stu made no objections when the recruiter proposed we surrender custody of Jeremy to my parents. We took the legal steps and a month later I left for Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
I didn't like Basic, but I didn't hate it either. I did what I was told and made an effort to be invisible among the other female recruits. In those days we trained and lived completely separate from the males. I did okay and went on to Indiana where I was trained as a Personnel Specialist. Following that I came back to the now rapidly expanding post where my sister was assigned. There I was assigned to the Records Section at Post Headquarters.
I had busy days, followed by usually NOT busy nights. I dated occasionally, but I spent most weekends at home with my parents and son. I was saving my money, living in the WAC barracks in a room with my sister and eating in the Mess Hall.
Early in my enlistment I realized there were pretty much 3 kinds of female soldiers. The first were the kind that knew in a lot of ways they had it made. We were outnumbered 50 to 1 or more by the male soldiers. They could pick a different date every night, screw whoever took them out and have wild times as long as they could make morning formations. Most of them ended up pregnant and married to other soldiers. I had already been down a similar road. I certainly enjoyed sex, but I didn't want to be thought of as one of the "20 dollar WAC's".
The second kind kept to themselves. The Army was pretty sudden death on Lesbianism but it flourished in the barracks in a very careful fashion. I received several oblique and one very direct proposition. I didn't have any kind of objections to being with another woman, but I never felt any real attraction to the ones I thought were gay. So I didn't pursue anything there either.
The third kind were the minority that simply wanted to do their jobs, be respected and get ahead. Some, my sister included, were considering making the Army a career. Some wanted to learn skills for civilian life. Some wanted a more permanent relationship than they expected to find with another PFC, someone more settled, like a civilian employee or an NCO.
I might add that the lines of these groups, like all artificially drawn lines, blurred sometimes. Some of the party girls also liked other girls. One of the most intense and capable females in our barracks was a lesbian who eventually went on to Officer Candidate School and got her commission.
I worked in the same office as my sister. Other than morning PT three times a week and occasional training at the company we were assigned to, we generally worked 9 to 5. We worked hard, but I had no objections to working in an office that was heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer. I suppose that made my grumbling even louder when the company's turn to supply the Interior Guard force came up and I got nailed for the first Saturday detail. A whole weekend blown as we would be doing 2 hours on and 4 hours off from 0800 hours (8 AM) Saturday to 0800 Sunday. When we were off we were to stay in the Guardhouse except to take meals.
My sister was not on duty that day. She opened one eye and waved as I struggled into the fatigues I usually didn't wear, along with my web gear and steel helmet. I drove my new (new to me anyway) red Pinto to the company area. There we were formed up, loaded into trucks and were carried to the Guard shack. The NCO serving as Sergeant of the Guard split us into the three shifts and arranged us for inspection by the Officer of the Guard.
I didn't have much experience with officers. At Basic and Advanced Individual Training they were a remote presence that generally only showed up for Saturday inspections. A Warrant Officer was in charge of the office where I worked. So I kept my eyes fixed to the front. I did get an impression of a tanned face and brown eyes as he paused to check my appearance.
I was assigned to the second shift, so I went to the curtained alcove in the back of the open sleeping area that was marked "Females Only". Only one other woman was pulling guard with me today, a black female from the company orderly room whose name I only vaguely recalled. We settled in. She was called for the second shift and two hours after that I joined my relief shift and off we went.
I didn't pay attention to all the guard posts, figuring whichever one I was placed at would be the only one that would really matter. I had heard the Sergeant of the Guard and the Relief Commander discussing that the post an individual was first placed at would remain that person's assignment.
Only six of us remained when the truck halted again and everyone was told to get out. We were standing at the front gate of the Ammunition Supply Point. The Guard Sergeant explained that four of us would be posted in the towers that stood at each corner of the surrounding fence and the other two would be a roving patrol, driving a jeep in amongst the bunkers and along the inside roads. I was lucky enough to be assigned to the roving patrol.
In short order everyone had been replaced and I was riding shotgun (literally as we were armed with 12 gauge riot guns) with a black Specialist from the Personal Assignments Branch named Larry King. I was happy to have someone to talk to, and even more fortunate because Larry was intelligent and witty. In fact, I discovered he had taken a year of college before enlisting.
Midway through our first shift we heard a honking from the gate. When we drove up, the Officer of the Guard waved to us. I got out and unlocked the small gate beside the vehicle gate. I saluted him and then climbed in the back seat as he slid into the space I had been riding. To my astonishment, he immediately began talking to Larry as though they were old friends.
He visited each tower guard. I immediately noticed that he seemed to have difficulty climbing the ladder to the towers. By the time he had visited all four, he was limping and had a slight sheen of sweat on his face.
I had sat silently the whole time he made his inspections. Then he told Larry to ride around so he could check the fences and turned his attention to me. His questions seemed to be the usual "Officer-type" ones; where was I from, what was my assignment, etc. He did seem to actually listen when I answered. Twice he asked a follow-up question, getting more information than I had intended to give away.
Once we had dropped him off at the gate I turned towards Larry. Before I could even open my mouth to ask it, he answered my question.
"Yes, I know Lieutenant Ashe. We were in college together. I was a freshman and he was a senior but we lived a few doors away from each other and he's a nice guy who made a black kid welcome in a small southern college that didn't have many blacks. We weren't close friends or anything like that but I do know him. By the way," Larry grinned, "He's single and his first name is Mark."
I know I blushed, because Larry's grin got even bigger. I plowed on, even though I knew I was giving away something, although I wasn't sure what that something was.
"Why is he limping?"
"Broke his leg in three places in a parachute jump. You probably didn't even notice that he's not wearing the shield of the Adjutant General's Branch, he's wearing the crossed rifles of Infantry. He's just assigned to the Personal Services Company until his leg heals up."
I hadn't noticed that. I had noticed though that he had a very nice smile.
Shifts came and went. I'm not stupid. I noticed that Lieutenant Ashe made the rounds of each shift, but discreet questioning elicited the information that after an initial inspection of the tower guards on the other two shifts he simply rode by and waved. When Larry and I were on, he came in and rode around with us. And it didn't strike me that he was interested in Larry.
We were on our last shift, beginning at 6 in the morning. The night was getting foggy. Lieutenant Ashe showed up with a big thermos of coffee he told us he had persuaded the mess hall to give him, along with a stack of Styrofoam cups. He climbed into the front seat again and we started the rounds of the towers.
That was when Fate intervened. There was a sharp "POW" and the jeep lurched to the side. Larry leaned out of the jeep as he brought it to a stop and glared at the rear wheel. "Flat tire, damnit."
We climbed out and I went around back to start taking the spare off when Larry called to me.
"Kelly, leave that alone. I got it." I don't think he winked, but I could be wrong. So Lieutenant Ashe and I settled down by one of the bunkers and watched Larry work. I have to admit, it was much nicer sitting there then sweating over the jack and the tires.
The silence seemed awkward. Finally Ashe made some half-silly remark and we relaxed a bit and began to chat. I told him some about me; growing up, my job and my divorce. The one thing I hesitated about was telling him about my son. I decided to save that for another time. Besides, I wanted to hear about him.
I discovered that he was also from the South, Alabama, although he had gone to school here. He had majored in History and had been dumped by his girlfriend about 6 months ago. Really dumped. They had gone to a party and she had left with someone else.
He had been going through the Pathfinder course at the Airborne School at Ft. Benning when he had made a bad landing and torn up his leg. Until it healed, he had been assigned as the Executive Officer of the company. He frankly admitted that it was driving him crazy doing nothing more than signing papers and inspecting the motor pool instead of running through the woods as an infantry platoon leader.
"All done!" Larry's announcement caught us off-guard and we both jumped. Reluctantly, I got up and we both headed back to the jeep.
"Maybe you won't have to wait too much longer before you can go to a line unit," I said.
"Maybe not," he answered. Then, almost to himself, he added "Being here does have an advantage I never had thought of before."
I think he didn't plan to say that out loud, for he suddenly changed the subject to the blown tire. We pulled up to the gate and loaded the tire into the back of his jeep and he sped off, leaving the coffee, and some doughnuts I had no business eating three of, with us.
The rest of the shift, every time I looked at Larry he was grinning. I knew darn well why, but I didn't give in to him. The Guard Sergeant brought back the repaired tire. We finally finished our shift and the entire detail was relieved.
The trucks returned us to the company area. I unlocked my car and tossed my gear in the back seat. My eyes swept the parking lot. On the far side, Lieutenant Ashe was standing with the door open on a white Mustang, his gaze searching the people. When his eyes met mine, they stopped. For what seemed to be a long moment, we simply looked at each other. Then he got in his car and drove off. I wasn't sure, as my own stare followed him as he left, but it appeared he was looking in the rear view mirror at me.
I went back to the barracks and took a long hot shower. It was Sunday morning and my sister was gone. I slipped under the covers and settled in for a nap before lunchtime. When I did, my hand slipped under the covers and between my legs. I closed my eyes and imagined a certain dark-haired man was in bed with me as my fingers gently relaxed me and I fell asleep.
The following week I wandered around, unsure of what in the world I was going to do, or if I was going to do anything at all. There is a tremendous gulf between the enlisted and officer ranks. The Uniform Code of Military Justice even provides penalties for "Fraternization", and I wanted to do a lot more than just have a cup of coffee with Mark. God, now I was thinking about him by his first name, and not the old joke about first names in the Army.
I didn't see him. I made a couple of excuses to visit the company orderly room, but he was never there. What the hell I would have said if he had been there, I have no idea to this day. I didn't share what I was feeling with anyone, especially my sister.
Then it was Friday night. I was almost alone in the barracks and I didn't like it. Moved by an impulse, I put on some nice clothes and drove to the company area. I hesitantly walked into the company dayroom. There was only one person there, the Charge of Quarters who's duty was to answer the phone should anyone need to call the company. And it was Larry.
"Hi Kelly, what's going on?"
"Oh nothing, I guess. I was bored and didn't know what to do so I thought I might ride around."
He looked at me with affection and exasperation. He turned and pulled the loose-leave binder filled with the instructions for the CQ. He cradled it in his lap.
"Did he call you?"
"The commanding general, of course. Kelly, I saw you looking at Mark and I saw him looking at you. But he didn't call, did he?"
"No, he didn't." I tried and failed to keep the disappointment out of my voice.
Larry sighed. "I knew he wouldn't, damnit." I must have given him a stricken look or something because he hastily added, "Not because he didn't want to. As I said, I saw him looking. But Kelly, you know the Army regs. He can't cross that line and ask you out, much as I can tell he wants to."
"Then what do I do, Larry?"
He looked at me again, a smile on his face. He put the binder on the desk, opened it and turned it to face me. Then he pushed the phone to me and pointed out Mark's name and number on the alert roster.