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.
.... There is more of this story ...