James Ross was sitting at his desk drinking his first cup of morning coffee. He was staring out his window instead of going through his inbox for the first time like he would normally have done. Normally by this time of morning he would have finished his perusal of the overnight deliveries and made some phone calls to subordinates but his heart just was not in it any longer. He knew he was letting his boss down and he knew he should; he had to get his shit together but he just could not seem to do so. He had already been to three weeks of grief counseling but nothing had improved. He still had trouble sleeping at night and he spent too much time during the work day feeling sorry for himself.
Jim had just sighed and pushed himself away from his desk to make his normal morning trip through the office complex when he heard a gruff voice speak, "As You Were." He quickly straightened to attention and turned to the voice. He made an attempt to smile and said, "Good Morning General."
Major General Stanley Foster smiled and returned the greeting. "Good Morning Sergeant Major." He looked into the eyes of his Division Sergeant Major and continued, "How are you holding up Jim?"
SGM Ross felt his heart lurch and his chest tighten. He took a moment to get himself under control before he replied, "I guess as well as can be expected General. I still miss her so damn much. I" His throat constricted and his eyes watered once more to the point he couldn't speak. He turned from the General so he wouldn't see his eyes and bit his lip. He continued in a broken voice, "Sometimes I don't know how I can make it through the day. I want to tell her something and then I realize I will never be able to do that ever again. Sometimes I'm not sure it's even worth going on."
The General walked up and put his hand on Jim's shoulder and said, "I know how you must hurt Sergeant Major but we all have to go on. You have your children still and you know we all are here for you too if you need help or just need to talk."
The General stood with his friend and remembered years past. Then Sergeant Ross had been one of his squad leaders when he got his first Platoon after being commissioned in the army. Over the intervening years they had been stationed on the same post, many times in the same unit as their careers progressed. Platoon Sergeant Ross had been one of the Platoon Sergeants when he had command of an Infantry Company. A few years later Ross had been a First Sergeant in the Battalion then Lt. Colonel Foster commanded.
As the years progressed their children grew up together and their wives became as near friends as it was possible for an enlisted and officer's wife to become. Neither of the families closely followed the customs of the Army religiously so they had more social interaction than would have normally been common. The men and their wives were kindred spirits and they liked each other's company enough that they ignored the difference in rank as much as possible.
When General Foster was given command of the Division he specially requested Sergeant Major Ross be appointed his Division Command Sergeant Major. By then the children had grown and left home but the men and their wives were happy working and socializing together as much as possible. Of course they followed convention and socialized with their peers more but they still made time for their friends.
The General and his wife were nearly as devastated as were the Ross children and Jim Ross when a drunken soldier ran a stop sign and T-Boned Della Ross's car on post. The autopsy showed she died of a broken neck instantly upon impact. Like happens many times the soldier, the guilty party in this case, was slightly injured and Sergeant Major Ross's wife, the innocent party paid the ultimate price for his stupidity.
Of course the soldier was court-martialed and sentenced to Leavenworth Federal Prison. That did not bring back Della Ross to her loved ones but hopefully the soldier would not kill anyone else. It had not been the soldier's first arrest for alcohol abuse. He had lost stripes for it before and there had been a bar on reenlistment for him because of it. Unfortunately for Della Ross the Army had not managed to get rid of him in time to save her life.
Ever since the accident, now almost three months in the past, SGM Ross had been in a funk. He and his fellow soldiers knew he wasn't performing up to his normal standards. In fact, if the truth was told, he was just managing to marginally perform his duties and he knew he had to do something to get himself together. He felt badly because he was letting his General and his unit down. He just could not seem to get over his loss.
General Foster let his hand slide off the SGM's shoulder and turned to his Aide. He said, "Well, come on into my office Captain and let's get started." The Captain followed, opening his Day planner as he did so. SGM Ross stood a moment longer looking out the window and getting himself under better control then turned to make his interrupted tour through the Division. He made it his practice to stroll throughout most of the division area at least once a day to supervise the senior Sergeants and keep his finger on the pulse of the unit. From time to time he would stop and visit with a young soldier so he could assess morale, training and the needs of his men. This day was no different.
Just before lunch he received a phone call from one of his past commanders, Colonel Paul Fielding, Retired. "SGM, we have been gone and I just heard about Della late last week. Jennifer and I are so sorry for your loss. She was a fine lady." The two friends visited for several minutes longer then as he was ending the call Paul said, "Jim, I've been talking to Stan and he told me you were still having a tough time ... I've talked to Dad and we reserved a cabin for you for the next two weeks. Stan says you need to relax and get your head screwed on better and Jennifer and I want you to come down so we can see you."
SGM Ross began telling Col Fielding he could not go to the Resort. He heard a voice and turned from the window he had been looking out of while he talked. General Foster broke into the conversation and said, "Sergeant Major I have been talking to your counselor and to Paul. We are all in agreement you need to get away and wrap your head around this tragedy. I need you at 100% and right now you aren't there. You WILL take the time off. If there is some reason you feel you can't go to the Fielding Resort that's fine but you WILL take some leave."
SGM Ross said, "Yes Sir." He then watched the General walk back into his office before he resumed his interrupted conversation with Paul Fielding. "OK, Sir. I guess you heard or at least know the General has just ordered me to take the time. I'll be there Saturday morning."
That evening Jim packed enough gear to last the two weeks he expected to be at the Fielding Resort, drank his supper and crashed. At his normal rising time of 0530 the next morning instead of putting on the uniform he had worn for the last 27 years he got into some cut off shorts and an old pullover shirt. His head was throbbing and he grimaced thinking he knew better than to drink like he did when he was in his early twenties. He admitted to himself he had been doing way too much of that since Della died. He filled his thermos with coffee and walked out to his F250 super crew powerstroke. He fired up the powerful engine and when it had settled down into a chuckling idle he drove onto the quiet street on his way to what the Fieldings called their own little slice of paradise in the Ozarks.
Late that evening Jim pulled into Steelville. He stopped at the local café for supper then drove out to the resort. Jim Fielding and his son Paul were waiting on him when he arrived. They introduced him to Paul's sons Jeffrey, now a Major in the USAR and Charlie, also a Major in the USAR. After the introductions they all drove to the cabin assigned to Jim Ross and showed him around. After they got him settled they broke out the favorite drink of all five men—18 year old Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban scotch.
Before the evening was over the entire bottle and most of another was drained. None of the men was completely sober. Jim was assured he would see Jim & Paul's wives the next day at breakfast. Jeff and Charlie's new wives would be there also and he could meet them for the first time.
Once again the next morning Jim woke near his usual time. Once again his mouth felt like a dragon had upchucked in it before it died and rotted. His stomach rolled and his head was throbbing. His mouth was dry and he was thirstier than he had been at the worst of times in Iraq. In short, he had another hellacious hang over.
When Jim arrived at the Lodge he was met by glaring stares from four beautiful and tastefully dressed Officer's Ladies. There were hang dog expressions on the faces of four Officers, also hung over. He smiled to himself thinking they were not only in the dog house for coming home at three in the morning roaring drunk but were suffering a hangover at least as bad as was his.
After introductions were made to Abigail and Amanda Jim got hugs from Ann and Jennifer Fielding. They moved to the outside deck of the resort where coffee was served. After about thirty minutes of coffee on the deck overlooking the river waitresses brought out a huge country breakfast. Everyone visited quietly while they consumed the food. When the plates were cleared the visiting continued for some time.
.... There is more of this story ...