The Night Before Basic, Killing Brain and Lung Cells
On January 31, 1972, I flew to Texas to begin basic training. On April 2, 2007, ten years ago today, I called Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Askew, recruiting sergeant for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, and began the process of re-enlisting after 23+ years as a civilian. I was 53 years old at the time, about to turn 54.
In the Spring of 2007, The Surge in Iraq was in full swing and recruitment for the Army was down a lot. The economy was good, Congress would not even consider re-starting the Draft, so in late 2006 Congress raised the maximum first-enlistment age for the Army from 35 to 42 years old.
The program was a failure and was rescinded three years later. But that failed program allowed me to re-enlist. The maximum enlistment age for soldiers with prior service is the enlistment age plus the years of prior service plus a one-year waiver. I needed all of that.
I called three recruiters before I called Kevin. He was the first one to pick up the phone. I told him about my education and prior service before I told him how old I was. He did not hesitate. He asked for all the papers I had that would confirm my prior service dates. He thought there was a good chance I could get back in, but only as an enlisted man. I told him that was fine. At my age, there were very few programs I could be retrained in, and despite my education, nothing as an officer. I was way past the maximum age for officer and warrant officer programs.
Because the other recruiters did not answer the phone, I decided to go with the Aviation unit, which led to the one regret I had for the rest of my time on this enlistment. I should have gone back to an armor unit. I really did miss tanks themselves, few things are more fun than speeding across open country in 55 tons of armor, or firing the tank's main gun.
Few places in the Army have the same camaraderie as a tank. Except for crews with a platoon leader or commander, everyone in the tank is an enlisted man. I flew a lot of missions on Blackhawks and Chinooks. There was banter among the crew chiefs, door gunners and flight engineers and there was banter int he cockpit, but the divide between the officers and enlisted men was clear. The tank crews I was part of were a team of more or less equals. We were all enlisted, even if only one of us was in charge.
April 2, 2007, was Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter. The irony of signing up to go to war on the night before Good Friday was not lost on me.
At the time I was keeping my plans to myself. I did not want to worry my family, friends, co-workers or anyone else in my life with a crazy plan that had, as I saw it at the time, a low chance of success.
As it turns out, my enlistment plans would hit a Himalayan speed bump on May 9, 2007, but that is for a later post.