While it seems like forever ago, I was once in the military. I joined the United States Marine Corps during my senior year in high school, and served for nearly five years before leaving and joining the United States Army (long story).
As coincidence would have it, today marks 16 years since I retired. (Yes, I took much satisfaction retiring on April Fool’s Day.) My professional life has revolved around elementary education ever since, and as each year goes by I find myself remembering less and less about my military life. Being a teacher does that to a person.
On occasion, though, I find myself on Redstone Arsenal, the local Army base here in Huntsville, Alabama. I mostly go “on post” to use the medical facility, but on occasion I go to use the post exchange (department store) or commissary (grocery store).
Today I went to go pick up a prescription at the medical center. I’m glad I did, because I needed the laugh.
Because of the current COVID-19 outbreak, the pharmacy is closed for walk-in service. The medical center has, instead, devised a drive-up service that protects both the staff and the customers.
Pulling into the drive leading to Fox Army Medical Center, I immediately saw the first of many signs that directed me along my route. Mind you, there’s really only one route to take, but the Army is nothing if not thorough.
Arriving at the initial check in point, I was met by a uniformed Master Sergeant who smartly checked my identification, verified my prescription was indeed ready for pick up, and directed me to turn into the pick up line and see the soldier sitting ahead who would direct me to the appropriate pick-up station.
I turned off the main road (following yet another sign, just in case I didn’t understand the spoken directions), and started to laugh out loud, one of those deep belly laughs I normally save for kindergarteners.
I saw the soldier.
I have to say, I firmly believe that the United States Military has some of the finest people you can find anywhere (I recognize my bias). We all join for a variety of reasons, but service to country is what we are all about. Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen continue to have my utmost respect. Period.
Now, most people know that whether you’re talking about the officer corps or the enlisted ranks, everyone starts at the bottom. My branches have 2nd lieutenants in the officer corps, and privates in the enlisted ranks. The Army promotes its enlisted soldiers to private first class after a year or so, but the junior ranks are, well, privates.
I laughed because I knew I was looking at a private ahead of me as I rounded that corner.
Today is a beautiful day. There’s a light breeze, the temperature is in the mid-60s, and the sun is shining brightly.
This private, the one who inspired my laugh, had been stationed at that point to direct cars as they pulled up, and she was doing a fantastic job. Customer traffic was light, and in between cars, though, she was doing her absolute best to relax. Her hat was kicked back just slightly to allow her sunglasses-shielded face to have maximum exposure, her legs were stretched out ahead of her, and her hands were folded and resting on her stomach. Her eyelids were undoubtedly open, but, like her limbs, they probably weren’t doing more than was required of them at the time.
And she made my retired senior-enlisted self laugh.
As my vehicle got closer and she heard my approach, she sat up, but until that point her world was very small. There was a virus wreaking havoc upon the country she swore an oath to serve, and I don’t doubt she would give her all if it was asked of her, but for now, she was relaxed as only a junior enlisted soldier can relax.
Private First Class, you make me proud.