Subject: President Carter's Cuban Follies, Part One
or "Summer Camp"
Dear Brother Grady,
I'm not overworked just under-inspired. Those of us who depend on that bipolar high for our muse can hit a dry spell when the meds kick in. However, I feel another inspiration coming on, so it must be time for President Carter's Cuban Follies or "I Like Cornbread":
In the summer of 1980 I was broke, with a wife and brand new daughter and one more semester of law school to finish. My wife and daughter got on a plane with a ticket paid for by my inlaws, and I, for want of another money making opportunity, volunteered to go on active duty for two weeks at Ft. Sill to take the place of some battery officer who might be going on leave. The unofficial motto of WWI was "never volunteer", why did I ignore this?
I arrived at Ft. Sill after making sure that all of my uniforms still fit; well, some of them still fit. The only reason that they still fit was that I had lost weight during rehab (PHYSICAL therapy) for several injuries suffered during a botched attempt to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night after a fierce drinking bout while my pregnant wife was spending the night with my mother because she was stranded by bad weather closer to my parents' house than mine after working all day.
But that is another story.
Alive and clothed I arrived at Ft. Sill in July 1980, just after the first wave of criminals and mental patients exported from Cuba by Castro arrived at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. President Carter, who only lusted in his heart, had recently given away the Panama Canal and decided to let all of the disgruntled Cubans come to this country that could float to this shore from Marielles, Cuba. So, Uncle Fidel emptied out his prisons and insane asylums to fill the boats that came here. Ft. Chaffee, AR and Ft. Indian Town Gap, PA were the lucky recipients of this "wretched refuse of (Castro's) teeming shores". I arrived just in time to get on the bus to Ft. Chaffee from Ft. Sill, with a battery of cannoneers who were going to spend 30 days as prison camp guards.
But before we hit the busses I was introduced to the battery Monday morning during a physical training (PT) formation. I was told to wear the PT uniform, so that I could start the day out just like all the guys. No prob! I expected a few calistenics and a two-to-four mile run, but I had underestimated the Army's ability to democratize. While we were all in PT uniform, we had on no rank. Although this did not
lessen the ability of anyone to know each other, it was an excuse to "accidentally" mistake an officer for one of the "boys". This became important when I learned that the training for the morning was not a two-to-four mile run. It was "combat" soccer. "Combat" soccer or football or basketball means no fouls called and all roughness and physical and verbal abuse is considered withing the rules and no limit to the number of players. According to the unwritten rules, no one can be forced to participate, but no officer can afford the smear of cowardice of not playing and no enlisted ever gave up the opportunity to get a free hit at the officers. As you will see, I did not disagree with this. I had been an enlisted swine, myself, and throughly understood the rules. In other words, as the new officer, I knew that I was the "meat".
Back then, I was 6 foot 3, and 200 pounds. I decided to play back and defend my team's goal. I was not a bad soccer player, but I was not ready to jump into the fray without knowing anything about the other players. The other defenders and I had done a great job for the first 30 minutes, when I left the goal area and started to defend the right side of the back line to prevent an enveloping move by the other team. Suddenly, a Samoan who was at least 6 foot and out weighed me by at least 50 pounds came barrelling down with the ball straight at me. We were well off to the right of the goal so I feared the worst. He kicked the ball directly to me, and in a blind panic I kicked it away as hard and fast as I could, expecting to become a flattened, mere shadow of my former self when the Samoan hit me.
Much to my surprise, no hit, no pain, no Samoan! The ball had done a David-and-Goliath smash into the Samoan's forehead, and the Samoan was falling onto his face, out cold! The Samoan, who turned out to be a very unpopular staff sergeant, was taken to the emergency room but was well enough to get on the bus with us to go the Ft. Chaffee some hours later. And my reputation was established!
More Cuban Follies next time.
...may brotherly love prevail,