After jump school I arrived at the 82d Airborne Division and was assigned to 2nd Brigade. After a quick orientation by the Command Sergeant Major (CSM), he asked the group if anyone could draw. Thinking that he might need a poster drawn, I raised my hand. He sent me upstairs in the brigade headquarters to the S3 shop. Upon my arrival SGM West asked me to hand draw a falcon from one that was on the front of a manual he had in his hands. I carefully drew the falcon and brought the paper back to his desk. He said “Congratulations private, you are now a draftsman for the 2nd brigade headquarters company.” What that meant to me as an infantry soldier, instead of being in the line unit, I would have a job in headquarters drawing map graphics, operation orders, and driving a hummer that carried our mobile tactical operations center (TOC).
My first big war game was at Ft Chaffe in Arkansas. We set up the TOC deep into the woods on the mock battlefield. The TOC consisted of 5 tents, each 10 feet square and were joined together to form one big area. This tent structure housed several components of the army that would serve as the control center or “brain” of the battle. After setting up the tent structure, we were told that the “war” would begin in the morning and I was to show up at the TOC at 5am in full camo.
I used the military issued camo in basic training which consisted of a large crayon-like stick encased in a metal tube. It was dark green on one end and light green on the other. We were trained to paint your face with the dark end in all the high areas on your face, and use the light green around your mouth and eye sockets. The problem was, the next morning, ten minutes before I was to report to the TOC, I had no camo. I saw Spc Mann wearing “fancy” camo earlier which consisted of multi-colored creamy camo sold in tubes at Ranger Joe’s. I told him of my dilemma and asked him if I could borrow his so that I wouldn’t be late. He agreed and told me that his kit was in the front of his hummer. Time was ticking quickly as I ran to his hummer. Sure enough, his kit was there, but all the green and brown colors were missing. Where were they? Oh my god! The only colors left was the black and the off-white. The time! I’m going to be late!
With no other options I covered my whole face with the black camo, and put the off-white around my mouth and eye sockets. I quickly ran to the TOC and entered the tent structure. A burst of laughter nearly knocked me down as the men inside nearly doubled over in pain upon seeing my look. However, there was one man who wasn’t laughing, my section sergeant, SFC Jackson. Need I mention that he is an African-American? He said “Who in the hell are you supposed to be?” Embarrassed and caught off guard, I foolishly said “Al Jolson?”
Less than thirty seconds later I found myself behind the tent structure doing push-ups until my arms exploded. The pain was incredible. By the end of the “war game” I had proven myself with my peers as another one of our leaders put me in for, and I received, the army achievement medal. Redemption!