"Be All You Can Be" never really motivated me. I was not a born-to-be-a-soldier type. In fact, I wasn't even overly patriotic when I chose to participate in Army ROTC at Princeton back in 1999. I just needed a way to pay for such an expensive degree and didn't feel right leaving it solely up to my parents.
So there I was, in fatigues, on one of the more liberal campuses in the country. They had even moved our little headquarters way down the hill and out of the way so that no one would really know there was a military presence on campus. I started as one of six scholarship cadets in our year group, but by the end of my third year there were only three of us left. I had tried to quit at least 5 times. I had weaseled a semester abroad in Chile, "to cope with my burnout." The deal was that I had to go to Airborne School and jump out of planes when I got back. Whatever it took, I hung in there by the skin of my teeth. My tuition was being paid and I had some wonderful Army officers as mentors. Nonetheless, I was dreading the 32-day summer evaluation camp held at Fort Lewis, WA the summer before my senior year. There was no way out of this obligation and one's performance there was pivotal in deciding your future. How well I did at this Armytastic adventure would determine into which branch of the Army I was placed (Chemical Corp versus Military Intelligence Corp) as well as where my first duty station would be (Korea versus Colorado Springs). I was freaked.
This camp centered around everything at which I was bad. There was marching, there was shooting, there were heinous obstacle courses - awful. We lived in a two-story bunk house with 45 other college seniors from across the country. One of these 45 was tall, dark and handsome, but who was I kidding, I had only cammo and chopped off hair as my fashionware for the next month. There were 6 women, 4 of whom were joining the Army Nurse Corp and whose performance at the camp was, therefore, unimportant. I snuck through the first three weeks. I am a good runner and I tried to help my fellow cadets and this got me through. Oh, and I was becoming closer and closer to the aformentioned tall, dark and handsome (TDH). We would joke by a flashlight, laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, share care packages.
But the last ten days were the worst. It was a "field problem". This meant ten days out in the forest carrying a rifle and a huge rucksack and pretending you were an infantry squad member trying to fight fake enemies -- all while a young army officer or non-commissioned officer followed you around with a clipboard making notes on your performance. Not fun. By the end of the days I was drained, physically and emotionally. Yet, we had to put up tents to sleep in. These things are WWII-era pieces of canvas and tent pegs, and horrible. One night I shared the work of building a tent with one of the other female cadets. It was a lot easier to build a suitable tent with more fabric and ropes and the sky was already pouring rain when we started construction. We got something together as the darkness blanketed everything and proceeded to get underneath it for rest. Then, along came the haughty young second lieutenant with something to say - as usual. He informed my battle buddy and me that "wink, wink, you aren't supposed to be allowed to build your tent like this. But I am going to let it go, wink wink." Well, my buddy was exhausted and grouchy and was quite ok with this special favor from the young evaluator... not me. I didn't want any special favors, and didn't feel right having taken an easier path than any of our fellow tired cadets. So I started to put my boots back on. She looked at me like I was nuts, shrugged it off, rolled over and went to sleep.
I was just lacing up my second boot - soaked - when my TDH came by to do the nightly headcount before he went to sleep (he was in the current position of team leader, or some other unevaluated minor leadership role). His eyebrows went up as he inquired what I was doing. I explained the situation and that I planned to go out and build my own shelter half in the rain. I will never, ever, forget the look in his eyes when I had finished speaking. It was a mix of wonder and quiet respect for just a second, then it shifted to ideas of the best knots, and a swivling head to find a suitable tree to help us. Well, TDH is an Eagle Scout and just a general stud all around, so the tent that he built in the dark, in the rain, with half the gear, was about 50x better than my initial partner tent. Everyone else was already asleep as "we"/he built this. No one ever knew what had gone on that night except us.
From there, the rest is history. My initial observations that this TDH in Army fatigues was a man of amazing strength and character as well as being a man who possessed the fabulous sense of humor that would prove essential in our line of work as post-9/11 Army officers proved to be true. True beyond my wildest observations. We dated for six months, were engaged for five more and had the most joy-filled wedding I could have imagined on September 6, 2003.
Happy Valentines Week, I love you, Babe.