Dusty tank trails, shooting sabots and a "mountain" called Sugarloaf: Those are a few of the things I remember about the first time I lived in the Fort Hood area, some 16 years ago.
I lived on post, in the barracks along Battalion Avenue across the street from 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters.
Ah, those were the days: Heading into Killeen to eat (and raise the flag) at Pancho's Mexican Buffet, going out with the guys to the clubs of Harker Heights or Austin. Sometimes, on three-day weekends, I would head back to San Angelo, a town in West Texas where I went to high school and my parents still lived at the time.
For the most part, though, I spent a lot of time on the base training with my unit — Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment.
Even back then I loved to write, and I was the unofficial poet laureate of my company. I'd write poems about tanks, training and soldiering. I'm not really trying to brag here, but my fellow soldiers loved the stuff, which I would read aloud for full effect.
I read one poem during a change of command ceremony. I read another on the radio in Kuwait. One poem called "Ode to the Desert" was so popular, the company put the words on a plaque and hung it in the orderly room.
I wonder if it's still on that wall, just a few miles from where I sit writing this piece. My new office is the busy newsroom of the Killeen Daily Herald.
I've traded my life as a soldier for the life of a journalist. Actually, that trade-off came years ago.
I did one enlistment in the Army, from 1993 to 1996, joining up as an M1-A1 tanker. It was then I drove the dusty tank trails that run throughout the Fort Hood training area, and shot sabots (a fancy name for an armor-piercing tank round) from the main gun. And we shot such rounds at tank ranges like Sugarloaf, named for the hill in the shape of a loaf of sugar, down range.
I have a lot of memories of Fort Hood: Wading in waist-deep water looking for a pair of lost night-vision goggles; shooting gunnery for high scores with the 120mm main gun of the M1-A1; sweeping the motor pool; and enjoying the special camaraderie that comes with being an Army soldier.
Perhaps most importantly, my time in the Army taught me jobs will always be done better when teamwork is involved.
I left Fort Hood on Aug. 1, 1996. All my earthly possessions were packed up into my car, and I headed to Del Rio, Texas, where I had a temporary job lined up installing fiber optic cables.
Sixteen years later, I'm back. Things are different, now. I have a wife, a child, a college degree and 16 years worth of life experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything.
I've worked at newspapers in Alaska, Louisiana and North Dakota, and covered everything from state executions to soap box derby races.
I will be living in the Florence area, south of Killeen, and one of my goals as the new metro editor is to develop relationships in the entire Fort Hood community to make sure we are getting what we need in the paper. Specifically, my job will be to oversee the three weekly community newspapers: the Fort Hood Herald, the Cove Herald and the Harker Heights Herald.
We'll be looking to make those publications even better than they already are, and we need the respective communities to help us do it. If you have any ideas now, I'd love to hear them.
Thanks for reading.
Jacob Brooks is the metro editor of the Killeen Daily Herald. He can be reached at (254) 501-7468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.