I’ve been out of the Army for close to 18 years now, but whenever I come across anyone who’s been in the Army — any army, for that matter — I feel a bond.
Not too close, mind you, but a level of understanding that: “Yeah, I’ve had to do that stuff, too.”
It’s an understanding that’s blind to race, nationality, religion and even generational gaps.
Case in point: When I was an 18-year-old private first class, my grandfather died of lung cancer in southeast Louisiana. I was granted three days of emergency leave to attend the funeral.
I wore my Class A uniform to the service, and a couple of old fellers (I’m not sure who they were) noticed the big yellow and black 1st Cavalry patch on my sleeve. They recounted some tales of the 1st Cav’s work in the Pacific during World War II.
The patch acted as a talking point, and even though the Army I was in may have been a lot different than in their time, they seemed to relate.
After the Army, I worked in the Alaska fishing industry for a couple of years. There, I met some former Polish soldiers who worked on the boat I worked on. They knew what an M1A1 Abrams was, and were impressed I was a former tanker.
One of them was a BMP (a type of armored personnel carrier) driver and the other was an infantryman. We shared a lot of old soldier tales during our work in the Bering Sea.
Even cultural differences break down among soldiers. I found that out in 1995, when my unit deployed to Kuwait.
Standing atop their Russian-made T-72s, the Kuwaiti bearded soldiers threw litter off their tanks without a second thought — a big no-no in the U.S. Army.
Just when I thought we didn’t have anything in common with these guys, we challenged them to a soccer match.
It was on the sand. We used camo nets as the goals, and we got a good lesson in footwork from the Kuwaitis. We were in better shape than those guys, but they knew how to run in the sand barefoot. We lost, 2-1.
It was good match, and 17 years later, I still remember it.
Culturally, the Kuwaitis and the Americans were very different. But as soldiers, we were all having some fun in a friendly, competitive way.
After the game, we shook hands, and then headed back to our tanks.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.