Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength. –Theodore Roosevelt
A military friend of mine, one intimately acquainted with the pain of frequent relocations, once told me that the best assignment was always the one left behind or the assignment to which one might be going.
I have never thought of my civilian existence as an assignment, but prefer to refer to the segments of my life as seasons. One such season in my life occurred when I made my home quite near to world-renowned military base Fort Benning. With over 100,000 soldiers integrated into the community, it was not uncommon to see fatigues in public places such as the library, the local park, or even church services on Sunday. It was all in a day’s work.
One of my closest friends in church choir was a Fort Benning military wife that I had nicknamed Hollywood. She never had a hair out of place, her makeup was always perfect, she held down her office job at Fort Benning doing the work of three people as she reported to a high-ranking officer. She truly was a formidable executive woman.
I thought it was a tribute to her military husband that she sometimes made an appearance at weekend choir rehearsals wearing her husband’s fatigues. One day, while chatting with Hollywood behind our music folders in the back row of the choir, I finally asked her about it when I got the surprise of my life.
“These aren’t his fatigues. These are mine.”
I could hardly believe it. Not only was Hollywood a military wife…she was an active reservist herself. She then proceeded to tell me her story and I was completely speechless.
Hollywood’s father had been a military man and by no means was any daughter of his going to enlist in the Army. Well, that said, the day of her 18th birthday Hollywood went MIA for 24 hours, while her parents were furious, thinking that she was carousing. It was not ladylike to behave in such a manner. Much to their relief, Hollywood showed up at home early the next morning, though they were still pretty steamed about her little 18th birthday escapade.
Even greater shock set in when a tall African-American man who was a stranger to the family stepped inside the foyer with her. What was the meaning of this stranger??!
When her Dad noticed the man’s Army fatigues, the perceived notion of her carousing was suddenly somewhat more appealing than what he was able to quickly surmise. Without his approval, Hollywood had enlisted in the Army. Whether her Dad did something as crazy as punching a hole in the wall at that moment, Hollywood really didn’t say. She did say that once his tirade was over, his only request was this: DO NOT SIGN UP FOR JUMP SCHOOL.
Well, Dear Reader, you don’t really know Hollywood as well as I do, but I’ll bet you can guess exactly what happened. Private First Class Hollywood became airborne, but not before struggling through boot camp and wanting to quit multiple times while having her commanding officer give her the nickname of Crybaby.
Bootcamp had proven all of her father’s fears right. She didn’t belong there. Her entire platoon knew it and Crybaby herself knew that she was in over her head. But she had committed to her decision to prove everyone wrong, so she dug deep down and found the courage to keep making it through each day.
Her father was also right about jump school. This was not a game. It was a potentially treacherous and certainly one of the most mentally and physically challenging training programs in the U.S. Army. She might have been a crybaby, but the courage she mustered up caused her to be fearless in the face of danger.
During the last phase of the course, Jump Week, Hollywood was set to complete her final jump the day before graduation. By then, her father’s anger had somewhat morphed into pride. Though he still wasn’t totally supportive of her decision to join the Army without his blessing, he and her mother planned to attend the graduation ceremony to see what their daughter had accomplished and pin the traditional airborne wings on her.
So it was Crybaby’s turn to make her final jump to the awaiting destiny and complete the good work she started. She jumped as usual, but something went horribly wrong. Crybaby was unable to deploy her parachute. She tried not to panic and accessed her reserve parachute. Nothing. This was it. Her adrenaline rushed as she plummeted to the ground.
After a few moments of being unconscious, Crybaby was awakened by loud voices. She was in a lot of pain, but also in shock. To complete the drill, she must clear the drop zone and carry her gear back to the rally point. With the helping hand of a fellow soldier, she was able to rise to her feet and carry nearly 100 lbs. of gear to the finish line, broken pelvis and all. Once back at the rally point, Crybaby collapsed.
Her reunion with her father was not going to take place as planned at the graduation ceremony, rather, in the confines of a hospital bed. Crybaby had nothing but tears as her father came into the room and put his arms around her. Oh how she wished that he could have known how sorry she was for being rebellious and how she appreciated his love!
In the following weeks, Crybaby received her airborne pin. She had to learn to walk again. The most humbling of all was being broken to pieces and having her father help her shower and get dressed. He never said I told you so.
As Crybaby told me her story, I hardly had two words in response until she was completely silent. Crybaby had no regrets about her chosen path, but always wished that she had waited for her Father’s blessing and not caused him the heartbreak he had endured. She always wondered how life might have looked if she had not run away on the night of her 18th birthday.
By then, choir practice was completely over and everyone except the two of us had left the room. I had a newfound respect for my friend and never called her Hollywood again. The name Crybaby seemed to fit like a badge of honor. She is a true hero in my book because throughout her life she had made the best of her toughest assignments, even in times when all her strength was gone. I learned many more military career stories about Crybaby in the back row of the choir. Though many years have transpired since that season of my life, I have never forgotten my friend Crybaby to this very day.
Read Brandi’s column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper. Follow Brandi on Twitter @BrandiChambless