For The Love Of God! pt1 copyright 2009, Damon Ortt

For the Love of God!

A Memoir of Army Basic Training


Other kids called the game “War” or “Army,” but we just called it “Guns.” We drew our inspiration from the Saturday-morning cartoon G.I. Joe; as soon as it was over, we would don our darkest Rustler jeans and greenest T-shirts, grab our toy assault rifles, and trudge outside into the moist heat while smearing dirt on our faces to better conceal our white skin. It was all just a game, but it was taken seriously. Usually, it was my older brother and his postpubescent friends against me and my hairless and high-pitched-voice buddies … and my sister. (If Duke had Scarlett, Dawn was likewise accepted.) You could kill or be killed in one of two ways in this game. One way was by throwing a grenade in the enemy’s direction so that it landed in his vicinity. Our grenades were strange potato-like balls that grew on vines in the woods. When this unfortunate event occurred, you had to count to sixty with your eyes closed while the murderer made his escape. The other way to lose your life was by being shot by a gun. If you were shot, you only had to count to twenty, as if being shot in the head were a less lethal way of dying. How you knew that you were shot by a gun that emitted no projectile was sometimes a contested subject. It was understood that if someone sneaked up on you and made the sound “bbbbttttttttttooooowwwwww” while pointing his rifle in your direction, you were dead; but in “Guns,” emotions created liars and cheats. Sometimes, when I would be caught in a booby trap in which thorny vines were rigged to slap me in the face when I fell into a brush-covered hole that was dug in the middle of the trail, Dale would hang upside down from an overhead tree and yell, “Bbbbttttttooooow! You’re dead!” This was when tensions ran the highest. I would redden with anger and scream, “No, you missed! There’s no way that you could hang upside down and shoot straight, Dale!” By the time I would say that, he’d be out of the tree and standing in front of me. He would say OK and put the gun in my face and, “Bbbtttooowwww. Didn’t miss that time, did I, punk? Ha ha ha haaaa,” and run off into the woods followed by curses and grenades flung at his head, all of which missed every time. The key to doing well in the mortal sport was stealth, and my brother was like a black panther wearing Realtree camouflage; if you saw him, it was already too late. He moved silently through the dense subtropic foliage, always popping up behind me just when I thought I had him on the run. There was never a clear winner—at least in my mind. To me, it was always more like a Mexican standoff, but to my brother, it was complete annihilation, with him and his sweaty, zit-faced friends emerging victorious.

Time went on, and I grew in the ways of guerilla warfare. I had acquired a camouflage vest that fit my small body and a black bandanna that fit my large head. Everyone knows that when you look good, you feel good. Dressed for success and with several dozen G.I. Joe episodes and a Rambo movie under my belt, I became a worthier adversary. The day that I ambushed Dale and his friends, spraying them all with make-believe bullets and spit from my excited “bbbttttttoooowww,” I thought to myself, I was made for this! as I retreated to my preplanned rally point, deftly maneuvering through the battleground, dodging vines, and leaping over fallen trees with the skill of a mountain lion. It was then that a seed was planted. And it grew.

Soon, my brother joined the army, and my new opponents were a band of brothers who were skilled in the ways of building tree forts. I needed an enemy, and the best way to turn them into my opponents was by destroying their forts. It was a scary thing at times because they were really bad kids. They once chased my marauders and me through the woods with aluminum baseball bats. But by that time, I was simply uncatchable. I was like a ghost in the forest—my friends, however, weren’t so lucky. The brothers caught all of my friends and locked them in a cage they had built in the woods, hoping that I would come back for them. And I did. But I lured the brothers just far enough away from the cage to have time to double back and release all of my friends—and a couple of cute girls who happened to be with us—from captivity. I was an inspiration to the boys and a hero to the girls. Not only did I save the day, but I saved myself from certain bludgeoning.

With my brother gone, there was no more “Guns,” and I found myself in other, more serious games of adventure. Some people would call it crime. I called it exciting. I was simply looking for a challenge, and a challenge just wasn’t fun if there wasn’t anything at stake. If I couldn’t get chased by police, parents, homeowners, golf course owners, or tree fort owners, with serious consequences if caught, I probably wasn’t doing it. Boys who are to become men need adventure, challenge, and perceived danger. If it is not given to them, they will find it themselves. My buddies and I found it by riding our bikes over the golf course hills, sneaking out at night to terrorize the neighborhood, “borrowing” our parents’ cars as they slept, stealing things from cars that didn’t belong to our parents, and last but not least, blowing things up, which became a theme in my life.

Jack, a friend of my family, had taught me how to make bombs out of common household products that shall remain unnamed. Oh, what a terrible thing to teach a kid like me. Jack’s bombs left a little to be desired, but through the inquiry of greater minds and home improvement store associates, my buddies and I perfected the art of backyard ballistics. Jack’s bombs made us say, “Wow, that’s awesome.” The new bombs made us exclaim, “HO-LY FUCK-ING SHIT!” as we furiously peddled our bikes to escape severely disapproving adults who would undoubtedly call the police. Fortunately for me, the pinnacle of the big bangs occurred while I was grounded. In the short period of one week, my cohorts blew a mailbox and half its post to oblivion and got caught by the police. Then, in a separate incident, RJ reached to retrieve an apparent dud and got his right hand blown to smithereens, requiring reconstructive surgery and physical therapy. It was tragic but necessary to the validity of the element of danger.

Some of these things were games, some were crimes, and some were just plain stupid, but they all created a desire in me to do something dangerous. And what could be more dangerous or exhilarating than war? Every man in the history of my family had been in the military, and I would be no exception. I felt like I was born for it, like I was made for it. I never entertained the thought of doing anything else. I didn’t care about my grades in school because I knew that as long as I got a high school diploma, I could join. College was something for the other kids. My plan was that as soon as I graduated from high school, I would join the military and live a life of adventure and danger, showing the world what I was made of.

As a teenager, I concerned myself with all things military. I joined the JROTC, watched every war movie that I could get my hands on, went to military summer camps, competed in drill and soldiering competitions, read military books, and dreamed military dreams. I was totally prepared when my time came to ship off to basic training. I was practically a soldier already. I was reasonably sure that I would breeze through basic training and win the Soldier of the Cycle Award, coming back home a hero to myself and, more importantly, my girlfriend. The plan was going rather well. Everything was falling into place, everything was right with the world, and things couldn’t have been better.


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