In December 1970, I received my draft notice in the mail informing me that I needed to report to the Selective Service Center in Houston, Texas.
Shortly after that, on one rainy day in January 1971, I found myself seated on a bus headed for Ft. Poke, Louisiana.
By the time we arrived, the rain had turned to a light snow—a peaceful sight, which was broken by the barking commands of the 5th Battalion, Company D Drill Sergeants.
Grabbing my gear and lining up in a crude formation, we receive the customary staff introductions and instructions from Senior Drill Sergeant Keiser. SGT RAM, however, was one introduction that stood out for all of us.
RAM was a goat and the company mascot. At first sight, SGT Ram’s presence momentarily created an image of being abducted into a religious cult.
However, that image quickly dissolved from my mind as profanity spilled from the mouths of the Drill Sergeants.
Instead, the dread and fear I was experiencing gave way to calmness. The uncertainty of not knowing what will come next for me in the Army, news reports of demonstrations against the war, soldiers facing angry mobs upon their return from VietNam, and the cumulative death toll highlighted daily by the media had created an intense anxiety, but this was all temporarily erased from my consciousness by the presence of a familiar petting zoo animal.
I had been warned not to volunteer for anything; however, my hand when up when asked by our Training NCO if anyone would like to volunteer for special duty.
Fortunately, the special duty—driver for the commander and First Sergeant—got me out of Kitchen Police (KP) and provided me with an opportunity to gain a valuable insight into the operations of a military unit. Getting to drive while everyone else was marching to our training area was also a wonderful added benefit in volunteering.
Things went well for me until one day, during training; SDS Keiser had our platoon march over to the Hand Grenade site. We were all given instructions in the proper way to discharge and throw a hand grenade.
I found myself next behind a log wall with a practice dummy grenade. As I went through the motions and threw this grenade down range, suddenly one of the Drill Sergeants barked at me with disgust and anger. "Who taught you how to throw a ball? Drop your pants. I want to see if you're a man and then give me 50 pushups."
I had excelled in other sports; however, baseball was not my forte. I graduated from Basic Training and was sent on to Ft. Ord, California, where I acquired an Administrative MOS and served at the Personnel Control Facility, a minimum-security stockade that held AWOLs and Deserters who were waiting for Other Than Honorable Discharges.
I returned to civilian life in 1973 and enrolled into the University of Houston. After graduating from seminary in 1980 and serving a few years as a pastor, I reentered the Army as a Chaplain.
This was my calling and after 15 years active duty and 17 years reserve duty I retired from the Army in 2009 as a Chaplain (Colonel).