Last summer I had the privilege of training with the 25th Composite Truck Company at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Towards the end of my summer stay, our platoon was tasked with moving a company of infantrymen to a training site situated along Oahu’s central mountain range. Normally the platoon’s lieutenant would accompany our unit on such missions; however, his wife was about to give birth, leaving me with a salty platoon sergeant to oversee six or so vehicles.
Not that there was all that much for me to manage (or ruin) anyways. Our platoon sergeant—like any platoon sergeant—was an experienced soldier with multiple deployments under his belt. His voice was biblical, his orders were law, and his mind was as sharp as his tongue.
Unfortunately, as luck would have it, our company commander had already tasked our platoon sergeant with something else that afternoon. However, given our mission’s simplicity, our convoy was to go ahead as scheduled. After all, our route comprised a single dirt road, leaving no doubt as to which way to go but forward. And so, around 1530 on a beautiful August afternoon, a handful of sergeants, specialists, and privates—along with myself—set out to pick up our grunt cousins (an affectionate term for infantrymen).
Our steeds were a few old LMTVs (Light Medium Tactical Vehicles), steel trucks that are about as large as they are loud. Emblematic of my luck, my LMTV lacked air conditioning, leaving the driver, copilot, and me sweating away as our helmets baked our brains. The lead vehicles kicked up reddish dust and clay as they snaked through the Hawaiian hillside; it looked as though we were invading a Martian jungle.
We rolled down the windows so as not to suffocate in our stuffy LMTV, only to quickly discover that the dusty air wasn’t as fresh as it seemed. I turned to the driver and gave him a wide, Joker-esque smile; my teeth were caked in red dust. “You’re a fuckin’ weirdo, Harvard,” the copilot remarked, and we broke into laughter. As the terrain grew increasingly hilly, our speed was reduced to about five to ten miles per hour, providing me with plenty of time to enjoy every moment of our journey.
This is not to say that I enjoy long rides in stuffy trucks; like any rational person, I despise humidity. What made that Hawaiian ride so memorable—aside from the sweat—were the conversations I had. If you ask me to recount what was said, I couldn’t tell you exactly. We did not debate anything of political significance or discuss anything profound. Topics ranged from the differences between Druids and Wiccans to the age at which it is no longer socially acceptable to play Runescape. That’s what made the ride so beautiful; all we did was shoot the breeze, free from judgment and free from care.
The most outlandish (and enjoyable) conversations I’ve had in my life are those I’ve shared with those in uniform. I’ve heard cadets talk about blinding raccoons with strobe lights. I’ve heard soldiers debate the merits of lunar colonialism. I’ve heard a Marine explain his fantasy of one day adopting a robot son. Give me anyone in uniform and I’ll give you an unusual conversation.
Yet conversations with soldiers are oddly honest. Talk to a soldier, and you’ll quickly notice that we’re too damn tired, too damn hungry, and too damn sore to fake any of it. We’re simply too busy to deal with the nonsense of acting. Put a person under enough physical or psychological stress, and what you’ll get is something strangely human and entirely honest.
People often ask me what’s there to love about the Army. On a bad day, I’ll respond with my signature, creepy chuckle. But on good day, I’ll tell them how I love the frankness, the honesty, and the zero-tolerance for fakery and flakiness. I’ll tell them how the love between those in uniform is like a shot of whiskey: It’s strong, it’s hard, and it boasts a simultaneously pleasurable and displeasing burning sensation.
Having dropped off our knuckle-dragging peers (yet another endearing term for infantrymen) we began the lengthy process of turning the convoy around. The thin jungle road wasn’t designed for LMTVs, forcing us to spend half an hour making some of the most stressful three-point turns of my life. After a series of daring maneuvers, we finally got the trucks back on track and commenced our long ride back to Schofield Barracks. The stars rose, the sky darkened, and our hulking trucks cut a path through the darkness with their obnoxiously bright headlights. Perhaps we talked about Vikings. Perhaps we debated the significance of different lightsaber colors, or whether the Jedi are really all that good. Regardless of whatever we shared, the moment was honest, and that’s all a man can ask for.
Nathan L. Williams ’18 is a Government concentrator living in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.