Sergeant Gargantuan & the Cherry

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My platoon sergeant and I were the odd couple from the start.

Sergeant Gargantuan was mercurial, barrel-chested, and skilled in raconteur.

I was the size of his leg.

I chose to come out of the gate running – literally – the day I arrived at my first duty station at Fort Bragg, Having played soccer all throughout high school, I was a fairly good runner and decided to lead my platoon of forty-some-odd soldiers on a five mile morning jog.

To my surprise, I almost immediately heard the heavy panting of the out-of-shape behind me, followed by the angry howling of a colossal hulking Viking who yelled with primal energy motivational insults like “Let’s go, weak sauce” and “This is what happens when you eat nothing but ice cream for dinner, you fatties!”

The bombardment of personal affronts made me smile as I kept running Forest Gump style, totally clueless that the formation was dissolving behind me like a sugar cube dropped into a glass of water.

At mile three, Sergeant Gargantuan finally stopped me, but only to make the whole formation do push-ups for not staying together. With inapt gusto, I joined in on the impromptu exercise while Sergeant Gargantuan continued to hurl insults at the platoon:

“You fairies are gonna keep doing push-ups until your feeble little arms snap like matchsticks or you manage to push the earth off its axis and send us all spiraling towards the fucking sun!”

As time went on, we would eventually jump out of planes, toss hand grenades, fire machine guns, and be blasted by heat so hot it felt like a blow dryer was being held up to our faces during our year-long deployment to Iraq.

But after that first run was the real test of our partnership.

While sitting in our office, our desks squeezed into a room the size of a modest walk-in closet, I asked Sergeant Gargantuan what happened. He didn’t understand the question. I tactfully told him that the girls on my old high school soccer team could have done that jog as a warm up.

Needless to say, Sergeant Gargantuan did not take kindly to that comparison.

That was the first time I saw Sergeant Gargantuan take a long, controlled breath– the first of many. He then sagely explained to me what the Army is really made of, and to my surprise, it’s not powered by testosterone-fueled men wearing red bandanas, guzzling down protein shakes with one hand while shooting terrorists with the other like I thought it would be.

He then sagely explained to me what the Army is really made of, and to my surprise, it’s not powered by testosterone-fueled men wearing red bandanas, guzzling down protein shakes with one hand while shooting terrorists with the other like I thought it would be

It’s filled with people who had the same misconception as me and who want to be those terrorist-assassinating, American-flag-waiving, vein-bulging cutthroats; only it would take nothing short of an act of god to whip them into that kind of shape.

Through repeated experience, I eventually also learned that the Army is a magnet for my kind- the rolling stones: the hopelessly aimless and financially misguided; turbulent outcasts with residual teen angst; snarky intellectual misfits who are morally ambiguous; pistol-loving rubes; and eccentric dreamers hoping to travel the world. Peppered in-between, of course, are the good-natured people who joined the military simply because it sounded cool.

And they’re all thrown into a profession where the disciplined thrive on relentless rigid order and camaraderie is ignited under hours of menial work and sudden bursts of high-octane adrenaline rushes.

Whatever the reason that these individuals signed their names on the dotted line, it became patently evident early in my career that service members all have one thing in common- and it is obviously not that they are exceedingly good at physical fitness.

It’s that they want to be part of a close-knit family, one who knows where all the bodies are buried.

It’s that they want to be part of a close-knit family, one who knows where all the bodies are buried.

And they want there to be a head of that family who can take charge, especially when times get tough.

This is why it drives me nuts whenever someone asks, “Was it hard being a female in the Military?”

Because what people don’t understand, it seems, is that it doesn’t matter if the leader of that family is a man or a woman, because if a person is the legitimate head of that family, and they go darting into a burning ammunition factory, their soldiers will go darting in right behind them.