Just a minute–i’m a ghost soldier?


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I’m trying to stay within the alphabet requirements here, and parts of this story are all tangled up because they all happened at the same time. So make sure you tune in K as well for the last part of story.

I’d just gotten a Red Cross message that said my mother was dying. A driver in a military truck came by our company and picked me up, and the war dropped away behind me as we drove the airport. I think it was in Riyadh, but I wasn’t processing much. This wasn’t supposed to happen!

Before I left, my mother had discovered breast cancer. She’d had the lump removed and then the rounds of chemo. She had been doing okay when I left and it looked like there weren’t any more problems. What had happened?

But she’d been in California, and I’d been stationed in Washington State, and then off to Saudi Arabia. My parents had kept quite a bit from me because I wasn’t actually present.

The Army flew me out of the country on a cargo jet, complete with the cargo netting seats. I shared the compartment with a giant jet engine being flown back. There wasn’t anyone else on the plane with me except that engine and the pilots.

I ended up in one of the Carolinas, and there I ran into the military bureaucracy. The ticket to Los Angeles cost $20 more than flying to the duty station in Washington State. Same coastline. So I would have to fly to Washington State and then buy another ticket to get down to Los Angeles?

Red Cross Message. Mother dying. What part of that do you not understand?

I said I’d pay for the extra $20. Nope. I finally ended up paying for the entire plane fare.

And it was a good thing I did, because I barely got there in time before my mother died. The cancer had gone into her lungs, and it was very fast.

The Army didn’t really tell me what to do after my emergency leave ended. I thought I was going back to Saudi Arabia, but they ended up sending me back to Fort Lewis. The war was over, so the Army didn’t want people coming back in-country.

Turned out it was a lucky thing because I didn’t get paid.

Remember those mobilization orders I got from the Reserves? I’d become what’s called a ghost soldier. This is a term I saw in the Washington Post when I was in the National Guard. What happens is that commanders of units have to keep up a certain percentage of readiness. If they can’t, they can get into trouble, and it can affect future career prospects. So sometimes they will lie.

When I was in the National Guard, we had soldiers who decided they didn’t like the military and stopped showing up for drill. They were AWOL, but the unit would keep them on the books as present to keep the numbers within the required margins. We did have some problems during Desert Storm because commanders had so lied about their readiness that their units actually could not deploy.

Evidently, the Army Reserve had not removed me from their rolls. Either it was the above issue, or sloppy paperwork keeping, which was also possible. So I was in the Army, and the Reserves had me on their bad list because I’d missed deployment by being deployed.

Yup. Military logic. Tune for the last part of this story tomorrow.

Next up will be “Keeping up with the services: Reserves, Army, Oh My!” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.