Contrary to what you hear on TV and in books, we did not need a pass go leave the post for the weekend. Once we were off Friday, we were hopefully off for the weekend.
That wasn’t always true for me, unfortunately. Sometimes the other platoons would pull their person from CQ duty on Saturday, and this guy’s not complaining. He’s out of the 24-hour duty, works a couple of hours, and then he’s off. But the line platoons would say “We don’t have any more people. Get someone from Headquarters Platoon.” Since I was the only one in the barracks from my platoon, I learned very quickly not to answer knocks to my door or to get out of the barracks.
I would often go to the library (it wasn’t like any of the soldiers were going to find me there!). Fort Lewis had a pretty decent library, though the hours were always getting cut. The library always had this book out that listed all the banned books, so I could pick up one of those if I want.
I also could go to the community center. It had chairs for hanging around, TVs, and phones in private rooms that we could call out on for a certain amount of money. In those days, we didn’t have cell phones and there weren’t any phones in the barracks, so this was what was available to us.
Fort Lewis also had an auto shop of sorts where soldiers could go work on their cars. There were also some movie theaters as well.
Food on the weekend was tough for the barracks soldiers. The dining facilities didn’t get much headcount then, mainly because the soldiers were trying to get away from being sucked up in additional duty. The result was that our Group decided to have the mess halls open on a rotating basis. There were two problems with it. Sometimes the Mess Halls were pretty far away, which was a problem if you didn’t have a car. Fort Lewis did have a shuttle of sorts, but it was so unreliable because a lot of the times the drivers would pull off somewhere and go to sleep.
The second problem was that no one seemed to care enough to tell us what Mess Hall was actually open. A lot of time I’d have to go hunting around and hit two or three buildings, so Burger King on main post became a much better option.
The food also tended to not be very good. One four-day weekend I ate in the Mess Hall all four days. They served the same food for the four days. Not the same menu item–we got the dried out leftovers.
For a little while, a couple of us got smart and headed over to the McChord Air Force Base Mess Hall, which was like eating in a restaurant. The food was better, and the place had nice tables and carpet. But then the Air Force got wise and put their mess hall off limits to Army unless we were up there for appointments, which we would have to show proof of.
So the post Burger King became a staple for many soldiers.
Then there was Domino’s. We had one right off the post, so they got a lot of orders on the weekend. To help generate more orders, they send over one of the drivers with a bunch of boxes of cheap pizza with coupons taped to the top of the box to get you buy more. The driver would come through the barracks with their boxes, hollering, “Pizza!”
Most of my shopping ended up being on the weekends. Because I lived in the barracks, I didn’t have to buy groceries at the Commissary. I sometimes thought about buying Diet Coke there, but the hours were very strange. It wasn’t like a normal store, where the hours are the same every day and maybe some variance on the weekends. They were different every single day.
And crowded. It looked like the lines at Costco, except there was one long one filtering into all the cashiers. No “10 items of less” for someone like me with a few twelve packs. I’m sure it had great prices, but the time wasn’t worth spending for me. I bought my sodas at a Target and just watched for sales.
Sometimes I’d go up to the Post Exchange, which we called the PX. The building was new to Fort Lewis, having just opened about the time I arrived. In terms of what they sold, it was kind of like a Target. It had clothes, and magazines, and just a lot of different stuff.
But not cheap. In many cases, if I waited for sales off post, I could do a lot better.
Clothing Sales was also sometimes a weekend stop off. That’s where we bought new uniforms. The Army gave us an initial issued uniform, but after that, we received a clothing allowance on the anniversary of our first enlistment, and used that to buy uniforms and boots that wore out.
It was a store made for men, so all the uniforms were just folded up on shelves like the way you buy men’s clothing. You had to know your size; there wasn’t any place to try things on.
This was in the days before cell phones. I’m sure every soldier now has a cell phone. Then, we didn’t have a phone in the barracks. There was a phone in the main company area, but that was for company use. You couldn’t go down there and use it to call home. A lot of guys had their girlfriends call it though and leave messages. If you got the messages or not depended on who manned the phone that day. Sometimes I’d come out in the evening and find one of the guys practically melting over the phone, talking to his girlfriend.
Mostly though, we made our outgoing phone calls on the payphone outside the barracks. We bought time on AT&T calling cards, and the code could be punched in to dial home. The only problem with all of this is that no one could really call us. We always had to initiate the calls.
Doing the laundry was like apartment laundry. We had two washing machines and dryers, but no coin charge. First come, first serve. You had to sit and watch your laundry in the women’s barracks. Sometimes some of the other women would come back and pull your wet clothes out and stick theirs in.
Nights over the weekend were often bad because some of the soldiers like to play their music really loud. Usually they were also the ones who would take great offense if you asked them to turn it down, so all I could do was suffer in silence.
Of course, it always seemed like the weekend was too short, and then it was back to work!