The Folded Flag – Part 4

The third fold brought the bottom, striped corner up to form a right triangle shape. This represents the veterans who have departed our ranks.


I walked in one night, about five weeks into the indoctrination course. Dragged in is a more appropriate terminology, since I’m pretty sure my feet did not leave the ground, and I’m equally sure my hands almost scraped the floor. I felt like a Neanderthal with hunched back and too-long arms. I had been up since 4:30 that morning, and had been through the rigors that every day at the course exposed us to. I know up until now it may have sounded like a fairly breezy experience, but in reality, we were worked so hard we could barely move. Every day we were involved in activities like running, swimming, calisthenics, and water confidence. Aside from that, we attended various classes. We were stretched to our limits and slept so soundly at nights that they seemed to pass in less time than it took to drag ourselves out of bed when the alarm sounded in the morning. On that particular night, none of the guys even considered playing poker. It was only nine o’clock, but we were so drained, it just made what would normally sound like an early bedtime, into a blessing.

I absently noted that Pepper was sitting on his bed when I walked in, knees propped up with his Bible resting against them. I didn’t give him a second glance as I literally dropped into my bed. I didn’t plan to move again until the next morning and I think I was already fading fast when I heard him.

“You shouldn’t do that, Thatch.”

“Leave me alone.” My words were slurred, but I made sure they were loud enough that he could hear me.

“It’s not a good idea. It would be better if you stayed awake.” Irritated, I rolled to my side and forced my eyes open halfway so I could level a threatening sleep-filled gaze in his direction.

“Pepper, shut up. I’m exhausted and I’m going to sleep now. If you knew what was good for you, you’d sleep too. That morning alarm will sound too soon as it is.”

“A lot sooner than you think,” Pepper said. “It will be going off in about half an hour.”

“What are you smoking, Pepper? Look, I am going to sleep now. Shut up, and just leave me alone, okay?” With that, I used the small remaining portion of my strength to roll back over and fell asleep immediately.

The morning alarm screamed and my entire body convulsed in a massive jerk. In an automatic movement that had been trained into me over the past five weeks I swung my feet over the side of my bed and stood. I felt so disoriented; the world seemed tipped on its side. Morning always came way too early, but this time I felt as if I had not received nearly enough sleep. In a confused and somewhat mechanical motion I glanced at my wristwatch. I blinked. I kept moving, since standing still would only get me in trouble.

“Let’s move it, Ladies!” One of the instructor’s voices blasted through a bullhorn and smacked into my head. “You have two minutes to get out to the chopper!” I was pulling on my boots when the crazy situation started to clear in my foggy mind. My watch said 9:30. I looked over at Pepper who was already fully dressed and ready to go. As soon as I had my boots on, I slid over to him.

“How did you know?” I asked softly. Pepper looked at me with raised brows then gave a shrug as we started to move outside.

“It’s hell night,” he stated simply. “Halfway through the indoctrination course, they pull this on us to see what we’re really made of.”

“But how did you know about it?” I pressed.

“I’ve talked to a few former PJs before,” he said.

“Former PJs?” My mind was moving at a much slower rate than normal, and repeating what he said gave me a chance to process. Pepper gave me one of those smiles of his and slapped me on the back.

“I figure the best way to learn,” he said, “Is to listen to those who are willing to teach. Now wake up, Thatch. We’ve got a long nineteen hours ahead of us.”


– S.D. Bullard


~ by sdbullard on April 18, 2012.

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