The Folded Flag – Part 12a

Folds eleven and twelve almost complete the process, teetering on the edge of concluding the ceremony and beginning to move on with life: both represent God, in slightly different ways.

 

I am not the type of person that prays. My parents were not the religious sort, so there was never any pressure from them. Even when I would go to visit my grandma, and she would tell me, “Now Darby, say your prayers,” I would just squeeze my eyes closed long enough that she was convinced. I cannot recall ever even making one of those selfish prayers that young teens often make, filled with empty promises and selfish desires; you know, the “give me this one thing that I want and I’ll go to church every Sunday for a year,” type. I was a consistent non-pray-er.

But on The Night, I prayed. I prayed real, open, sincere, desperate prayers with every fiber in me.

It was six years into our careers as pararescuemen. After our graduation from the training, Pepper and I were both stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, and had been working together as partners ever since. I had long ago quit wondering about the strange forces of fate – or Something larger than fate – that seemed determined to keep us together. When we found we were stationed at the same base, I was not surprised. I had quit asking questions and begun to just appreciate.

Even before we graduated, I had given up the pretense and admitted that Pepper and I were indeed friends. It made me laugh at times that I had had such strong negative feelings toward him when we first met. He was the best friend a man could ever ask for. On our time off, we traveled together. He had met my family, and I met his mom. She was a sweet lady and it was easy to see why Pepper had turned out as he had.

I had a steady girlfriend by that time: Ally. Pepper adored her and told me, every opportunity he got, that I should marry her. She thought the world of Pepper as well, but at times she would get jealous of him, because he and I spent more time together than she and I did and because our relationship was so close. She would then get annoyed with herself that she was jealous of another guy, and consequently would get annoyed with me for spending so much time with another guy that she had to be jealous. I actually found the whole thing humorous, and made no apologies. We worked together countless times to try to fix Pepper up with someone, but we never could find a girl good enough for him. And that was okay with him. Pepper was content just as he was, doing his job, playing our weekly poker games, and hanging out with me and Ally. There were times when I envied his ability to be happy with seemingly any situation.

It was a routine a mission: as routine as any PJ’s missions are. We had been deployed for several weeks, and it was our first “crisis situation”. Two Special Ops guys, downed behind enemy lines. One was injured, but they were in no immediate danger. These were the snippets of information that we caught wind of before we made it to our briefing. We sat across from each other at a table, rolling a pencil back and forth as we waited for our orders. General Reefe came in to brief us, and slid a folder across the table. I caught it and opened it. Pepper leaned across the table and peered at the contents as well, perfectly comfortable reading upside down.

“Whoa,” he said after a minute. I had noticed the same thing.

“Captain Mike Morrison,” I said. It was a name we hadn’t heard in a while. Morrison had never let up, giving Pepper grief throughout our training. We lost track of him after graduation, as he was stationed at a different base, but we had heard wind that he hadn’t lasted a year as a pararescueman before transferring to an officer program and joining the Special Ops, a rare chance for most airmen, but apparently the Powers That Be had been impressed with him.

“Hmm,” I said, glancing at Pepper. “You know, it’s a good thing we’re trained to rescue creeps and good guys alike. Otherwise, I think Captain Morrison would be in trouble.”

“Sergeant,” General Reefe’s voice bore a note of warning.

“Sorry, Sir,” I backed down.

“Captain Morrison is the injured man. With him is Colonel Gerard. So far their position has remained secure, but we need to get them out of there ASAP. There is a Pavehawk waiting for you. Report to it in ten minutes.” With this, our briefing was over, and General Reefe rose and left. Pepper and I looked at each other.

“Wow, Mike Morrison,” Pepper said.

“How ironic is it that we have to go and save his butt?” I asked. Pepper laughed.

“Maybe for once he’ll be happy to see me.”

“I wouldn’t count on it,” I said. “Ten minutes. I’m gonna call Ally.”

“Well, tell her you love her in case it’s the last time you get to talk to her,” Pepper said as he stood.

“You know, your little pep talks are always so encouraging,” I said dryly. Pepper just shrugged and walked out of the room.

 

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on May 2, 2012.

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