I have such fond memories of the friends I made when I was an Army Reserve Drill Instructor near Detroit, Michigan. We were such a melting post of people all in green uniforms. For some strange reason, those guys really loved me. The color of our skin was never an issue and most of the time, we had tons of fun with it.
I wish I could remember all their names. This one huge black guy in my Company always had a huge smile on his face and he loved to laugh. Whenever I’d see him, we’d jump in the air in a mutual chest bump. It was so hilarious!!
I had this young, quiet buck sergeant who was a heavy smoker from the ghetto. He had a nickname for everybody. My first car was a Fiat X19 and my 2nd was a Ford Mustang. So he always called me "Hotrod". I never knew of him having a car, so somebody was always driving him places. He never wanted to meet right in front of his house, so I met him at a street corner. Let me say, it was kind of a scary neighborhood. It made our friendship that much more real.
There was this older white guy who was a mechanic. It was funny because the muscle cars he drove were always broken down. He was a Vietnam Vet with this grisled appearance. This guy always had black gunk under his fingernails with greasy hair and terrible uniform. He was quite possibly the worst example for a Drill Sergeant ever. But that guy was a Ninja in the woods. That was his element. When we got out there, everything just clicked for him. He’s the guy you want next to you in a foxhole.
I had this Hispanic Staff Sergeant who I greatly looked up to. He had such an even keel in his emotions and was a perfect example of what an Army Drill Instructor should be. When we did Infantry Drills and Tactics, he was always the lead guy in bringing common sense to what we were doing. He was a Vietnam Veteran and had been through many real firefights when he was there. He was also a Detroit Police officer. One day, he didn’t show up for drill. The pain he had seen and felt caught up with him and he had committed suicide.
I was a pretty STRAC soldier. Everyone respected me for that. But I was also a smart guy who was really physically fit. I was going to college at the time and had pretty much memorized all the Army manuals we used. And I moved up really fast getting my E-7 in 7 years. So when a question ever came up, they always turned to me. I loved calling cadence too, so I was the primary cadence caller. And I am a Native American, so they always thought I had some guru knowledge in the woods. Actually, I was pretty good. I remember in training courses I took, even the Rangers and Special Forces guys would tap me to lead patrols. Sometimes I just wanted to sleep, but always ended up on every recon mission so I could get them through the woods in the dark.
I remember one close friend. He was a black guy by the name of SSG Saunders. I remember he would drink pretty heavily when we went to Fort Benning. He was going to strip clubs and always had a big poster of some naked woman in his locker. Then, in a blink of an eye, he converted to Christianity. He did a total 180 from what I knew of him before. And he was always sharing what he found in his faith. It was so very profound.
I had this one young trooper who came in close to the time when I was leaving. He was shorter than me at about 5’5". But he had these huge shoulder and broad lats. He was a current college wrestler. And since I was a wrestler too, I really took him under my wing. I even sparred with him a bit, but man was that guy strong.
The only guy I remember not getting along with was this white guy. He was a bodybuilder and was super thick. I remember they couldn’t size his uniform well and it looked like he’d rip it open at any moment. I think he was charged with an Article 15 at one point since he tried to strangle his Lieutenant. There was a reason why he was so big. He took tons of steroids and was prone to roid rage. He always had huge boils on his face and back. And his heart wasn’t very strong. I’m surprised he could stay in the Army since he couldn’t pass a PT test. Yeah he could do pushups and situps. But he couldn’t run 2 miles to save his life.
I remember this one big black guy who was a member of the Detroit SWAT team. He had arranged for us to rappel off the biggest tower in downtown Detroit. But it happened after I had left. When it came to urban combat tactics, he was the perfect instructor for the job. He went well beyond the Army manuals. He also brought a bunch of tainted packages and bomb devices for our demolitions practice (fitting for today). I remember shaking his hand. His one hand could wrap around two of mine. He had this Barry White low voice. He once said "if you are captured and can see your captors eye to eye, you’re good to go. But once they cover your head, start praying to God, Jehovah, Allah, or whatever Supreme Being you believe in because its over". He was one cool cat.
And despite Michigan being thought of as an urban jungle from border to border, its the opposite. It is mostly rural land of forests and open spaces. Truth be told, most people of color didn’t often venture out of the big cities back then. The Michigan Militia and other alternative groups were known to roam the woods back then. Its where the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh got his start. So when we would do training over the Summer in Grayling, Michigan, it was always interesting to go out on the town. One time, I hopped in the car to go out to dinner. We pulled up to this Mom & Pop joint and one guy was a little nervous. He said "This doesn’t look good. We got Three Black Guys and an Indian. We’re in trouble!!" Haha, I was the Indian and I started to feel the same way.