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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Boots.

Boots.
You see them in the closet, or maybe strewn across your floor like some kind of trail to hidden places.

I’ve worn a lot of boots. Maybe I wore so many for so long that my feet would no longer accept a tennis shoe or something a little less rugged and maybe more dressy. Since leaving the service in 1994, my feet got worse and worse until I was walking with a cane. But I was still shuffling along in my Desert Storm era boots - lately salvaged from military surplus stores.

It’s a strange thing when you consider these military icons – I mean really consider them.

Back when I was still a young man, I was a member of the honor guard, rifle detail and sword detail. I worked at a base with 96 ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles. It was a serious, deadly mission. And we were playing “Chicken” with the declining Soviet Union. I would usually get to the base headquarters building just as the anthem was played. I enjoyed taking the time there in front of headquarters, rendering a salute as the flag was raised. I remember it clearly. The jump boots I wore back then gleamed. I kept my uniform immaculate. One of the guys taking down the flag did not. The toes of his boots were in need of polish. I noticed things like that.

Another day I carried the American flag down the main street of Newbury, UK, as the street was lined with WWII veterans there in recognition of Eisenhower Day. I remember seeing those old men in their dark suits, medals lining their chests – so many medals. Beside me, another troop carried the British flag. We moved slow and respectfully with a long parade line behind us. The old men’s faces were somber, but their boots shined as brightly as ours. I noticed.

Flash forward  - to a dispersal exercise in which I was detailed as an LPOP. My camouflage was exceptional, and when I was young, I could disappear. One night two guys walked down to my position. They stopped right over me.

“Where is this guy?” said the one in front of me. I was looking at his boots. He had missed lacing through one eyelet. I noticed things like that – even in the pitch black of that field.

 “I don’t know,” said the other, behind me, now poking me in the back with his rifle. “What is this pile of trash? Someone should come out here and clean this up.” They walked on, their footsteps receding into the distance. As an LPOP I was not supposed to engage them – just report their position. It was my job to notice things like that.

Flash forward – to a long day in Moscow. I had come back in from a walk – trailed for hours by members of the KGB. The Soviet Union was in its’ death throes, but you couldn’t tell that from our trip. We’d been given the full “dollar” tour of the city, and being young and stupid I found every opportunity to slip out into the streets alone. One night I grabbed a cab and made a long trip across the city. It was blistering cold. I needed a real hat and coat. By the time I got back to the hotel, the government agent stationed outside the door of my room had changed. Now it was “Thick Mustache” and his thin-soled scuffed shoes. The laces were thin too – as were his lips. Lips which never smiled despite my courteous tip of my new hat. He crossed his legs, adjusted the newspaper in his hands, and looked away dismissively. I still remember it clearly. The heel of his right shoe tipped toward me and I noticed it was worn on the outside. Bow-legged maybe. Yeah, I noticed.

Flash forward – It looked like I might be staying behind when the main group of our unit left Mogadishu bound for home. I needed new boots, but the Air Force supply group wouldn’t give them to me. You see, I wasn’t on any of their lists – I was with the Joint Task Force and my friends were all U.S. Army, Navy and Marines. It was almost funny when I couldn’t get any of those other groups to slide me a new pair of covers for the old dogs, either. I think I did laugh at that – after all, I did have a tendency to notice things like that. Then my home unit needed me back – and I was on my way back to Holloman and the F-117A.

Flash forward – I picked up a newspaper a week after returning home from deployment in Africa. The black jumps felt foreign on my feet after so long in the deserts. They would forever feel foreign now, although I didn’t know that then. I slouched in the couch at the front of the office and flipped open the paper. The front page caught me immediately. The soles of a pair of boots were visible in the back of a flatbed. Their owner stared up at the sky – those who were loading him into the back, were caught in a moment of strain. Perhaps it was the camera gear still hanging around his neck. Maybe it was just the slackness of his frame. Shot up and dead, the Frenchman had been my friend. He had filmed me all around the country of Somalia. We had joked about that. Back then I could still speak some French - not anymore. My friend’s left shoe was unlaced, ends of the string trailing in a pool of something. A black and white photo doesn’t deliver true color, but I knew those boots were deep brown – and the pool of liquid they were being dragged through was red. I noticed things like that.

There’s no answer for the things we carry with us. There’s no reality where such troublesome thoughts fit neatly or comfortably. There’s no place to put them when they try to crowd out other thoughts. I've seen other photos now too in newspapers - of boots next to an up-ended rifle and a helmet. I've seen a lot of photos like that. 

Flash forward – I’m old now, but not old enough to have these memories wiped clean by time. Sometimes I’m grateful for that. Most of the time I am not. Still, the other day I received a phone call that I’d won a contest. Somehow I’d won an entire lifetime of new boots from www.militaryboots.com. The irony isn’t lost on me, and oddly the new Converse shoes actually fit. They fit perfect. I can't help but think of all the young guys and gals over there now, in the bad places for us. A lot of them would like a new set of shoes. Some of them there today, won't be coming home tomorrow. I can't do anything about that, except remember them every time I lace up. The militaryboots folks were very kind - they really just held the contest out of the goodness of their hearts. It wasn't a slick marketing thing. They really are the best sorts of people - and they have every boot known to man. When they asked what color I wanted, I didn't hesitate.

My new boots are black. Black like eternal night - like my dreams mostly are. Black because I'm so tired of the desert, and still after all these years, it's where I live. 

I notice things like that.



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Here's the full story on the contest: http://www.militaryboots.com/blog/
And here's where to go if you need new boots: http://www.militaryboots.com

And here's a link to a better writer than I,; and it is such a very high compliment: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/180e2d

1 comment:

  1. Very good read. Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed it. And congrats on the winning the boots. That is so cool!!

    ReplyDelete

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