Tour of Duty

Well, the army band tour is all but complete. We're back at our Oklahoma City headquarters, and basically all I have left to do is take a Physical Training Test in the morning at 0630 hours. There's an outside chance that I could muster the wherewithal to max the points on the test, but we'll see how I feel when the sun comes up. The max score for my age group (22-26) requires 70 pushups and 80 situps (both in 2 minute intervals) and a 13 minute (or less) two-mile run. Sounds like a hoot, right? Well, great!, you can come along with me in the morning and we can do it together. I'll loan you a spare army PT uniform.

But it's been a good few days on the road with the bandees. I forget how when a group of musicians is amassed how truly eclectic the people tend to be in the group. Or at least it's been this way in my experiences. Whether you're in middle school, high school, college or the army, you're gonna get people of all flavors. And when you're spending all day with these people for a week, you notice things about them. Some good things. Some less than enjoyable things.

And there always seem to be a few individuals who earn their keep as the band's unlikeables. Or sometimes they're just nerdier or more annoying than everyone else so they end up squarely at the butt end of the jokes. And it's a sad thing for sure, but you'll notice that I said these people EARN their way into this omega wolf position.

And how do you earn your way into it? Well, as one of these omega wolves does, you could start by talking about yourself all the time. You take every chance to talk about your own personal experiences, you begin every sentence with "me" or "I" and you have little regard for social conversive norms. Then you talk on your cell for 1.5 hrs in the van from St. Louis to Eureka Springs about your cat, specifically the organic cat nip you plan on purchasing for it in the near future.

Or, you could take the route of another omega wolf, who because of her fantastically spacy ways ended up in Tennessee instead of Oklahoma City on her way to drill one month. She called in to tell the 1st Sergeant she'd be late. Oh dear. I'm convinced she lives in a parallel universe and that life gets lost in translation across the space-time rift.

But all told it's remarkable that people from such diverse backgrounds can come together and more or less get along and play music together. And though there are rocky times, a general feeling of gentility usually permeates the band and comaraderie is high. I like that at any given time someone can pop in a classical CD in the van and instead of audible moans of distaste someone will pipe up in the back with "is this Bernstein or Copland?"

At times I wonder what it would be like if the band got deployed (which has never happened in the history of the 95th division). At most we would pull security for our division general inside a cushy compound. But WOW, that would be interesting. Or crazy. Either works.

(more serious content below. skip to pictures farther down if bored)

This week four years ago I graduated from basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. A lovely place if you've not been (though I'd avoid the tear gas chamber if I were you. it kinda burns), and among other things, home of the army's field artillery training center. And sometimes I think about my fellow platoon mates who have real jobs in the army. I wonder what they're doing, how they're doing. It's quite possible that some of them are dead. Though I hope not.

Recently I got back in touch with a guy from basic training (courtesy of Facebook). He was a medic and just finished his four years of active duty. He's back at home in Cali and counts the army as one of the greatest experiences of his life. He was a good friend at basic training and we talked a good amount over the nine week cycle.

I think about who I was going in to basic training, a white 19-year-old mid-western boy among a slew of INTERESTING characters from asundry places. And the advent of living around my five immediate bunk mates (all of whom were African American) was a truly unique and enriching experience. Both for my increased understanding and appreciation of black culture (they bought me a dorag at the post general store) and for my enhanced vocabulary (though I didn't start swearing till AFTER basic training). It remains one of my most stretching and enjoyable life experiences to date.

But alas, the text grows lengthy. On to the pics.

Arkansas terrain.

Dennis displaying a loaded hand signal. A fellow bone player, he works at a prison and could literally break me in two. But it's interesting when he talks on the phone about teletubbies and barney in a cute daddy voice to his daughters.

Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

Silly green-friendly treehuggers. This one was particulary remorseful about the state of environmental conservation and degradation.

American pride embodied in a bench.

"Snickers," a Tea-Cup Poodle.

Trombone quartet. I'm currently riding the pine because of my braces. Fortunately there are five of us. But the braces come off next week!

Band peeps.

Here's Nathan. Can you guess what he plays? He's the brightest Arkansas native I've met though his Natural State twang would tell you otherwise. We talked theology around the pool one night at Eureka Springs.

Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs. One of the top 20 American architectual structures of the 20th century.

Rednecks. Spc. Kimmel and I purchased some Bass Pro Shop hats and choice t-shirts to wear while canoeing the Arkansas River. He got a WORLD'S GREATEST GRANDPA shirt. I went with the Arkansas Razorbacks one, of course. We had names too. He was Rusty Shackleford. I was affectionately Kit Axlerod. Good times in Arkansas.

Branson, Missouri: sprawling land of touristdom. I'm not a big fan of the place. Too gimmicky. Though I remember Silver Dollar City was fun as a kid.

Arkansas landscape. I forget how pretty it is.

Kimmel launching over the chair in a round of pool games. My shins are a bit worse for wear after scraping across the seat on a low dive. But it's good clean fun for everyone.

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