I returned home from Fort Jackson in time for the 1988 World Series. Kirk Gibson’s unbelievable home run off Dennis Eckersley spurred the Los Angeles Dodgers to victory over the Oakland A’s. Michael Davis of San Diego’s Hoover High School hit the triple off Bud Biancalana, breaking our winning streak at Redwood High in 1977. He was the man Eck walked to set up Gibson’s winning blast. A few weeks later, George H.W. Bush destroyed Democrat Michael Dukakis in the Presidential election.
I also joined an Army Reserve unit stationed at a large Reserve and National Guard base. It was located as part of a Naval air station in Los Alamitos (Orange County). It was only a few minutes from my home in the west Garden Grove area. I was close to my cousins Bill and Jean Friedrichs. They lived in the posh Rossmoor section of Los Al, as it was known. It was a personnel records unit. We were dubbed “chairborne Rangers.”
Being in the Reserves is quite different than being in the “regular Army.” We attended drill one weekend per month, reporting on Saturday morning, leaving Sunday afternoons around 4:30. Other than that, we were required to attend two weeks of annual training, usually in the late spring or summer. This was most often at a military base like Fort Ord, California or Fort Lewis, Washington. I made some decent contacts in the Army Reserves. I think it looked good in my biography. I do not pretend that it was something it was not. It was great act of courage or sacrifice. I made it through basic training, AIT, and served in a unit. I wore my nation’s uniform.
In 1989 and 1990, I went on my two-week annual training to Fort Ord each summer, along with my unit. I swear it was never warmer than 55 or 60 degrees in mid-summer in Monterey. The fog blanketed the place constantly, but it was beautiful. I had plenty of free time to go to restaurants near the water. I saw the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium and hit some bars. I never did see Clint Eastwood. I did see Dino Lobertini. He was a well known TV personality in nearby Salinas. He worked with Dina Ruiz. If memory serves me she was just starting to date Eastwood at the time. She married him. One day we hit a bunch of bars. Women recognized Dino everywhere he went. He was broken up with his wife, footloose and fancy free. He had his pick.
I was not an ideal soldier. The Reserves were a disorganized group of “chairborne Rangers” sitting around wasting the taxpayer’s money. The Los Alamitos unit, in particular, was a hodge-podge of strange characters. We had a pretty 18-year old girl from Cerritos. She was in it for the college money. She was a typical Southern California girl into make-up and partying, although she seemed a good Christian not prone to wild abandon. But the idea somebody like that could be called into a war zone was a joke.
There was one other attractive girl, a blond who worked in a public affairs unit next to ours. I never talked with her. Beyond that, women in the Army were ug-lee, often lesbian, and to my way of thinking useless as soldiers. They had a purpose in the office or as nurses, I suppose. The military is and always will be something, ultimately, that is about “killing people and breaking things,” as Rush Limbaugh said. I never wanted to kill anybody or break anything. If called on I would have had to. I never met a woman in the Army – ever – who seemed remotely capable. Certainly none I would have trusted to watch after me, protect me, or fight alongside me in a chaotic situation. That said, most of the “weekend warriors” in the unit were no more capable than women.
There was a black couple, not married but together. I think they were both mail carriers. The guy was kind of an intellectual. It was impossible to conceive of either of them fighting. Many Reservists were federal employees; postal workers, civil servants, pretty half-ass frankly. I was friends with a black dude from Compton. He was older. I think he once flew helicopters in “the ‘Nam.” I respected that, but he was about 280 pounds, just a big barrel of beer with a porn collection by 1989. We had college students (Fullerton, Cerritos J.C., local) and a fair number of off-spring of Vietnamese immigrants. These were some of the most impressive people. Their parents were “boat people” who fled Communism. They knew what we were fighting for.
I recall this was where I first heard of The Simpsons. That and Married With Children were big hits. One guy had a t-shirt with a depiction of Bart Simpson saying, “I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?” I remember wondering why a grown man would wear something like that.
The unit was run by a Mexican-American sergeant. He was always on me because I never did as I was told. It was so darned boring and painful I just wanted to read a newspaper or a book, or find a TV to watch a ball game. One could usually do that. The black guy from Compton knew every angle. He could spend a whole day at drill without doing anything. I was too obvious, sitting out in the open with my boots on a desk, scouring the Los Angeles Times.
“Hey, Specialist Travers,” the Mexican accented sarge said, “come on, man, you makin’ me look bad, bro. I know there ain’ nuttin’ to dooo, but make it look like, you know, you doin’ sometheeeeng.”
I would put my arm around the guy in sympathy. Without his knowing it, I imitated George C. Scott when he says to Karl Malden, “You’re right. Heck you’re always right. Between your brains and my screwy ideas we make a heckuva team. We proved that in Sicily.”
He knew he was being played but liked my brazen quality.
“No, Specialist, I’m not always right. I don’t know what the hell you talkin’ ‘bout, but you are different, I’ll say that, bro.”
I made friends with a black guy named Bobby Clifton. I swear Clifton thought whites were naturally racist until he met me. I killed this guy with jokes, imitations, funny sounds. The Mexican sarge assigned him to “make sure” I fell in line. He had no luck with me. Then he realized I was his friend. I think he was so amazed he could be friends with an “educated white guy from USC” he just fell under my sway. I charisma’d that guy into submission. I liked him a lot. I bet he speaks of me to this day with fondness.
Once I was assigned some half-ass “kitchen patrol” (KP), probably because I would not pretend to go with the program in the unit. They were always threatening to dock my pay half a day. The cook running the place started showing me around. There was a huge, gaping whole in the ceiling. White droppings fell – drip, drip, drip – right onto the kitchen. It looked ominous.
“What in the heck is that?” I asked him
“Asbestos,” he replied.
“Hey, you don’ expect to live forever, do ya?”
I just stared at the guy.
The unit commander was a . . . female nurse. Capable and diligent as far as it went. One day she gathered us around, announcing “budget restraints” and its so-called effects on us (I never saw any). It was 1989. Reagan was making the Commies bow to submission.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I asked. “Is this because of those darned Russians not playing along, givin’ us no excuse to keep building’ this here juggernaut Army?”
“Why specialist I believe you may have hit the nail on the head.”
We had more stupid “sexual harassment seminars” than I could shake a stick at. What . . . a . . . joke! One black soldier of about 21, who looked like a “player,” raised his hand, asking, “So if say I invite a female into my Iroq, and she wanna ged busy, you know, an’ I ged busy, you know . . . an like, well, you know . . .?”
I looked at this guy thinking the chances he owned an Iroc sports car were quite nil unless he was a drug dealer, a distinct possibility.
In my first year in the Los Alamitos unit, we had to take our annual weapons qualifications test at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps’ huge base near San Diego. Seeing basic training units on the side of the road as we drove past them in the bus made many shudder at the memory. We survived that, making it back “to the block” as they say.
At the firing range, we were met by a typical Marine. He was a pure “jarhead” as they call themselves. There is nobody on Earth who protects his “fiefdom” more than somebody in the military put in charge of some section of a base or fort, whether it be the supply depot, the mess hall, or in this case the firing range. This was “my” firing range, he informed us. We were not going to “(deleted) up my firing range.” We were to play by “my rules,” he informed us.
Except nobody understood a word he said. Like the drill sergeant at Fort Jackson who said “der ain’ no reason dat you can’ hi’ dat tahget ow deh” or the one who prepped us for the “soda show,” this guy spoke in Marine dialect with a Cajun accent, fast and steady as a hum, totally unintelligible. None of that ever mattered, of course. Everybody always knew what they were referring to. It was usually “KISS,” as in “keep it simple stupid.”
The rifle range Marine was black, maybe a shade under six feet tall, built as if wired together by pieces of granite all hewn together by the mud from Mount Suribachi mixed with the volcanic ash of Iwo Jima, the Holy Grail of all Marines.
“Put yo wea-pawn ah safe an’ make shau yo have a compleat safe wea-pawn at all time and if you do not have a compleat safe wea-pawn I will see to it yo head will not be attach to you bow-day,” he said. It was less understandable that than. He constantly referred to a “compleat safe wea-pawn.”
So about 40 of us crawled into fox holes facing the targets, lining up our M16s. When the whistle blew we cracked off 20 shots in two minutes. Then the ragin’ Cajun Marine let out a scream: “Ceeeeeeeeaaaaaassse fi-uh . . . Ceeeeeeeeaaaaaassse fi-uh . . pu yo wea-pawn on safe an make shau yo have a compleat safe wea-pawn . . . Ceeeeeeeeaaaaaassse fi-uh . . put yo wea-pawn on safe and have a compleat safe we-pawn.”
Cease fire. Put your weapon on safe. Make sure you have a completely safe weapon. Fair enough.
In the hole next to me was a specialist. He was around 40, still in the Reserves trying to get his 20 years so he could retire with pay. Bobby Clifton dubbed him “Captain Stubbing” from The Love Boat. He was bald with gray hair on the sides. He was not the reason we won the Cold War.
“Wha’ did he say?” “Captain Stubbing” asked me.
Naturally I went to my old stand-by, Patton.
“He said, “Fire away. Fire at will.’ ”
(George Scott, Battle of El Guettar, ordering the U.S. II Corp to attack the Africa Korp, 1943.)
“Captain Stubbing” cranked off about three shots, breaking the quiet of the smoky rifle range air. The ragin’ Cajun Marine let out another scream. First he became Spiderman or Batman, managing to fly about 20 yards into “Captain Stubbing’s” fox hole. He grabbed the “wea-pawn” out of his hands. He proceeded not to get in the poor old guy’s face, but rather to transcend his presence like the Holy Spirit entering the body of a sinner, literally yelling at that man’s soul.
“Wha i’ da madda wit yoo yoo wurtless scumbay piece a garbuj low grade half-ass second rate low rent lousy Army puke wit no hair on yo stupid ass muva fugga . . .”
“Captain Stubbing” was probably just glad his grandchildren were not there to see it. That was the highlight of “wea-pawns” training at Camp Pendleton. It was the talk of the unit for some time to come.
The day we departed for annual training at Ford Ord in 1989, I drove to the unit listening to KFI radio. For the first time, I heard a man dispense pure, unvarnished truth about the Democrats.
“Who is this guy?” I smilingly asked myself the first time I heard Rush Limbaugh. Immediately, the liberals predicted he would be off the air because he lied. Because he does not lie he is on the air 21 years later. Word.
There was a hardcore conservative sergeant in the unit. He served in Vietnam. He looked like a movie star, a silver fox, kind of like James Brolin. I asked him if he ever listened to this guy Rush Limbaugh.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I live it. Righteous stuff.”
We drove the bus from Los Alamitos to Fort Ord in 1989. During this trip for the first time it occurred to me when I told the officer at Fort Jackson America’s next great threat was from Muslim extremism, I was really right.
One of the soldiers was a young man of about 20. He was from Cerritos, a suburb of Los Angeles. He was a Muslim with a Muslim name that I do not recall. Other than that he was a normal American kid. He was strikingly good looking, loved girls, parties and sports. He was going to some school, probably Cerritos Junior College, with plans of transferring to Cal State, Fullerton or Cal State, Long Beach like so many others in the Reserves. He had a big, wide smile and was a great practical jokester..
Around that time, the Iranian mullahs ordered jihad against the author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. It was a big controversy. On the bus to Monterey somebody found out this soldier was a Muslim. He asked how he felt about the assassination order of Rushdie.
“Oh, I’d kill him,” the kid said as if he was saying, “Oh, yeah, I’d love tickets to the World Series.”
“Sure,” he said. “It’s my duty as a Muslim to follow the orders of an imam.”
We somehow moved on from the conversation. If that American kid from Cerritos would so matter-of-factly say he would kill because he was ordered to by an imam, then I knew in a world of a billion Muslims, if they shoved the Koran far enough up their keisters, we were in trouble.
1990 and 1991 could have been years in which a life-changing experience took place. In the end it was not. In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush announced this “will not stand.” He committed American forced to drive him out. As a member of the U.S. Army Reserves, I was put on stand-by. We were told if called up we would at first be stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was in the so-called “rear with the gear,” but Saddam was firing scud missiles everywhere. The prospect of chemical-biological warfare were not relegated to the battlefield. Any American anywhere was a terrorist target. I thought about that Muslim kid from Cerritos. I knew I would not want to be in the Middle East fighting against a Muslim army with him by my said, issued an M-16 and grenades. If the war dragged on we could easily be moved into hardcore action beyond the “rear with the gear.” The Democrats certainly warned of a disaster in the Gulf. Dire predictions of “body bags” and some 100,000 dead Americans filled the air waves. It was scary. I did not know until later how scary it could have been.
As the build-up to the inevitable conflict took place, I remember going to drill one weekend. I met a soldier who was shipping out for Kuwait. We were told we were “next on the list” to go over. Great. I joined the Army to get over Katherine while creating a resume-builder for my Congressional campaign. Now I was going to be face to face with poison gas. I wondered if they would issue me that same gas mask with the leak in it from Fort Jackson. We waited for the next shoe to drop. If the war started and it escalated, we would be called up.
After managing Bill Boerum’s 1990 Congressional campaign, I joined a new unit attached to the Presidio of San Francisco. It was actually across the bay in Marin, located almost under the Golden Gate Bridge in an ancient fortress called Fort Baker, right next to Sausalito. Fort Baker was part of a complex of forts and gun emplacements built by the Spanish long before the United States ever took over California. There were still ancient cannons placed strategically into the Marin Headlands, theoretically aimed in the direction of Sir Francis Drake’s fleet, or whoever the King of England might have sent.
Naturally, everything was crumbling, but it was incredibly beautiful, albeit often cold, windy and drizzly from the white-capped bay just 100 yards from the headquarters building. My first hope was this new unit was less likely to be called up to deal with Saddam Hussein than the Los Alamitos unit. The war just started when on my first day a crusty lesbian sergeant major told me she heard “an ugly rumor” we were next. I just hoped it was an ugly rumor.
In January of 1991, President Bush, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, and Supreme Commander of the theatre’s operation, General Norman Schwarzkopf, unleashed a devastating air war over Baghdad. This was followed by an infantry assault. The Republican Guard was dispersed, Saddam’s forces routed. Kuwait was liberated. Victory in the Persian Gulf War was ours. So quickly and decisively did the U.S. prevail the Reserves never were called upon.
Over the next years, I disregarded how close I may or may not have been to seeing activity duty in a combat zone. When the second Iraq War became a protracted one in 2003-04, with victory not really secure until three or four years later, many Reservists and National Guard units were called up. Thousands of so-called “weekend warriors” were forced to do multiple tours, often at great expense to their lives, careers and families. I would be lying if I said now, in retrospect, I wanted or expected to go to war when I joined the Army.
I realized how lucky I was. After 9/11 my father asked if I wanted to volunteer. Frankly, I did not, but would have. However, I was past the age limit they were accepting. My reluctance to put myself in harm’s way never came down to a choice. Just as my attempt to get out of Army duty with a faked back injury in 1988 never actually happened, thus sparing me a lifetime of recriminations, I do not have to live with regrets about my service. I was there.
I am truly happy, and indeed thank God for one thing. I never had to kill a man, try to kill a man, or even saw a man killed. If ordered, I would have done it. If I had to, I would have done what I had to do in order to protect myself and my fellow soldiers. There are many soldiers who itch for action, for combat, for their “first kill.” I understand it. We trained for it. In the end it is the basic reason the Army exists. I never felt that way. I was no hero. I was really very average and often a slacker. If being a hero meant killing other humans, I am glad I never was one.
The rest of my Army career was uneventful. I was promoted to sergeant. Kevin McCormack thought that the funniest thing ever. He called me “Sarge” for a year.
He called the house or Northstar asking my folks, “Is Sergeant Travers in?” They always figured it was a national emergency. On a couple of occasions, I was out of town when somebody from the Army called for some obscure purpose. My parents always gave them all my emergency phone numbers. Sometimes this resulted in my getting “hunted down” in embarrassing situations.
I made friends with a warrant officer named Dan Herick. He found out I was a USC guy, as was he. On more than one occasion he told my immediate superiors he had a “special assignment for Sergeant Travers.” That meant sitting in his office watching the Trojans play football against Arizona or Washington on his little TV set. In 2010 I attended a “tea party.” He and his daughter were there, opposing Barack Hussein Obama. God bless him.
Once during Christmas time an announcement was made. “Soldiers in need” were eligible for a $50 check from some charitable service organization. I was unemployed. Without thinking, I signed up. I received a check in the mail. As soon as I got it I felt like a greasy Democrat. I sent it back uncashed. Not me, brother.
I was assigned to a lieutenant colonel, which in case Barack Hussein Obama is reading this is not pronounced “ly-u-e-tenant cah-la-nel” any more than corpsmen is pronounced without a silent “s.” This guy had the lofty title of inspector general. He fielded complaints from soldiers over perceived abuses by superiors. The purpose really was to defend a soldier injured but forced to fight, or a legitimate reason not to be in combat, that kind of thing.
However, the peace time Army I was in was by now coed. Half the stupid complaints were dumbellionite women claiming some guy “sexually harassed” her. This usually meant he talked about sex or porn or something in her presence. It was a total waste of time and fraud against the taxpayers, like the ridiculous “sexual harassment” seminar when the private asked the woman running the program what would happen if “some female get in my Iroc” sports car?
I had little to do. I sat there bored stiff. I always brought plenty to read, pouring through books, magazines and newspapers. By his point I was a highly self-educated American citizen with profound knowledge of world history and events. The officers all admired me greatly, calling on me for advice or just conversation.
I had a “computer” at my desk. This thing must have been made by IBM in 1939. It was before DOS. I never figured out how to use the darn thing. Once I was given some mundane information to in-put. I spent three hours fiddling with it, never in-putting anything. The task, which mattered not in the first place, was never accomplished.
It got so bad, if I was not watching USC in the warrant officer’s private office, I went up to a secluded, open area in the woods above the unit. I stripped to my underwear, getting an hour or two of tanning. Or, I drove to Gold’s Gym in nearby Corte Madera, lifting weights. Once I drove to Kevin’s, watching an NFL play-off game, or hit the tanning booth.
The lieutenant colonel periodically looked out his door. He never saw me.
“Where in the hell is Sergeant Travers?” he bellowed. I was pumping iron or taking in some Sun. Once I left early to play tennis. That night the lieutenant colonel’s aide, an indomitable, pedantic Jewish fellow named Major Kesselman, called to inquire where I was.
“Oh, I had a special PT assignment,” I explained.
“A PT assignment?” he queried.
“Yeah, I had to play tennis with Howard Gibian.”
I left it at that. The befuddled man did not know if Howard Gibian was a general or who the heck he was.
“Always leave ‘em guessing, Don,” as Paul Coppersmith used to say.
One drill weekend, Garth Henderson called to invite me on his father’s luxury boat.
“I got drill, man,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Man, (delete) drill. I got a bunch a strippers and hookers with big (chests). It’s gonna be ‘trim city.’ Yer comin’.”
Well, who could say no to “trim city,” especially when it was free. That night I went out on San Francisco Bay with Garth, the ship’s “cap’n,” and about five shapely chicks, all who possessed . . . talents. We drank far too much among other things, sleeping it off in the boat’s quarters. The next day I awoke around mid-morning. I got some coffee, threw my Army uniform on, and made my way back to Fort Baker. I got there about noon, grabbing some chow and quietly slipping into the afternoon formation. I surreptitiously signed the roster, making it look like I was there that morning instead of sleepin’ one off on Garth’s fathers boat. I was never missed or questioned.
In 1993 I was hired to manage a “professional” baseball team in Berlin, Germany. I was still in the Reserves. That never deterred me. I actually arranged to transfer into a reserve unit located in the American Army sector in Berlin. It was at a base named after Lucius Clay, hero of the Berlin airlift. I really did intend to serve in a unit. I ran into “red tape” a mile long. I just gave up. I never joined a unit over there.
I returned to the U.S. after a year in Germany. In late 1993 or early 1994 I moved across the bay from Fort Baker to the main Presidio of San Francisco. The unit was located in an old, white, wooden building located almost on the water, viewable from Doyle Drive, the entrance and exit of the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge rose spectacularly a mile or so from the unit. A few yards from the unit was another old, white, wooden building. That was the Gorbachev Foundation.
After Mikhail Gorbachev ended Communist rule in the Soviet Union, he was hailed as a great world hero. He planned to use his international prestige to “save” the world from militarists and imperialists. The liberals loved it. Of course the most liberal of all American cities, San Francisco gave him a building on an Army base to set up operations. The Gorbachev Foundation quickly turned out to be a dud. It sat there basically unused. All of the soldiers – mostly Republicans – laughed and mocked it.
During the period between 1993 and 1994-95, I missed numerous drills because I was traveling, out of the country, or on business. I never faced any consequences whatsoever. That was why I thought it so preposterous when the Democrats tried to make a “national security issue” out of George W. Bush’s absence from a few Air Guard drills in 1973. He was in a so-called “champagne unit” in Houston, but went to Alabama to work on a political campaign. I went to Germany to manage a baseball team. That was the nature of the Reserves and the Guard.
My father served 20 years in the Naval Reserves, receiving retirement pay all his life. I thought about it. I probably would have tried to do that, boring as it was (although I might have been activated when Bush invaded Iraq). When Bill Clinton took office he downsized the military. In truth it started in 1988 or 1989, when I asked the female unit commander in Los Alamitos if this was because of those “darned Russians?”
By 1995-96, there was an active effort getting soldiers to leave, not re-enlist, and take early retirements. I went on a two-year “inactive Reserve” (IR) list. I suppose I could have fought it. I just let the time pass. One day I got my honorable discharge in the mail. Officially, from induction to discharge, I was in the United States Army from 1988 to 1996. I am proud I did it. I served my country. I had some good experiences. A huge amount of what we did was a joke. I was not a serious soldier. If push came to shove I would have been.
I started out when Ronald Reagan was President, served through the first Bush Administration, and all of Bill Clinton’s first term. Presidential portraits hung in the headquarters of the units. I always looked at Clinton with disgust. Calling him my Commander-in-Chief was a joke.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism