Friday, August 3, 2007

The Deep South - Part 1 - Army Wife

Jeff was in the army when we were first married. About 6 months after we wed, I moved with him to Fort Polk, Louisiana. Boy, was I in for a culture shock.
Fort Polk is in Leesville, LA. We called it "Sleesville". Leesville, is no where near New Orleans. It is close to the Texas border, and about an hour and a half drive north of the gulf. If it weren't for the military post, I don't think Leesville would really exist.

When you enter the town of Leesville, you are bombarded with pawn shops, fast food joints, video stores, tattoo places, buffets and lots of military loan outlets. Our first car loan came from one of those loan shops. Our interest rate was 29%! As you head toward post, the strip clubs start popping up. They were all grouped together - guess that helped cut down on the drunk driving as the men bar hopped from one strip joint to another. Just past those was the huge David Duke billboard, which simply said, "DUKE". It made my stomach churn every time I passed it.  Oh, how I missed my blue state.

On the same road (there really is only one main road), we would often see young Pentecostal girls standing in the middle of the road holding coffee cans. They were collecting money. I don't know what the church was thinking, putting young girls in the middle of a busy road, traveled mostly by single, young military men. I guess they thought God would protect them.

You could easily tell a local from the military people. The locals drove old pick up trucks, with a gun rack on the back window, and there was always a shot gun or two in plain site.

I did some research on Leesville, and here are a few of my findings:

Here is what the lovely weather is like:
Compound that with the humidity:

It is not very pleasant. It is unbearably oppressive.

Living in Leesville was difficult.

Being part of the military was even harder. I was a horrible military wife. I just couldn't buy into all things military. It required too much "obeying".

I remember bouncing a check; a check I wrote to myself and miscalculated how much I had in my account. Jeff was worried his Captain would find out.

My response, "It was me who bounced it, what does it have to do with you, it isn't even a joint account."

Jeff's response, "In the eyes of the military, I'm responsible for your actions."

What????? I don't think so.

I hated the fact that I was constantly referred to as a "dependent". I'd always referred to myself as "independent".

The minute you drove on post, it was like entering another country. Fort Polk had its own rules and regulations.

I went to the ER on post once, due to slicing my finger open while cutting a bagel. They informed me I needed to get a tetanus shot. I hadn't had one since 2nd grade, and for good reason - they hurt like hell. I told them "No, I don't want one," and started walking out the door. They looked at Jeff, who just kind of shrugged. I think they expected Jeff to "gain control of his wife".

Jeff knew better.

They called in some back up, blocked the door, and I ended up with a shot. Its kind of intimidating when you are surrounded by all those men in uniform.

One day, I was driving onto post, with the radio blasting, to pick up Jeff. I noticed all the cars were pulling off to the side of the road. I kept driving. Then, people started getting out of their cars, and either saluting or putting their hand over their heart. I kept driving, thinking these people are a bunch of wackos! It was amazing how it eased up traffic for me.

I told Jeff about it, and he explained that everyday at 5PM, they lower the flag and play taps. Its tradition to stop your car and show your respect. Who knew? Like I said, its another country on post.

I would get messages on my answering machine from other military wives, asking me to come to their "teas" and to help make things for "bake sales". I refused to return their calls or engage in their activities.  I had a preconceived notion that all they did was stay home and have babies. Not for me.

One day, Jeff told me his captain wanted to talk to me. That's weird, I thought, but ok. We entered the building, and Jeff took his military cap off, as required by army etiquette. I grabbed the hat from Jeff, threw it on my head and marched into the captain's office smiling.

I don't think Jeff was smiling.

The commander wanted to know why I wasn't participating in the "wives' activities". I told him I was in school, had a job, and basically had better things to do with my time. He didn't have much to say after that. I bet he felt bad for Jeff.

Jeff got a really bad sunburn while we were there. He was starting to blister, and I told him he needed to go get some medical attention. He refused to go, afraid he would get an Article 15, for "Destruction of Government Property". He could lose his rank.

This pretty much did me in, how could they consider people to be government property?

This was more than 15 years ago, and it was a different army back then. Post Desert Storm, not much going on, too much time on every one's hands.

Luckily, Jeff was able to get an "early out" of his army contract, which he did primarily for me. He knew I wasn't going to make it in this lifestyle. Gee, I wonder how he could tell?

There's no chance of early outs these days, in fact they're extending contracts. I saw recently that Fort Polk is being used to train people going to Iraq. Guess the weather is similar. I'm sure the wives rely on each other even more, with their husbands being deployed and redeployed.

I don't miss the south or the military at all. I do miss seeing Jeff come home in his uniform. I don't miss those loads of "green" laundry.

I know Jeff misses it sometimes. It always gave him a sense of pride to serve his country. I was proud of him too.

Still am.

It is not easy being in the military, and even harder being married to someone who is. The wives are serving their country as well, even though they aren't enlisted themselves. Clearly, some wives serve better than others.


robert said...

I came across this blog on google. I am prior service and your description is dead on and quite hilarious. Nothing has changed in 15 years

Dragon said...

I was there in 85, sounded like more of the same. Takes me back some. Thanks for reminding me that those good old days really weren't. I needed it.