Mar. 28, 2017

Lamar Johnson

Military Life 


I asked my neighbor, Lamar Johnson, if he would let me interview him for my blog and he agreed. He asked if we could go to Thomas Café. Well, you had to know when he said Thomas Café I was there with my bib on. That is one of my favorite places to eat.

We sat down and started talking. Lamar has been married for nine years and amazingly enough, his wife, Jeannette, is also our neighbor. She works in the educational field. Together they have two sons and one more on the way.

“Do you want another baby after this one,” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he says hesitantly, “I kind of do because I’d like to have a little girl and hopefully the fourth baby would be a daughter.”

“What about Jeannette. What does she want; a boy or girl?” 

He answers thoughtfully, “It doesn’t matter. She just wants the baby to be healthy.”

That’s the mother in her. We usually do not care the sex of the child, we just want a healthy little baby that we can feed, play with, dress up in adorable clothes and save the diaper changes for Dad.

I’m proud to say that Lamar is in the military and has been for about 16 years. It’s become his career of choice. He’s a Sergeant First Class for the National Guard, or SFC, as he informed me.

“Have you always wanted to make a career out of the military?”

“Oh no,” he said shaking his head. “I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do and it just kind of happened.”

“I thought they were only the weekend warriors,” I asked, “How did you get full time?”

As our breakfast was being served he answered, “I started out on the weekends like everyone else. With me though, it was a matter of circumstances: I was offered a chance to go to Columbia and work with someone temporarily and then later, after the job was over, I was asked to come back and I accepted. Eventually I came back to Georgetown and somewhere along the way it became a full time position.”

Lamar talks so fast I had a hard time keeping up with the notes. “Have you ever been overseas, yet?” He nods as he sips his coffee. “Where have you been so far,” I asked.

He sets his cup on the table. “I’ve been deployed a couple of times. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, I was stationed at post on the Kuwait-Iraq border; I was there for a year exactly. I arrived on September 18th and left the following year on September 19th.” In Afghanistan, I spent nine months in country.”

He added, “When we went to Iraq, I was working in Columbia at the Military Pay Office. My job at the time was the Mobilization Finance Sergeant. If a unit was deploying or returning home, I was the main point of contact to make sure the Soldiers pay was correct. When we heard the rumor we would be deploying, I blew it off. I was like, ‘No chance in hell, fellas. I’m the Mobilization Finance guy. I would know.’ At the next formation we had, the Commander told us we had been sourced for a rotation. When I got back to work in Columbia, I asked my co-workers if they know about it and no one had a clue. It was extremely last minute. Ninety days later, we were downrange.”

I made some notes and then asked, “Do you regret having a military career?”

With a shake of his head he answered, “Not at all.”

Lamar has had some interesting positions in the military. I enjoyed listening as he talked about the different jobs and positions he’s had. He talked about his experience with a Howitzer doing Artillery Surveys, many years as a Human Resources Sergeant and most recently becoming trained as a Forward Observer. “I’ve also been a Reception Sergeant …”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “What is a Howitzer, artillery survey’s and a Reception Sergeant?”

“A Howitzer is like a cannon on tracks. The kind of tracks you see on army tanks,” Lamar explained. “When you do artillery surveys, you’re the guy up front. You’re like five or ten miles ahead of everyone telling them where to go. You scout out the area and radio back to let them know if it’s clear and how to get where they need to be.”

(Reading my notes as I write this article I see the word M.A.S.H and an arrow pointing to “artillery surveys” as I attempted to give myself a visual of what Lamar is referring to). Apparently, I write notes to confuse myself.

“What about a Reception Sergeant? Is that like a Drill Sergeant?”

“No, not a Drill Sergeant,” he answers and then I noticed he says the next with a bit of enthusiasm, “It’s like a Squad Leader. The Reception Sergeant prepares the enlisted for the Drill Sergeant. The first week to ten days of Basic Training is Reception. That’s where you get your shots, finalize your paperwork, and get issued your uniforms and field equipment. I got to yell at everyone and tell them to stand there or over there.”

We talked for a long while about so many different things: marriage, children, family, and work experiences. I remember we had become Facebook friends shortly after he became my neighbor. I love his wit and humor on Facebook, which comes through like a wrecking ball. Naturally, I figured my next question would be so easy for him. “Lamar, tell me a funny story; something that’s happened at work, something in your life, even childhood. Just anything you found humorous.”

He thought for several minutes and then said, “I’m drawing a blank. I’m actually a pretty serious person (get outta here!). Let me think on it.”

To give him time to think, we talked about his current adventure: walking the Palmetto Trail.

“What is that,” I asked with a look of confusion.

He smiles and answers, “The Palmetto Trail is a trail that walks across the entire state. Right now though, just to get started, we’re going to do the Swamp Fox Pass first. It’s about 47 miles long.”

As we wrapped things up, I reflected on our meeting as I do with everyone I interview. I really enjoyed it and I would love to do it again sometime. Lamar is such a pleasure to talk to whether it’s while interviewing him or just chitchatting with each other in the yard.

I did ask again for a funny story before leaving. Nothing. Not even a twinkle in his eye. “Give me a couple of days and I’ll Facebook you one,” he promised.

Lamar’s funny story: “While in Iraq, a guy that was deployed with us turned 26 years old. We’ll call him “RP” for the anonymity’s sake.

Well, RP has his little birthday adventure with about six or seven of us. By adventure, I mean we gave him a spanking, like they used to do at public school before we started worrying about “feelings” all the time. We all laughed about it, even RP. But RP would not forget, oh no. He paid us all back in turn.

Soon, when you went to the shower trailer, RP might just sneak in and pour a bucket of ice water on you while you were showering. He might drench you with ice water once you were clean and on you way out the trailer. He might have left you alone, but soaked your clean, dry clothes in ice water while you showered.

I was not so lucky. RP got me best of all. He stole my clothes while in the shower. All of my clothes. When I wrapped up my shower, I pulled the curtain back. No towel. No clean clothes. No dirty clothes. Not even my shower bag with my razor and shaving cream remained. I had become a victim of theft, courtesy, RP.

I paused for a minute, thinking, ‘How in the hell am I getting back to my room with no clothes?’ Just as I was contemplating tearing the shower curtain loose, a stroke of genius fell upon me.

I knew everyone would be outside waiting for me, ready to guffaw and catcall me, assuming I would stroll naked across the sand to our rooms. Instead, I became one of the things I hate the most: a thief. There was one other guy getting in the shower during my search for options out of this mess. While he was consumed in the flows of hot water, I grabbed his t-shirt, stuck my legs through the sleeves, pulled it up around my waist, and out the door I went.

Just as expected, my crew was waiting. Much to my surprise, they quickly realized what I had done and laughter erupted louder than we had heard in a while. Just when they thought they had me, I pulled a fast one on them and made their day.

Cameras were flashing, people were running to get others so they could see and my First Sergeant was chuckling his ass off. I cussed them for the sorry SOBs they were, all the while, laughing and making sure RP knew our score was settled.

Once I had my stuff back in my possession, I took another shower and kept careful watch over my clothes. Afterwards, we sat around and made fun of the situation. It was a pretty good close for another monotonous day. Oh yeah, I did return the t-shirt to the other guy. He was still in the shower. He never knew what happened.”