It was a day like a pop tart. It started off dull and cold.
I was in the barracks polishing something. I was always polishing something. It was either my boots, my buddy’s boots or somebody’s boots. Maybe, I was polishing the floor with a small, inch square of belt that the drill sergeant had us cut for that reason. We had very shiny boots and very shiny boots.
Texas has weather like a chicken head, it’s always going up and down. While I polished, I trembled with cold. I felt so cold, but there was nothing that I could do but complain. I didn’t want to bother anyone so I kept my discomfort to myself and polished.
The whole flight was polishing. In the Army, they call the group of soldiers a platoon, but in the Air Force, it’s a flight. Somehow, when I had enlisted in the Air Force, I had imagined something very different. I thought about it. Those sleek beautiful fighter planes were on my mind a lot when I polished. I remembered imagining soaring above the clouds in one of those planes.
Then, she walked in. We jumped to our bare feet, feet in woolen socks that slid on the tile floor. The drill sergeant had funny metal things on her shoes that clicked with each step. She told us to go into the room where we held our meetings, the day room.
“What’s this?” she asked, holding up an M&M wrapper.
Nobody said a word. Everybody knew that it was Brown’s wrapper because she was always sneaking food.
“Get up,” said the sergeant. “This belongs to one of you.” She walked among us, eyeing each one with the eyes of a hungry tiger.
“Line up.” We did. “Whoever brought this in, take two steps forward, now.” All of us took two steps forward. We were lined up. I foresaw a week of endless pushups, running and scrubbing pots at the other squadron where everyone ate grease because it hosted the higher ups. Funny how we got a better diet, even though we were peons.
The drill sergeant just stood there and smiled. She wrote one word on the board and left us standing there.
She wrote, “loyalty.”
The rest of the day was uneventful. We ate, wrote letters to mom and gave Brown a lot of grief. She was diffident. Peace reigned amidst the people selected to fight war.