12 October 2004

Good Soldier Outlier: Booze, Drugs, Smokes

I was in the Army at a time when there were beer machines in the barracks, dope in many lockers, and cigarettes in our C-rations. I mostly smoked nonfilter cigarettes (usually Pall Malls) because the butts could be "field-stripped"--torn up and scattered outside without leaving a filter as litter. (I stopped smoking soon after getting out of the Army.)

In my barracks at the 95th Civil Affairs Group in Ft. Gordon, GA, you could usually tell when the old supply sergeant who lived in his own room downstairs woke up in the morning. It wasn't his alarm clock. It was the distinctive sound of the pop-top coming off his can of beer for breakfast.

After I reached the rank of E-5--SP5, the specialist (noncommand) equivalent of buck sergeant--I got my own room upstairs, which PFCs (E-3s) Carter and O'Neill would occasionally borrow to shoot up. By that time, I was the company clerk--and everyone's servant.

These two happy-go-lucky NYC delinquents, drafted out of Riker's Island, were fresh back from Vietnam. After each payday, they would make a trip into Augusta to score a fix, come back to the barracks and shoot up, then puke their guts out and sleep it off. Between paydays, O'Neill would hock his stereo to get another fix, then buy it out of hock the next payday. And so the cycle would repeat at roughly weekly intervals.

After I bought a used car off a company first sergeant who was leaving, I once made the mistake of agreeing to drive the weekend junkies into Augusta to get their stuff. I took the two New Yorkers (one black, one white) and another local black guy whose name, I believe, was Miles. I parked at a KFC near a housing project and three of us waited while Miles wandered off into the projects in his slovenly fatigues--shirttail and pantsleg half out, boots half unlaced. I started to get nervous after he returned with the goods.

I got even more nervous when they wanted to make another stop, this time at a drug store to buy some syringes. At first, Carter wanted me to go in to get them, since I wasn't a familiar face. I was to tell them I was a diabetic who needed syringes for my injections of insulin. I was reluctant, and Carter then decided to go himself, so he crossed the street in his slovenly fatigues and got the syringes.

Driving back to base, I was more than nervous. I was scared the police would pull us over for driving while military, for driving while black and white, or for some other arbitrary reason, but I don't think we even saw any cop cars. In any case, we made it back safely, they got their highs, and they were kind enough not to ask me to make any more runs for heroin.

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