My son's first tour in Iraq began in 2007, and it lasted 16 months. The things that he saw and did there are still coming to light for me, as time goes by and he reveals more, bit by bit. It was war and it was hell, for him and all of his comrades.
Shortly after settling back into Ft. Benning, GA, another soldier that has served in that ungodly tour with him grabbed a beer out of Brian's refrigerator. It turned out that that young man was only 20 years old, and in the course of the evening, Brian was arrested and hauled off in handcuffs, for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was stripped of his rank, and fined half of his wages for 6 months. He was back to square 1, a private in the Army. Again.
Fast forward to 2012: Another year in Iraq. Ft. Benning to Ft. Hood, TX, a lot of hard work. Graduation from Air Assault school. Testing back through the ranks to Sergeant. With this under his belt, he applied to and was accepted to one of the toughest physical and academic schools the military has to offer: The Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal, located at Eglin AFB, Florida.
The first leg of the school began in Fort Lee, VA. This school established, essentially, "separation of the men from the boys": Fail a test, leave the school. No second chances. It was bombs and bomb symbols, and fuses and smoke and fire and explosions in different languages. Every test he took left us all holding our breath until we got news of his Pass/Fail status.
He passed. On July 22, 2012 he finished up Phase I, and Phase 2, the EOD school in Florida began July 25. Ready to hit the road to report, at the last minute he was denied his leave papers. For days he waited, missing the beginning of courses in Florida while his classmates moved forward without him. It was soon revealed that the cause of the delay was due to government security clearance: It was under review.
My son's security clearance status was being scrutinized because 4 years earlier, a 20-year-old soldier that had served 16 months in Iraq grabbed a Miller Lite from his refrigerator.
For the next 3 months, Brian walked back and forth almost every day to check in to see what the status of his clearance was, and if his leave papers were coming. Mind you, he was only in Ft. Lee for a class that he had finished. He had no job, no role there, and thus, had only to report every morning for a role call of sorts, then wait around to check on the status of his paperwork.
He was sometimes told to come back in 3 days, and so he wandered, boating or camping until it was time to come back again. While that may sound lovely, it was a frustrating and tense for all of us. What if they didn't grant the clearance? Could he really be kicked out, for such a minor offense that occurred years ago? Where would he go next? Back to Ft. Hood? To a new base?
It was late October before his clearance was finally granted and his leave papers handed over to him. He had 1 month to come home and visit, and was to report to Eglin AFB the day after Thanksgiving, 2012. We had our turkey dinner the weekend before Thanksgiving then, and bid him adieu when he hit the road on Tuesday.
In the interim, he spoke with his commanding officer at Fort Lee. "Report to Eglin on Monday," Brian was told. "There will be no one there to do in-processing over the holiday weekend."
And so, he did, he holed up at the Holiday Inn Express in Niceville, FL, for the weekend, and reported in on the Monday following Thanksgiving...where he was promptly handed an Article 15: A nonjudicial punishment, for being late. AWOL. He was removed from enrollment in the school, and it was recommended that he be stripped, once again, of his rank and wages.
I will never forget his phone call informing me that he may very well be kicked clean out of the Army. Stunned. He was stunned, I was stunned, everyone was downright stunned, and so, so heavy of heart.
After 4 months, we were back in a holding pattern, waiting daily for any news of the ongoing investigation, and a trial date.
To be continued.