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First pages

CHAPTER ONE

Running was a release for her, but Sam could not run with the sprained ankle. She tried, and she just couldn’t do it. She tried hopping down the road to the half-track, but she got no further than ten feet before she realized that there was no point. She couldn’t make it, and even if she did, what did it matter? It would not change anything. There was nothing left to salvage, all of her bridges were burned. Her life was a smoldering wreck.

She turned and hobbled up the stairs of the barracks, and down to her room. She removed her PT uniform and stood in front of the mirror for a moment. Sam looked at her disheveled hair and could barely recognize her own bleary reflection through her bloodshot, baggy eyes. When had she become a hag? She thought for a moment about not wanting to get caught dead that way, and grabbed a towel, a large clean one and wrapped it about herself.

What she needed, really needed at that point, was in the medicine cabinet. She slid the door open and looked. It wasn’t where she had put it. Then she remembered that she needed to warm up the water by letting it run. She stepped into the shared bathroom, which smelled of artificial potpourri scent, deodorant and a little mildew that would not leave no matter how much cleanser was brushed into the grout, and spun the knob all the way counter clockwise in the shower and let the water pour. She locked her suite-mate’s door, to ensure she would not be inadvertently disturbed, then walked back to her own room and again turned her attention to the medicine cabinet. She started rifling through the medicine bottles and tubes of mouthwash, tampons, and other assorted hygiene products. “Where did I put it?” she thought for a second, until she finally discovered the nail-file. Success at last.

She stepped into the shower and dropped her towel. She stared for a moment, realized that the water was getting a little too hot and adjusted the temperature, then she stared again at her left wrist. She could see the veins, so many to choose from. Why hadn’t she bought a knife? Should she postpone her plans until she was better prepared? But any postponement would necessarily mean she would have to endure at least one more day of hell. Was not oblivion preferable?

She felt the water rising at her feet, the warmness covering her toes, and realized that the towel was blocking the drain. It was a distraction, and she wanted to stay focused. Let the water run, let the barracks flood. It was no longer her responsibility. They were not going to walk all over Sam Collins anymore, because Sam Collins was checking out. She heard the iconic ring tone of her computer in the next room, but it was too late, too late for anything else. She must complete her mission, her very last mission. She must, at all costs, place the mission first. With the nail file in her right hand, she dug into the veins of the left, and felt the release of pressure, the release of pain, the release of worry. A warmness grabbed her, came over her like a warm bath, like the comfort of the womb, like going home.

 

Many Army barracks are arranged with two rooms sharing a central bathroom. Such was hers. So when Sergeant Kelley walked into her room she was a little irritated that her date had dropped her off instead of coming up to her room, and she was a little irritated because it sucked to be drunk and alone. And she was really upset that she slipped on the water that was pouring from the bathroom onto her floor. She was soggy across her entire backside. She flipped on the light and was about to shout at Sam, when she noticed red streaks in the water. She screamed.

CHAPTER TWO

All enlisted service members — in the active duty, reserve, or national guard components of their respective services — must first “swear in,” which is to say the oath of enlistment. “I (state your name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Samantha Collins was one such enlistee. Her story was not so different than thousands of other young people like her. Fresh out of high school where she lettered in basketball and made the honor roll, she achieved good scores on her college testing, but two things kept her from shopping the universities; fiscal responsibility, and a sense of adventure, a sense of patriotism. She could join the workforce early and a get a jump on the training and experience part of her resume; a kindly recruiter that visited the high school showed her how to do that. And after a four year hitch she would be fully qualified for the post 9-11 G.I. Bill, which would put her through school for her degree. And being a military veteran, many employers would see her as a great candidate for employment.

Samantha had big dreams, and big ambitions. Her parents told her she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up, and she wanted to be a forensic investigator for the Fort Wayne Police Department. But first she wanted to do something for her country, to do something that would make a difference in the world. In 2004, the United States was fighting the war on terror on two fronts; Iraq and Afghanistan. They needed everyone they could get. The Taliban had already been pushed out of Kabul, and the Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad was on the run. It was an easy decision, especially with the bonuses they were paying recruits to enlist. She would join the Army as a Military Police person, or M.P. as they are commonly known. And she would gain enough real job experience to last a lifetime.

She enlisted at the Fort Wayne, Indiana MEPS station, and took her oath with thirty other enlistees in various services and components, given by the none other than the ranking officer of the MEPS station, a colonel. “So help me God,” she repeated, with thirty other recruits. Then she got on a bus which took her to the airport, a short airplane trip to St. Louis, Missouri, then another bus trip to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training.

 

“What do you do when a non-commissioned officer walks into the area?” a tall, dark man wearing a brown round hat asked as Samantha and some of the other recruits sat around a picnic table outside a long, white wooden barracks building.

One of the female recruits stood and saluted. “On your face!” the drill sergeant shouted.

Samantha and her colleagues were completely surprised, disoriented and confused. “Pushups!” Drill Sergeant Mumford shouted. “When I say ‘on your face!’ you should drop on the ground and start doing pushups!”

“How many, Drill Sergeant?” Samantha asked, dropping to the front leaning rest, or pushup position.

All the other recruits followed suit and started trying to do pushups, some more successfully than others. “Knock ‘em out until I get tired,” Drill Sergeant Mumford said. He watched them for a few minutes, then shouted, “Recover.”

The girls dropped to their knees and waited for further guidance. “When I say

‘recover,’ you stand up,” he explained. They all stood up.

“There are a few basic drill positions you should know,” Mumford said in a calm clear voice. He stood erect with his feet together, toes canted at a forty-five degree angle from each other, arms down to the sides, head up, eyes directly forward. “This is the position of attention,” he said. “This is how you will be when an officer is in the area.” He then moved his left foot out to shoulder width from his other foot, and put his hands behind his back, thumbs interlocked in the small of his back, his face and eyes still directly forward. “This is the position of parade rest,” he told them. “You may not look around, and you may speak only when spoken to.” He then relaxed his elbows and his hands moved lower on his backside. He turned his head and looked at each of them in turn. “This is the position of ‘at ease.’ This is the position you should automatically assume any time a non-commissioned officer walks into the area. The first person who spots the NCO will shout ‘At Ease,’ and everyone will go to this position,” he said. “Are there any questions?”

A small recruit with long, dark hair raised her hand meekly. “What is a non-commissioned officer?” she asked.

“Corporal and above,” Drill Sergeant Mumford replied. “You will be learning the ranks tomorrow. But for now, if you see stripes or somebody wearing a hat like this, or a female drill sergeant wearing her hat, you will shout ‘at ease’ and go to this position. Now, get in the barracks and pick a rack. Whoever you bunk with will become your battle buddy. So pick a battle buddy that you can get along with, because you will be together constantly for the duration of your training here. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Sergeant,” a few of the recruits mumbled.

“I can’t hear you,” the drill sergeant chided.

“Yes, Sergeant,” most of the recruits said, somewhat louder.

“I still can’t hear you!” he called.

“Yes, Sergeant!” they all shouted loudly.

“Why do you call me sergeant?” he asked. “Don’t you see this hat? They only give this hat to drill sergeants. On your face!”

They again went to the pushup position and started doing pushups. “How do I know how many you’ve done?” he asked.

“One drill sergeant,” Samantha said on her fifth pushup. “Two drill sergeant,” she said on the next one, with several of the other girls joining in.

“On your feet!” Drill Sergeant Mumford said. “Carry on,” he instructed, then he pivoted smartly and left the area.

“Let’s get a bunk,” the short recruit with the long black hair told Samantha as they walked into the barracks and looked at the bunks.

“Do you like top or bottom?” Samantha asked.

“I’ll take top, if you don’t mind,” the short recruit said. “My name is Amy, by the way. Amy Little.”

“That’s too ironic,” Samantha said. “I’m Samantha Collins, but everyone calls me Sam.”

“You should know, Sam,” Amy told her, throwing her suitcase onto the top bunk, “I come from a very long line of ironic people.”

After they were settled in and marched to the chow hall and back, they spent the rest of the day filling out more paperwork, even though they had spent hours at the MEPS station filling out tons of paperwork over the past few weeks and months. Lights out was called at 2100 hours. Amy was a little confused by the time conversion, and told Sam as much. “It’s easy,” Sam replied. Instead of a twelve hour clock dividing the day into morning and afternoon, or AM and PM, if the time is before noon you just call it what it is. Zero four hundred is four AM. Ten hundred is what?”

“Ten AM?” Amy speculated.

“Then after noon you just take the time and add twelve. So one PM would be what?”

“Zero one hundred,” Amy stated proudly, getting the hang of the new army lingo.

“But you forgot to add twelve,” Sam pointed out.

“Twelve plus one is thirteen, so zero thirteen hundred hours?”

“Lose the zero and its perfect,” Sam smiled.

“So that would make twenty one hundred hours nine PM,” Amy smiled back.

 

The next morning a female drill sergeant woke everyone up with a loud, “Get up! Get up! Get up! Formation in front of the barracks in five minutes!” Sam and the rest of the recruits didn’t know how to get up, get dressed, make their bunks, brush their teeth, and urinate in under five minutes. The formation idea was fairly easy. They stood in four rows facing the barracks. A couple of the older recruits had college degrees, or had convinced their friends to join with them, so they already had a little rank, and the formation was by rank, so Specialists became squad leaders, Privates First Class, or PFC’s next, Privates Second Class, or PV2s came next and down to the Privates, newly dubbed E-Fuzzy, since they wore no rank at all on the hook and loop square on the chest of their digital camouflage pattern fatigues, now called Army Combat Uniforms, or ACUs.

The whole formation stood in the position of parade rest for seventeen minutes before the last recruit finally found her place at the end of the first row. Then they were forcefully given the task of doing ten pushups for every minute they were late. Not a single recruit was able to complete the task in proper military manner, some of them going to their knees, some of them falling flat on their faces in the mud. Sam managed to do almost fifty before she had to drop to her knees, then she was able to do seventeen more before her arms were complete spent. She glanced over at Amy next to her, who had been laying face down in the mud for quite some time, weakly twitching with the cadence.

Chow at the dining facility (D-fac) was a long line of recruits standing heel-to-toe right against each other as they filed in, grabbed trays and flatware, carried them through a cafeteria-style serving line, got their food and sat at long tables eating as much as they could as fast as they could and getting back outside in formation as soon as possible, without exchanging any conversation, not so much as “pass the salt.”

Drill Sergeant Mumford was waiting for them when they got there. He said not a word until the last recruit arrived, and then he spoke. “You should have all been done and back in formation no less than eight minutes ago.”

“We weren’t given a time limit, drill sergeant,” Amy replied loudly, so everyone could hear.

“Who said that?” Drill Sergeant Mumford asked.

“I did,” Amy responded, raising her hand.

“You are in the position of at ease, Soldier. There is no speaking while you are at ease unless you are spoken to.”

“You were speaking to us, drill sergeant,” Amy responded.

Drill Sergeant Mumford crossed over to her and got right in front of her. “Is this a game to you?” the drill sergeant asked, bending down so the brim of his hat touched her forehead.

“No, drill sergeant,” Amy gulped.

“You and you alone will give me twenty-five,” he said, then he stepped back and watched Amy do ten sad pushups and collapse.

“Recover,” he told her. Then in a voice that indicated he was talking to the general formation, he asked, “Who can tell me how many pushups you owe me?”

PFC Kelley called out, “Eighty, drill sergeant.”

“That sounds right to me. Formation, attention! Half-right, face. Front leaning rest position, move.” Only two of the recruits knew what he was talking about and got into the pushup position. He waited patiently while the others slowly crawled into place, trying to respect each other’s space when choosing where to put their hands. When they had all finally gotten into position, he said, “That was as pathetic as I’ve ever seen. A class of kindergarteners could do it better. Position of attention, move!” The recruits crawled back up and got in the position of attention. “I will now demonstrate what you are supposed to look like when I give you an order. Front leaning rest position, move!” He called out, and then he bent down, placed his hands on the ground, and kicked both feet back landing in a perfect pushup, or front leaning rest, position. Several of the other recruits thought he was giving an actual order, so they crawled down into the pushup position as well, missing the entire demonstration. He continued his demonstration anyway. “Position of attention, move!” he shouted, and right after he gave the command, he bounced and jumped so his feet landed together, then he stood upright into the position of attention, in two simple movements. Then he went to the position of at ease, and asked, “Do you have this?” There was not a word of reply, so he moved back to the position of attention and called out, “Front leaning rest position,”

“Front leaning rest position,” a few recruits in the formation responded.

“Front leaning rest position,” he shouted again.

“Front leaning rest position,” a few more responded.

“Move!” he shouted, and most of the recruits managed to get down into the front leaning rest position much more quickly than before, even though a few of them still crawled and tried to respect personal boundaries. They were learning.

“In cadence, exercise.” He paced up and down calling out “One, two, three,” and watching the recruits do pathetically bad pushups for about five minutes before he told them to recover. Sam was relieved, because while they were down in the close interval, another recruits’ boob was bouncing on her right hand every time she tried to do a pushup.

It was a long day, in which they had to do a lot more paperwork to in-process into the service; learn the proper wear and appearance of the Army uniforms; Drill Sergeant Holman, the female that woke them up that morning, taught them how to wear their hair properly, putting it into a military type bun and NOT coloring it purple or blue for any reason. Sam was unable to do the hair bun since she had her long, beautiful tresses cut off into a practical Dutch Boy cut when they went through the reception station. She paid attention though, because she wanted to learn all of the military regulations. They could come in handy one day.

They also had to sit through classes on Equal Opportunity (EO) and Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP), as well as suicide prevention, which was becoming a big deal in the armed forces. There were classes on everything, and it didn’t seem to matter if it should have been something you learned in grade school or not, the army had its own way of doing everything. Folding laundry was a class, because what one learned from her mother was not to army standard. Even something as simple as making a bed was a class, because the army did not invest in fitted sheets. All beds had to be made just right, and several of the recruits took to making them once, then sleeping on top of the covers at night so they didn’t have to completely remake their rack in the morning.

That night, after the evening meal and in the calm hour before lights out while some of the recruits were getting crabby and picking fights, Amy weakly climbed up into her bunk and turned to Sam. “What did we get ourselves into?”

“It’s interesting,” Sam replied, brushing her suede boot with a shoe brush. “You don’t like it?”

“What’s so important about pushups?” Amy groaned. “Why do we have to do so many?”

“Discipline. My basketball coach used the same method,” Sam replied with a little giggle. “You get better at it after a while. The goal is that they won’t have to do it so much later on if they get you resenting them now. The trick to enduring them is to understand that they want you to hate them, so pretend to love them and they’ll probably back off.”

“That’s completely crazy!” Amy pointed out.

“That’s not the first time I’ve been called that,” Sam declared, tucking herself into bed. “We’d better get some shut-eye. Tomorrow we have to do PE. Sorry, I meant PT.”

“Good night,” Amy groaned. Sam could tell by the creak of the mattress above her that Amy was trying to massage her aching arms.

For the basic trainees, PT or physical training seemed like a new toolkit for the drill sergeants to punish them with. They no longer had to deal with only pushups as discipline, but were introduced to the side straddle hop, Army speak for jumping jacks. There were lunges, forward and rear; and a plethora of other exercises that they could be called upon to perform. A particular favorite of Drill Sergeant Mumford was called ‘the Dying Cockroach,’ where the recruit would lay on her back with her arms and legs straight up in the air. There were no repetitions, it lasted until Drill Sergeant Mumford gave permission to recover. One would think that since there is no movement involved it could be considered a break. One would be wrong. Within a very few minutes the arms and legs became harder and harder to hold up, until it was an agony of endurance.

The running program was designed to get everyone up to the army standard, which may not be competitive by varsity track standards, but it should be achievable for everyone, with a little hard work and discipline. Those who were more sedentary in their youth had the hardest time, but for Sam it seemed like a piece of cake. It was in no way as grueling as a good game of basketball with a rival team. It was also highly subjective. Drill Sergeant Mumford liked to train his recruits by mixing things up. One day they would do a long, slow run, in formation and singing cadence all the way. If a recruit tried to fall out, that recruit became the new pace setter, running at the head of the formation. It was murder on the shins of the better runners, because they were forced to take short steps very slowly, and it was not the best for improving anything, but it burned fat and most of the troops could use it.

Sprints were another tool that the drill sergeant used. Pushing the recruits out of their comfort zone, sprints were a short distance high speed run, and then he kept adding more and more distance until the recruits were running full speed all of the time.

The long release runs were Sam’s particular favorites. Over a known distance, which could be several miles, the recruits were released to complete the run at their own pace, with the added incentive of being the first in the showers. The first recruits in the showers got hot water, which was one of life’s few comforts during this phase of training.

“I need help with my run,” Amy told Sam one morning over breakfast.

“Next time we go out, I will stick with you and tell you how to improve,” Sam confided to her in a low voice.

“No talking!” Drill Sergeant Mumford shouted, making a beeline over to them. “How many dog-gone times do I have to tell you dog-gone recruits, there ain’t no cotton-pickin’ talking in the mess hall? Eat now, taste it later!”

Instead of responding, Sam and Amy put their heads down and concentrated on moving the food from their plates into their digestive tracts.

The next morning during their long release run, Sam ran a little slower and found Amy amid the undulating, weaving throng of female recruits, and fell in beside her. “You’ve got a good pace going right now,” Sam said encouragingly.

“I’m - at - my limit,” Amy puffed.

“It’s okay,” Sam continued to encourage, “You’re building up endurance. Keep your head up so your airway is more open. Control your breathing.”

Amy shook her head. “Breathing - hard.”

“Not if control it,” Sam said, mimicking Amy’s Tarzanesque speech pattern.

“How?” Amy wheezed.

“Instead of puffing, bring it in through your nose, and then slowly exhale, over a few steps. Try to empty your lungs so you can get more fresh air in when you inhale. More fresh air, more oxygen to your limbs.”

Amy tried Sam’s method of controlled breathing and, even though she had to slow down a little, she didn’t stop and walk, as she was prone to do. Sam and Amy both considered it a success, and Amy should do nothing but improve over the coming weeks.

 

Later, they were introduced to the Combat Life Saver course, which is first aid under combat conditions and they actually had to give IV bags of saline solution to each other. “This is going to hurt you more than it will hurt me,” Sam told Amy, hovering over her elbow with a needle.

“Be gentle with me,” Amy replied, averting her eyes. “It’s your first time.”

Sam found the vein and drove the needle home, and the bag started to drip freely into Amy’s vein. “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“Easy for you to say,” Amy told her. “I have to stick you next.”

“That looks good, Collins,” Drill Sergeant Mumford stepped up and inspected Amy’s arm. “Now take it back out, bandage her up, and switch places.”

They did as instructed, and as Sam took her blouse off she could hear Amy’s apprehension in her breathing. She sat back down and presented her bare arm to Amy. “Just keep calm,” Sam instructed, “You can do this.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Amy gasped.

“You won’t. Just breathe.”

Amy tied the tourniquet around Sam’s upper arm and when Sam clenched her fist, the vein in her elbow popped up, clearly visible to all. “This one?” Amy asked, touching the vein dead center in the elbow.

“Yes, that one,” Sam told her. “Go in at a forty-five degree angle, and once you break the skin, back off to thirty degrees.”

Amy was beginning to turn colors as she hovered over the vein with her needle. “Just breathe,” she told herself, again trying Sam’s controlled breathing technique, in through the nose, out through the mouth.

Drill Sergeant Mumford came back around and saw Amy holding the needle, frozen over Sam’s arm. “That soldier is dying,” he advised her, “you have to save her life, unless you want her to die.”

Amy closed her eyes and stabbed the needle right through the vein and into the soft tissue beneath, causing a lot of blood to pour out. When she opened her eyes again she saw what she had done, turned white as a sheet, and fell onto the floor.

After reviving her, Drill Sergeant Mumford made her take another stab at it. Again, she tied the tourniquet (this time on Sam’s left arm), prepared the saline bag with all its hoses, attached the needle, told Sam to make a fist, and she froze above the vein. “Do it,” Drill Sergeant Mumford ordered her. “Just freakin’ do it.” At that moment, somebody else passed out. Drill Sergeant Mumfort turned to help out, and Sam grabbed the needle and drove it home. Amy was still squeamish, and for a second it looked like her eyes went out of focus, but she drew a deep breath and let it out again, then she was alright. When Drill Sergeant Mumford turned back around, he saw the saline dripping happily into Sam’s vein. “You’re good to go, Little. I told you you could do it. Now take it out and throw it away.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Amy replied. To Sam she silently mouthed the words ‘thank you.’

The days and weeks rolled on, one long, tiring day flowing into the next until it was routine. Lights out by 2200 and a rude awakening at 0445, by the military twenty-four hour clock. They were introduced to the Army martial art of combatives, level one. The level one course is like lethal wrestling. The key is to achieve a dominant position, and disable your opponent by breaking limbs or choking them to unconsciousness or beyond. They did bayonet drills, despite the last bayonet attack occurring in the early part of the Viet Nam conflict. They did a twelve-mile march with full kit (body armor and helmet) and a thirty-five-pound rucksack, in the rain, no less. There was the obstacle course, called a ‘confidence course’ by the cadre, in which they had to navigate various obstacles, including climbing over walls, scrambling up rope nets, swinging by a rope over some mud pits, and maneuvering down a rope head first from a tall tower. This last obstacle was known as the ‘slide for life,’ and they had already seen two recruits fall from the rope into the netting below. One of them was apparently injured, and training halted while the drill sergeants worked on her. The post fire department dispatched a paramedic unit and an ambulance, and the recruit was taken to the hospital. They found out later that she tore her rotator cuff, and she would be a medical recycle as soon as she healed.

“I can’t do it,” Amy told Sam, as they stared at the killer obstacle.

“You’ve managed to do everything else,” Sam told her, anticipating the slide herself. She could imagine the adrenaline rush of scuttling down the rope, headfirst, with her hands below her head and her ankles locked around the rope above her.

“Only because you’ve been pushing me,” Amy said.

Sam shrugged. “That doesn’t diminish the fact in the least that you have performed every event up to standard. You have not failed at anything yet, and you won’t now.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” Amy said.

“Do you have an animal helper?” Sam asked.

“What?” Amy asked.

“Don’t your people have animal helpers that come to you in times of crisis and get you through it?”

“I do,” Amy said. “I just didn’t know you knew about it.”

Sam smiled. “I was guessing,” she admitted. “What is it? An antelope? No, a mountain lion. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Amy mumbled something that Sam couldn’t hear, so Sam asked again. Amy turned to her, her face a little redder than usual, and said in an undertone so only Sam could hear. “A mouse.”

Instead of lambasting her with derision, as Amy anticipated, Sam was surprisingly supportive. “That’s perfect!” she said. “There couldn’t be a better animal helper than a mouse for this obstacle. They are incredibly agile when it comes to climbing ropes, up or down.”

“And they communicate with each other. Mice are the greatest intelligence agents in the animal kingdom,” Amy said, a little proud now of her diminutive animal helper.

“Your mouse will get you through this challenge,” Sam told her, and Amy felt confidence returning. And the mouse did help her; she navigated the obstacle like she was born to it.

 

Yet another day, they familiarized themselves with their individual weapons, the M16A2. After that they went to the range, zeroed their weapons to their own particular sight pictures, then qualified. That was a very long day.

The day following the qualification range, they were again issued their weapons, which had been turned in dirty the day before due to the lateness of the hour of their return. This time they were issued to clean, and if it did not exceed factory specifications for cleanliness, they would have to clean them again and again until they passed examination by none other than Drill Sergeant Mumford himself. The two recruits were both sitting on Sam’s bunk with their weapons disassembled, when Amy spoke. “We’re almost done with basic. I don’t think I could have made it without all the help you gave me.”

Sam seemed to be humbled by that statement, and tried to lay it back on Amy. “You’re a lot stronger than you think,” she told her. “You just needed a little encouragement.”

“Well,” Amy replied, “it was certain that the drill sergeants weren’t going to help me out with that.”

“What did I tell you on day one?” Sam asked.

Amy held up the bolt carrier and ran another pipe cleaner through the holes. “We make it together or not at all,” she recited.

Sam was busy rubbing the end of a cotton swab through the star chamber in the upper receiver. “And I’m going to hold you to that through M.P. school,” she vowed.

“Okay,” Amy agreed. She held her bolt up to the light and stared through it. She sighed and started picking at it again with the pipe cleaner. “I don’t know if you told me. Why do you want to be an M.P.?”

Sam smiled. “Sure I did. Remember? Because they wouldn’t let me in…”

They finished her sentence together “… the infantry!”

“That’s right,” Amy grinned. “I remember now.”

“And you told me that you wanted to be an M.P. because you want to be a cop when you get out.”

“Yep!” Amy agreed. “Gonna be a cop. Gonna help keep my city free of crime.”

“Like Lincoln, Nebraska is one of crime capitals of the U.S.” Sam said sarcastically.

“You’d be surprised!” Amy admonished. “We’ve got jaywalkers and sidewalk spitters all over the place. It’s a law enforcement nightmare.”

“It sounds as bad as Fort Wayne,” Sam told her, sliding the bolt carrier assembly back in to the upper receiver. “Except that in Fort Wayne we have bad car parkers, too.”

“Bad car parkers are everywhere,” Amy moaned. “I don’t know that I could handle a crime wave like that.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

T. S. McLellan served in the US Army in three separate decades, with a hiatus that saw him work as a banker, a private detective, a warehouseman, a courier, a translator, an actor, a screenwriter, a film director, and a technical publications project manager, among many other things. He currently resides in San Antonio, Texas with his lovely wife and yappy dog. Norry R. Mahan served in the army for fourteen years, and she is sorely missed.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
My friend Norry had some miserable experiences at one unit, and she wanted to make a movie about them, highly fictionalized. She came up with the characters and the plot, and I hammered out a screenplay in November, 2015. I told her to write a novel. Before she died, she asked me to do it.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
There is good leadership and bad, in the military, and in the private sector. In the private sector, an employee can quit and walk away. In the military, service members do not have that option. Toxic leadership must stop, or more good souls will meet a horrible fate.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
I am an optimist, and my forte is humor. This book was not optimistic, nor humorous. It was very difficult for me to deal with the main character knowing what I had in store for her.

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