When I received marching orders to report to Ft. Polk, Louisiana back in the early 1990’s, it was generally considered one of the worst stateside assignments an Army dentist could receive. I frequently wondered who I had ticked off to deserve such a dastardly fate. Ft. Polk was the home of the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division. It was out in the middle of nowhere, where the relentless Louisiana summers combined with the lack of even the most basic cultural opportunities drove many a soldier to the numerous bars, pawn-shops, and strip-clubs surrounding the desolate Army post. There was no McDonalds or Wal-mart here back in the day, and the closest semblance of a shopping center was still 45 minutes away.
And yet, we’re here now–Bingo and I somehow drawn to the siren call of an earlier life experience. For you see, as horrific as that duty assignment appeared to my wife Kanisa and me at the time, one of our happiest and most significant life events happened right here. In the wee morning hours of February 27, 1991, our daughter Katie was born at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital. During the night, Kanisa had struggled through a long and arduous labor, angrily casting me the evil eye as I hunkered down in front of the waiting room TV to watch my beloved Wildcats take down the Alabama Crimson Tide (This was the game where UK coach Rick Pitino came out in a blue-plaid blazer, playfully mocking the attire usually worn by ‘Bama coach Wimp Sanderson). When Katie finally emerged, albeit with a disturbingly flattened head and a shockingly hairy back, all was well again as we knew that our lives had just been forever blessed.
Twenty-five years later, the area around Ft. Polk has changed dramatically. The surrounding town of Leesville where we lived was essentially non-recognizable to me. McDonalds and Wal-mart have now infiltrated the neighborhoods along with every other fast food chain it seems. I cruised past a Thai restaurant and even a new sushi bar. The eye and laser center on the main drag seemed to be doing a brisk business. The apartments we used to live in are still there but appear weathered by a quarter century of time’s passage and exposure to the harsh elements. As I asked a young Army officer who had just moved in to take my picture, I felt some piercing pangs of sadness. I’m just not quite sure why. Who knows if I’ll ever return.
One thing remains constant though. The brave fighting men and women of the United States military are still here. Very few other jobs in America require you to give up your life in exchange for such a modest paycheck. This is one of them. During my tour of duty, one of my responsibilities was to process incoming reservists in preparation for their deployment overseas for the first Iraq War. It was a sobering thought knowing that some of these soldiers I was treating would not be making it back alive. Every single one of them had a life in front of them, with hopes and dreams that would go unfulfilled, and families who would forever grieve their loss. I salute them once again and am honored to have served with all of them, defending the freedoms that so many now take for granted. Hoo-ah!
If you enjoy my writing, please tag this page and come back to visit frequently. Feel free to leave remarks and suggestions in the comments section. Thanks so much.