I went to bed on Wednesday at 2100 hours knowing I'd have to wake up at 0515 to be at the staging area by 0700 for the Division Review.
The air was still brisk as I rode through Fort Campbell Gate 7 at 0630 on my motorcycle. I smelled the sweet scent of honeysuckle as I approached the gate guard with my ID card and noted briefly that the other soldiers, secure in their cars, windows rolled-up, radios on, probably didnt even know that there were fragrant flowers clinging to the fences on either side of the road. I passed through the gate and quickly found parking for my bike at the staging area.
The plan, rehearsed the previous day, was for all of the companies in 5th Battallion to form-up at the staging area. We would then march together to the parade field and link up with the rest of the division for the planned review. I met with Bravo Company and joined my co-workers in a mass formation. The First Sergents proceeded to arrange everyone in the Battallion in size order.
I am about average height and, as a result, found myself standing in the center of the formation. This is an ideal location for blending in. I listened, smiling to myself, as the Specialist next to me complained to the Sergent next to her.
"All of my friends are short and not standing near me." she said
"Make some friends in this area", he suggested.
"Nah", she said, inclining her head toward me, "the only people around here are snobby aviators".
"They have no reason to be snobby", the sergent informed her, "they are not even required to have college diplomas anymore."
I had to say something. Just loud enough for the two of them to hear I muttered, "I don't need no fancy book learnin' Sergent."
The formation was called to attention and we began the 30 minute march to the parade field. Various NCOs took turns calling cadence as we marched. I fell into step and allowed my mind to wander as I called out the chants that had been drilled into my mind during Basic Training. I forgot about the company refrigerator for a moment and the fact that I was not flying yet. Here I was, an aviator in one of the most respected units in the army, wearing a screaming eagle patch, marching alongside the soldiers I would be going to war with. I was a long way from basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and life did not seem too bad.
We reached the parade field as scheduled and I noted with some satisfaction that my brand new boots felt pretty good. I heard other soldiers saying the same thing. It is a rare thing to hear soldiers complimenting, rather than complaining about, new equipment. I guess the army made a good decision switching to leather and nylon desert boots from the old all leather boots that had been worn for decades.
Fifth Batallion joined up with the rest of the 101st Aviation Brigade which, in turn, met up with the 159th Aviation Brigade which, in turn, met up with the rest of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). There we were, over 30,000 soldiers standing in the sun, alternating between Parade Rest and Attention as the ceremonies dragged on.
The level of discomfort was obvious. I could feel each individual bead of sweat drip down my chest and back under my brand-new moisture wicking T-shirt. I fought the tingle in my feet by shifting my weight back and forth, trying not to move too much. I rotated my sore neck as subtly as possible. My eyes begged for a respite from the glare but I refused to close them. I could see the other soldiers fighting their own personal battles as Sergents quietly issued orders, "Keep your eyes open", "Stand up straight", "Dont lock your knees", "None of you better not pass out."
Still, there were moments of levity. The division came to attention as a senior officer passed by. Everyone was silent. We could hear the rustle of our uniforms and the snap of our heels. Then a fart. Then a wave of giggling. Even the first sergents had to smile. Later, as the band passed by playing a familiar tune, soldiers began to hum. A few at first, then some more. Then an occassional whistle. This was surely not allowed but could not be stopped. Our entire Battallion was humming along with the band but no single person could be picked out as being out of order. The band passed and our humming faded away.
An eternity passed until General Cody took the podium to give the keynote speech. He began his speech with one melodious phrase. "Division, rest." He called out. This command allowed every soldier to stand, sit, or kneel during the speach. There was an audible sigh as we almost collapsed with relief. His oration was inspirational and eloquent and just long enough for us all to get the feeling back in our legs and backs.
General Cody finished speaking and was followed by another officer who seemed to take just a little too much pleasure in calling us back to "Parade Rest." Fortunately, not long after, we began our march around the field to be inspected by the dignitaries. Though I was not happy about being there I could still appreciate the awesome sight of an entire division, marching in unison, in brand new uniforms, to the drumbeat of the army band. A hint of pride stubbornly pushed its way into my head and wedged iteself firmly between frustration and exhaustion.
After marching past the review stands we broke back into Battallions and, with a little less vigor than before, fell into step for the return trip to our staging area. Once we reached the staging area we received a new variant of the same safety briefing I have heard before every holiday weekend. The commander reminded us not to drink and drive, not to drink and boat, not to do anything stupid. He asserted that nothing good could happen after midnight. He implored us to use the buddy system. He then made a comment that I expect only a few, if any, of the readers of this story to understand though it made perfect sense to all of us. I will repeat it here but will firmly refuse any requests for clarification. "If the one-eyed Ranger deploys", he warned, "be sure he is in MOPP-4". Everyone laughed and went off to enjoy a much deserved 4 day weekend.