Four Years Of Hell: College V. The Army

Co-created with Lance Pauker & Ella Ceron

Which path should you choose: going to college or joining the military? Young people who’ve asked themselves this question have received a plethora of different answers. Both options are viable in helping you set yourself up for success in adulthood. Just like anything else in life, it’s what you make of it, and no two experiences are exactly the same. To help you understand the lifestyle differences between the two paths, two college graduates and one veteran will share with you a year-by-year breakdown of their experiences through those very special four years.

Freshman Year:

Lance Pauker: 

There was a lot of pressure to meet people, but at first you didn’t really know how. So you just stuck to the same three questions, consisting of things like, “Where are you from?,” “What’s your major?,” and, “Are you secretly the son of an oil tycoon?”

Overall, I think I was a little too overwhelmed to really process what was going on—there’s so much coming at you at once. You’ve got the sudden freedom, you’ve got these new people in your life that you’re suddenly good friends with, and you’ve got professors constantly asking you if you did the reading. If there’s anything you figure out quickly, it’s that nobody really does the reading.

Ella Ceron:
I went to college 3,000 miles away from my hometown and was only really able to do so on a full-ride academic scholarship. It was terrifying being in a new city—though I’m from a large city, moving to New York was still a huge change. It was weird living with so many other people my age in one building all of a sudden, and I had five roommates in a very small three-bedroom/one-communal-area dorm. There was a lot of pressure on keeping my grades up, especially when what I thought I wanted my major to be proved much more difficult to maintain, and I had to take a good, hard look at whether I wanted to pursue that dream without my scholarship or change my course. I went home for the summer after that year and very desperately didn’t want to go back. I was homesick, miserable, hadn’t found a group of friends I felt very intrinsically close to, and felt all-around awkward.

Raul Felix:
Your first year in the Army is basically where you get your teeth kicked in. Everything you were, did, and knew no longer seems relevant. You’re going to do shit the way the Army wants you to do it. From your drill sergeants in Basic Training all the way to your team leaders and squad leaders in your first unit, you’re expected to be a sponge for knowledge and to shut your fucking mouth.

Life was simple in a way: You trained hard and worked long hours during the week and got drunk as fuck in the barracks with your buddies on the weekends watching movies, playing video games, and bitching about your miserable existence and how you should have gone to college. Even if you started off as a cavalier, gleaming-eyed young man full of glee and hope, the aura of massive amounts of testosterone, cynicism, and sexual frustration was prevalent. Back then MySpace was the main social network and you’d see your friends posting pictures of themselves at college parties surrounded by hot chicks, while all you had was Internet porn and a bottle of Jack to keep you company. Since most of us were under 21 and none of us were locals, meeting chicks was very rare indeed. Luckily, a few months in, I met a great girl through MySpace that went to a local university and we developed a long-term fuck-buddy relationship that gave me something to look forward to other than drinking myself into oblivion. My cousin and I were in the same battalion but different companies. He had already been the in Army for a little over two years at that point. We spent Christmas and New Year’s together drinking heavily in the barracks watching movies as we waited to deploy.

Sophomore Year:

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Spc Tiffany Fudge, US ARMY

Lance Pauker:
An article I once read on this pretty great website called Thought Catalog (def check it out if you get the chance) referred to sophomore year as “The Year Of The Wise Fools.” I think this summation is spot-on. You’re slowly gaining a sense of who you are and how you fit within the general landscape, but you’re still, relatively, an idiot. On a personal level, the majority of cool college stories I have occurred during sophomore year.

I feel like sophomore year represents the time in which you begin to move toward that thing you really want to pursue—you’ve finally figured out which people to acknowledge and which people to slowly start ignoring, so you’re finally ready to learn on your terms. Think of it as making your way through a crowded and cramped bar and then finally reaching the cool outside area. You light up a cig, talk about how you really shouldn’t be lighting up a cig, and finally get a chance to think.

Ella Ceron:
I had a summer job in Los Angeles during the summer break and was lucky enough to transfer to a New York outpost of the same company, so I was juggling four and five courses a semester with 30-to-40-hour work weeks. Though my classes were being paid for by the school, I had to take out loans for my housing and had to fund my own food, clothes, and anything else I wanted. It was a lot, but I was able to interact with people who were already living and working in the “real world” and I realized that there was so much beyond the papers and assignments that I had been so stressed about during the previous year. I still didn’t have as many friends as college is always portrayed in the movies, but I let myself completely fill up my schedule so that I was either working or studying seven days a week. In retrospect, that was the stupidest idea ever, but it helped me cope with the loneliness.

Raul Felix:
To my bitter disappointment, that deployment I spent doing a support role for the line guys. We pushed out supplies from the main base to all of the platoons scattered throughout the country. When we did leave the base, it was doing detainee escorts where we would take captured Hajis from one prison to another throughout the country on Chinooks and Blackhawk helicopters. I saw the vastness of Iraq by the air—from our remote outpost in Al Qa’im to the major cities of Baghdad, Mosul, and Tikrit. I also fucked up a lot that deployment and made nearly every single stupid mistake a cherry private could make to the frustration and wrath of my leadership. That deployment I was hit by how real this war was—my cousin’s team leader and squad leader both got killed in action.

We deployed in three-months-there and six-months-back cycles. We came back stateside and I began to take all the lessons learned from that deployment into the next training cycle, determined to be less of a fuck-up. The lifestyle of training hard, drinking hard, and fucking hard took firm hold again. Before one knew it, it was time to go to Afghanistan. Arriving at the beginning of the blistering Afghan winter, me and a dozen other Batt Boys were tasked to man a secret prison that contained high-value targets that were freshly captured off of objectives by the line guys. It pissed me off because I didn’t join the Army to stay on the base; I joined to go on fucking missions. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas there, and I spent New Year’s Eve 2007 on an airplane ride back to the US. Luckily we didn’t lose anyone on that deployment.

Junior Year

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KT King

Lance Pauker:
I went abroad the first semester of my junior year. Like everyone else who went abroad, I had such an incredible time that I spent the following semester acting superior to everyone who didn’t share the same new life experience as me.

Returning to college after spending a semester traveling all over Europe felt like going from an Elton John concert to an Austin Mahone concert. No disrespect to my man Austin; he just fits the reference.

Ella Ceron:
When everyone else went abroad, I moved out of the dorms and into my first apartment—a really crappy walkup that was about a 20-minute walk away from the campus. I still filled my schedule with work and school and tried to romanticize how utterly threadbare my life was. My roommate bought our couch with a bottle of Belvedere, I slept on a yoga mat before I managed to get a bed, and I wrote my papers on a busted laptop with an old radiator whistling nearby. This all sounds like something out of the New York warehouse episodes of Glee, and I deeply wish I wasn’t as proud of the bohemian bullshit I let myself dive into. I still worked 40 hours a week, and I really liked my job, but that began to happen at the expense of shirking off a lot of my papers and assignments, only to make up excuses to get extensions and not fail out of my classes. It was a wakeup call that being an adult is a lot more about work than it is about the aesthetic, and sometimes you have to decide which is more important to you in the moment and which is more important to you in the long run.

Raul Felix:
By that time, I was comfortable in the Army. I wasn’t a big fuck-up anymore, so my leaders usually stayed off my ass. I knew exactly what I needed to do, what my job was, and what I could and couldn’t get away with. I turned 21 that year, went to my first bar in Seattle, and subsequently got kicked out of my first bar.

We were set to deploy again that summer, and a few days before deployment I found my grandmother had died. My cousin and I went to her funeral and missed out on the deployment. We stayed on Rear Detachment, which meant we pretty much had half-days all the time and spent much of that time drinking heavily and attempting to find some tail, mostly unsuccessfully. One morning, news came that one of the men in our company had been killed in action. A few weeks later, another one had been killed.

Senior Year

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Spc Justin Young, US ARMY

Lance Pauker:
Senior year was the crossroads between living in an apartment that should probably be condemned and being “adult” enough to drink something other than watered-down Keystone Light. I found that I probably made the most friends in college senior year—just like senior year of high school, nobody really cares about the social distinctions they spent the past three years maintaining. People are finishing up sports, slightly embarrassed to have been a part of their Greek organization, and overall too consumed with the postgrad unknown to care about how sick Freddy’s party was. You also realize how much of an unrealistic bubble the American college experience is. While I definitely got a ton out of my four years, you certainly realize how alarming the disconnect is. If college prepares you for the working world, then playing baseball prepares you for running a marathon. They’re both sports, but that’s pretty much it.

Ella Ceron:
By senior year, I was totally immersed in my job, and a big chunk of me didn’t think I really NEEDED my degree anymore—but then I realized that the job trajectory I was on wasn’t the right fit after all. I was working 60 hours a week, could afford a lot of really nice things, made friends with my coworkers, and was acting the part of the adult—but I just wasn’t happy. I had to force myself to put any effort into my classes, because I’d saved a lot of the easy, fun classes for senior year, knowing full well I’d have senioritis. The caveat in that, however, was that I was constantly reminding myself that if I could do okay by coasting along, imagine how much better I could do by working hard. Ultimately, I realized that the degree I eventually chose meant more to me than the job I’d had all through college and that I not only wanted to actually pursue using my degree, but that I’d be disappointed if I didn’t.

Working through college was a very important part of my experience, because it gave me a crash course in the wild world of money and having an apartment and adulthood and adult friends, but I was worn really thin throughout those four years and wouldn’t necessarily suggest you try to do everything all at once if you don’t absolutely need to. If I could do it all over again, and if I had the means, I would definitely have not worked as much as I did, even though I don’t regret how hard I worked. College is a time for discovery, and sometimes I wonder if I was too burdened with bills and being a grown-up to do that then—but now I’m making up for it by discovering myself along the way now.

Raul Felix:
Another training cycle started. The same dance all over again. I had calmed down my bar-hopping since I had gotten a girlfriend, but it didn’t mean I still didn’t drink to my heart’s content. Working, drinking, and hanging out with my girl was all I contented myself with during that training cycle. It had all become second nature at that point. We took off for the sandbox again. This time I drove Strykers through the streets of Mosul on hundreds of direct action raids. I was happy because at last I was doing the cool guy shit I’ve been training for. In typical poetic fashion, my girlfriend broke up with me. This was costliest and most heart-wrenching deployment during my time in battalion. We lost three great men all within a month of each other.

It’s a strange feeling being in a bar when only 48 hours earlier you were in the middle of the streets of Mosul pulling security. I was more than eager to get out of the Army. I had acquired an annoyed and hate-filled attitude toward my job, but I knew I had one deployment left before I was free at last. I bought a motorcycle and developed a passion for motorcycle travel when my buddies and I took a trip around Washington State.

In my final deployment to Iraq, I was driving Strykers like I did before. Though we did go on quite a few missions, it was way slower than the previous high-operations tempo deployment. The war was winding down. There was a stretch where we went two weeks without a single mission. Books, video games, and TV shows were how you kept your sanity from the boredom. I came back with only a month left on my enlistment. One month later, I hopped on my motorcycle to travel the US, leaving behind the red-fenced compound that took me in during my most formative years and forged me into a man.

~Raul Felix

You can read more of my writing at Thought Catalog.

3 Things People Who Served In The Military Do That Make Them Look Like Tools

Regardless of how much the media likes to depict everyone who serves in the military as the essence of integrity, professionalism, and selfless service, there are lot of people who are total fucking tools. Just like any large organization, the military has its share of window-licking, mouth-breathers whose only talent in life is not choking on their own tongue when they sleep. What happens when people like this get to wear the service uniform for the holy cock of freedom that is the United States? They use it to compensate for their many other shortcomings, of course.

1. Wearing Dog Tags As A Fashion Accessory

Just like many of the other ills in America, Hollywood is to blame for this trend. In the movies, you’ll see a battle-hardened Special Ops guy in an olive-drab tank top sitting alone at the bar drinking straight whiskey. He clutches his dog tags that hang around his neck and begins to reminisce about combat. Cue CCR’s “Fortunate Son” and flash back to Vietnam 1969.

The reality is that the scrawny guy wearing his dog tags over his Abercrombie & Fitch shirt is more than likely a cherry fucking private who just finished Basic Combat Training and thinks he’s a real soldier now. He has to show the whole world how much of a Billy Badass he is because having a high and tight and weighing a buck thirty-five isn’t enough of an indication that he’s a soldier. Wearing dog tags will surely be a conversation starter with the fairer sex and moisten her panties.

He doesn’t know that there are other soldiers and veterans at the bar with multiple deployments who aren’t as blatantly obvious about it and think he looks like a total tool. They’ll chuckle among themselves and shake their heads in disgust. Looks like they’ll let any kind of retard in the military these days.

2. Posting Moronic Memes On Facebook

If you’ve had anyone in the military as a friend on Facebook, you’ve probably seen a meme saying something similar to this: “Share if you think a person in camouflage should make more money than one in a jersey.” This will be accompanied with a picture of a soldier covered in mud hating his miserable existence in contrast to one of a famous football player in a packed stadium. This ensures the poster gets guilt-driven Likes and Shares because if you don’t think that, you obviously hate the troops.

When a person posts that, what they’re really telling you is that not only aren’t they the sharpest tool in the shed—they aren’t even in the shed. They’re so dull that they fail to grasp how the free market and the premise of supply and demand work—you know, the very things our men and women in uniform are fighting to preserve.

People in the military are all about telling the harsh truth. Well, here is one: It takes considerably more talent, skill, and hard work to be a professional athlete than it does to be a common Joe in the military. Have you been training since the age of five to be a soldier? Did you stand out as an All-Star in high school, get a scholarship to a Division One school, and then, despite the 1-in-100 odds, get drafted to a professional team? There is a reason why guys who sacrifice million-dollar contracts who decide to join the military make the news, while Joe Snuffy—who dropped out of community college while working at Subway and didn’t know what else to do with his life so he joined the Army National Guard—doesn’t.

3. Mentioning Something About Their Military Service In Every Conversation

You’re in your college US History class discussing the Great War and how gruesome it was. Then a longhaired, unshaven, and overweight former Marine wearing a “Mess With The Best, Die Like The Rest” Devil Dog T-shirt raises his hand.

“Oh yeah, my former unit that I served in Iraq with, the 5th Marine Regiment, was in the Great War.” Then he smugly lowers his hand and coyly looks around to see who is highly impressed with the fact the he is a veteran. You sit there thinking, “What the fuck does that have to do with anything?”

Very few things indicate that a service member has no depth to their personality than their inability not to talk about the military regardless of how irrelevant to the conversation it may be. You could be talking about how much you love puppies; they’ll talk about the scraggly dogs in Mosul. It’s a bit a chilly out today. “This is fucking nothing. When I was in the mountains of Afghanistan, we froze our balls off.” You’re trying to decide where to get lunch. “Oh, it doesn’t matter. Anything is better than eating MREs like we had to do in the FOB.”

While the military is a vicious, soul-sucking beast that leaves a lasting impact on those who serve, it’s not so consuming that it leaves an individual with no personality and unable to have other hobbies and interests. While it’s great to be proud of one’s service, it’s also the mark of a huge tool bag if he is unable to talk about anything but his time in the belly of the beast.

~Raul Felix

Check out more of my work at Thought Catalog.

Eager To Pop My Cherry On The Battlefield

You’re a cherry fucking bitch. That’s the label you get when you arrive at your first unit. You haven’t yet been deployed to the mountains of Afghanistan or the streets of Iraq to prove yourself. Your superiors have several deployments under their belts. Some of the more senior noncommissioned officers (NCO) are men who were in before 9/11 and were among the first into Afghanistan and then Iraq. Your role as a cherry private is to be a sponge for all the knowledge they’re going to bequeath upon you. They’re there to mentor and mold you into a capable soldier who will aggressively and effectively put two bullets into the chest and one into the head of Haji.

As a cherry private, you live in constant fear—not of the enemy, but of your Team Leader and Squad Leader. You fear making a mistake, however small, that will bring their wrath upon your poor soul. And you will make many fucking mistakes.

You have a brain fart and forget the fourth stanza of the Ranger Creed because you’re so nervous. “Do fucking pushups, motherfucker!”

You miss a spot when you shaved that morning. “Hit the fucking ropes!”

You’re two minutes late to being five minutes early to formation. “I’m going to fucking crush your balls after formation.”

You didn’t properly tie down your night-vision goggles. “Start fucking low-crawling, you fucking retard.” Other times you will get smoked merely for being a cherry private.

Little by little, you start to learn how to do things the right way. You’re always on high alert, making sure your uniform is on properly, your equipment is accounted for and is serviceable, and that you’re not fucking up somehow. Yet you always feel like you are. The mere sight of an NCO in the distance causes your heart to race. You’ll spot-check yourself and your buddies again. If he calls you over, you run quickly to him, hoping you didn’t do something that will ensure a soul-fucking.

You shoot thousands of rounds at the range, getting your shot groups tighter and more consistent. You conduct close-quarter combat exercises, live-fire exercises, jump out of airplanes, drive Humvees and Strykers, and fast-rope out of helicopters. You’ll do first-responder training and land navigation. You will work out every morning. You also do countless shitty details and spend lots of time hurrying up and waiting.

You’re eager to deploy. You’re tired of being a cherry bitch and want to get that deployment patch on your right shoulder. You want to stop hearing about what it’s like over there; you want to see it firsthand. You want to join the legions of men who came and fought before you. You want to do your part in fighting for your country and destroying those Haji fucks. This is your war.

It seems that every generation of young men must relearn how grim war is. We watch documentaries and war movies. We read books about the inexplicable horror and terrible waste of it all, yet with each generation, there are a handful who are eager to go on this grand journey. With each generation, there are old men who have lived their lives willing to send young men to fight and die when their young life has only begun. Sometimes it’s for a noble purpose; other times, it’s for profit.

Your deployment date approaches after months and months of training. You go home on leave one last time. Your mother is terrified and tells you to call her often. Your friends are proud of you and tell you to make it back alive, or they’ll kill you. Your fellow cherry privates are as excited as you are to get drunk as often as possible. You report back and find out some of them are idiots and got DUIs, beat their wives, or pissed hot for drugs. Looks like they ain’t going.

Your leadership makes sure you and your equipment are squared away. You’re given a packing list and are visually inspected to make sure you have all that’s required of you. You palletize your duffel bags, rucksacks, and other special equipment. You fill out your last will and square away your finances. You get medically evaluated and vaccinated. There are only a few days left and you serve half-days until you deploy.

The day is here. You sign out your M4, night-vision goggles, and carry your assault pack on your back. In there you have your laptop, a book, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. Final manifest is called and you load onto the bus. The bus takes you to the Air Force base. There, you wait until the bird is ready. Once you’re told to load on the bird you follow the line of men in front of you. You step on the bird, take your seat, and wait for takeoff. You know that when you come back, you won’t be a cherry fucking bitch anymore.

~Raul Felix

Read more of my work on Thought Catalog.

3 Ways To Use Obstacles To Your Advantage

Dreams and aspirations—we all have them, whether you want to be a world-famous writer, a doctor, a captain of industry, or an international playboy. You set off on a journey to fulfill your dreams because you’re a fucking Billy Badass and nothing is going to stand in your way.

Then reality decides to be a dick and stands in your way. Your submission to XoJane gets rejected because it wasn’t angry enough and only mentioned rape culture twice…or you fail your Intro to Biology class…or you can’t even work up the courage to talk to that cute Latina chick. You sit there deflated, wondering how the gods could be so cruel to little special snowflake you.

Luckily for you, Ryan Holiday’s new book The Obstacle Is the Way provides a time-tested formula inspired by the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It teaches you to not just overcome your obstacles, but to leverage them to your advantage. Drawing from historical examples of people who were way more important than you or I, he separates the book into a series of characteristics, philosophies, and values that a person must have to hopefully join their ranks or at least give it the good ol’ junior-college try. Here are three that stuck out to me.

1. Follow the Process

You’ve got to do something very difficult. Don’t focus on that. Instead break it down into pieces. Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.

When we read an enriching novel or an article that makes us think and see things from a new perspective, we are experiencing the fruits of the writer’s extensive labor. We don’t see the process. We don’t see the writer as he reads book after book, learning from his mentors who may have long passed. We don’t see his first attempts of forming an original thought or sentence that is totally unreadable. We don’t see him as he learns the difference between the overreaching of vocabulary and using it in a seamless fashion. We don’t see him as he struggles, staring at the blank screen to formulate his next witty phrase.

By focusing on the little things, the fine details, the nitty-gritty aspects of what you’re trying to accomplish, you make the task much more manageable and feasible. Those little mundane parts—when done right and compounded together over the course of time and constant repetition—will create a road to the grand success of which you dream.

2. Do Your Job, Do It Right

Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies while you save up money or studying for the bar—even after you already achieved that success you sought. Everything is a chance to do and be your best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

When I was in 2nd Ranger Battalion, there was the Ranger standard that must always be met or you would be kicked out and sent to the big Army. It governed our lives: how we conducted and trained for combat, physical fitness, appearance, and acceptable behavior. In every aspect of being a Ranger, you were expected to do your job with a high level of motivation, competence, attention to detail, and eagerness to improve. It didn’t matter if you were going on a direct-action raid, doing a live-fire exercise, jumping out of an airplane, cleaning the barracks, policing up brass, mowing the quad’s lawn, fast-roping out of a helicopter, or doing your morning physical training session. Your ass better be giving it your all, or you were going to get your balls crushed.

I was a mediocre Ranger who barely survived being in battalion; nothing exceptional compared to some of the no-shit legendary men with whom I got to serve. But it instilled a strong work ethic in me. Taking pride in doing even the simplest jobs right—however trivial, mundane, and unglamorous they are—prepares you to take on the larger and more glamorous tasks when they are set before you.

3. Build Your Inner Citadel

No one is born a gladiator. No one is born with an Inner Citadel. If we’re going to succeed in achieving our goals despite the obstacles that may come, the strength in will must be built.

The world doesn’t give a fuck if you succeed or not. In fact, the world wants you to fail. If you want to attempt anything grand and not live a life of quiet desperation like so many poor souls, it will require you to be physically and mentally tough. Neither one of these attributes is built overnight.

Physical strength and toughness will better prepare you to deal with the obstacles life places in front of you than if you are scrawny or fat. Many “intellectual” douchebags who look down on the physically fit fail to see that the discipline needed to get to that point helps strengthen the mind and will.

Mental toughness will let you handle and overcome any obstacles that seek to wage psychological warfare on you. It gives you the capacity to think through them and find solutions. It gives you the ability to face down the naysayers, the haters, and the nonbelievers. It will help you say, “Fuck you” to them and drive on.

You need to change your mindset in how you view obstacles. They aren’t always negative; they can bring opportunity if you’re bright enough. This book will help you forge a mind that not only can power through them but can also squeeze out every drop of benefit from them.

~Raul Felix

You can read more of my articles on Thought Catalog

Jumping Out of Airplanes: How It’s Really Like

My second article on Thought Catalog has gone live. People always ask me how it’s like jumping out of airplanes, and I could never quite put it. So, I took a lot of thought and I decided to tell it in the most matter fact way possible. I’m pretty proud of this one.

“There was blood upon the risers; there were brains upon the chute,
Intestines were a-dangling from his paratrooper’s suit,
He was a mess; they picked him up, and poured him from his boots,
He ain’t gonna jump no more.

Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,
He ain’t gonna jump no more!”
-Blood Upon the Risers: World War 2 American Paratrooper Song

One of the best and worst parts of being an Airborne Ranger is the airborne part. Civilian types tend to have a misconception of what jumping out of airplanes is like in the Army. When they picture it, they think of all those skydiving videos where you pleasantly enjoy the view as you have the thrill of a lifetime, screaming at the top of your lungs, and with adrenaline pumping through your system. Then you land softly and celebrate because you faced one of your fears. During the whole thing you took pictures; you then post them on Facebook, and people comment about how truly wild and crazy you are. The whole thing probably took about three or four hours.

Like everything else in the Army, it’s a longer, more painful process. I’m not particularly scared of heights, but jumping out of an airplane was one of the training events I dreaded the most during my time in uniform. The process goes as follows:

You see on the training calendar that there is a jump coming up. You wonder if there is a way you can sham your way out of it, but sadly for you, you’re unable to weasel out. Fuck it. You joined the Army to jump out of airplanes and kill people, right?

To minimize the odds of you killing or maiming yourself and your buddies, the day before, you go through sustainment training. Sustainment training is where you get repounded into your head all the proper steps and procedures for conducting airborne operations that you learned in Airborne School. This involves going through a dry run of all the things you’re supposed to do as a group when you jump into the abyss. You play out perfectly the appropriate actions when you hook-up: Hand-off the static line, jump with your legs together in a tight body position, counting to four-thousand, and feeling the opening shock of the parachute. Then you make sure to check your canopy has no holes in it by looking up; if you’re unable to put your head up it’s because your risers are twisted, you bicycle kick to untwist yourself. You keep a sharp lookout during decent, make sure to avoid other jumpers, trees, telephone wires, and other potential hazards. You then play out what you will do if you do run into any of those hazards. You then prepare to land, putting a slight bend in your knee, keeping your eyes to the horizon. You then land by hitting the balls of your feet followed by your calves, thighs, buttocks, and pull up muscle. They actually call it the pull up muscle. That’s the end of sustainment training and now you are ready for your jump.

The next day, you go to the airfield to rig up your chute, harness, weapon, and put on your 45-plus-pound rucksack. God help you if you’re a mortarman or a machine gun gunner; you have a shit-ton more weight to carry. You then get inspected by a Jump Master to make sure you didn’t rig yourself all sorts of fucked up.

This is where the fun begins. The bird is probably going to be delayed by an hour or two. Meanwhile the harness is crushing your balls, and you’re unable to move effectively because you have your heavy ass rucksack dangling from your waist. You’re sitting down, using your helmet as a support for your lower back. While you’re waiting for an unknowable amount of time, you fall asleep. Suddenly, you’re awaken, still groggy; you are told to get up. You struggle to get yourself up and fumble around like a football, until one of your buddies takes pity on you and offers you a helpful hand. As you get to your feet, you realize you have to take a piss. Too late, dick face, your 50-plus buddies are already lining up to get on the bird. You don’t really walk to the bird but instead press forward in waddle-like, hunched over fashion in order to support the weight you’re carrying.

You approach the C-17, a humongous fortress of an airplane whose size leaves you in awe. Instantly the distinct smell of jet fuel and heat of the engines hit you. You follow the men in front up the ramp of the C-17 and take a seat. The ramp goes up, the plane taxis on the run way and takes off. As the plane settles into flight, the once roaring sounds of the engines turns into a hum.

Even if it’s not your first jump, the feeling of uneasiness and fear never completely go away. This shit is fucking dangerous even with all the precautions the military takes. On my first jump in battalion, we had one of our men get his parachute tangled with two other jumpers and got killed in the horrible training accident. The other two Rangers suffered serious injuries. Broken ankles, legs, backs, and concussions occur enough to be a legitimate concern each time one rigs up their chute.

At times the flight only takes twenty minutes, at others several hours. The two side doors of the C-17 open, and your ears are consumed by the fury of the wind. It’s hard to hear anything else. You see the Jump Master give you the signal to “Hook Up,” and in unison everyone echoes the command. “Check equipment!” screams the Jump Master. You paranoialy check all your straps and hooks, making sure none of them somehow came undone. Then the soldier in the very back slaps the ass of the one in front of him while saying “Okay.” This creates an ass slapping domino effect that continues until it reaches the very first jumper who then says, “Okay Jump Master!”

You stand there with your ruck hanging between your legs waiting to jump. Its heavy, uncomfortable, and you’re hating your life. You probably should have just gone to college. Your back is cramping up; you lean to the side of the plane to help support yourself and relieve some of the stress. The plane is encountering some turbulence, and you know this jump is going to fucking suck. After being tortured by this, you’re not even scared of jumping anymore. You just want to get the fuck off the bird so you can take the goddamn ruck off from in between your legs.

“One minute,” echoes through the plane. You’re looking in front of you, eyes on the red light which will soon turn green. Finally, you’re getting off this fucking bird. “30 seconds,” the birds coming upon the drop zone, and you’re completely focused on what you’re going to do next. The Jump Master has placed the first jumper in front of the door. The light turns green and “Go!” orders the Jump Master as he slaps the first jumper’s ass signaling him to jump. With one-second spacing between them, each man proceeds after the other. Your mind goes blank as you walk towards the door, all the training kicks in and everything you’re suppose to do has become muscle memory at this point. You hand off your static line, make a right face, and jump. You count to four-thousand, keeping your body tight as you get sucked out. Your chute opens and the once deafening sound of jet engines and wind is replaced by the tranquility of the being airborne as you slowly descend to the Earth. You begin to look in all directions and see your buddies all around you. You’re hoping you don’t run into one of them. You see one is getting too close, and you pull the risers in an attempt to slip away, but they really don’t do much. He spreads-eagle and he bounces off your chute, going on his merry way.

Now you must prepare to land. You drop your ruck, grab your risers, hold them firmly, keep your eyes on the horizon, and bend your knees slightly. You hope you don’t land on thorn bushes or if you’re doing an air field seizure, on the tarmac. You hit the ground hard. It knocks the wind out of you. You lay there for a moment or two, trying to figure out if you’re hurt or have broken anything. Luckily everything seems to be fine, and you begin to perform your final point of performance: taking that piss you’ve been holding in since you got on the bird.

~Raul Felix

The Pick-Up Follies: The Snow Fatty

I was in my seat on an airplane in between two very attractive women. Yet, I was unable to talk them. My breath stank and I reeked of booze, smoke, desperation, fat girl spit, and body odor. Normally, I would have started a little coy conversation in effort to see if there was a connection, but not this time. This time, I sat there in silence brooding on the foul odor that had been cast upon my body. God was just, I was being punished for the sins I had committed the previous night.

We had spent two weeks in late October 2008 on a training trip in Fort Bragg. After doing our military training for the day, we spent nearly every night of those two weeks getting hammered beyond reason or recourse. It was our last night in North Carolina and we decided to have one final hurrah before heading back to Washington. “Jonathan” and I tried to rally up a bunch of the guys to go out, but most rejected the idea knowing that we had an early morning flight to catch. We were able to get a humble group, “Blitzy”, “Tiburón”, “Jonathan”, and I to go out.

We rode through the mean streets of Fayetteville to a bar called Doghouse Bar & Grill. The place was refreshingly different from the typical bars you see outside military bases. The amount of high and tights with off-duty soldiers wearing their dog tags outside their t-shirts as a fashion accessory was kept to a minimum. Typical of southern bars, there was a cloud of cigarette smoke that engulfed the whole place. There was a live band playing country music, cheap beers, and a decent female to male ratio.

Since I always keep my head on a swivel looking for attractive women to hit on and promptly get rejected by, I noticed there was only one really hot chick in the whole entire place. Our drinks came and we made a toast to the good times and to 2/75. I kept my eye on the hot chick and noticed that she was eye fucking the singer the whole time. After he completed one of the songs, she went up to kiss him passionately. With that kiss, went my one percent chance at success with the only hot chick. It looked like hitting on the bountiful subpar chicks of the bar were the conditions I was going to operate under.

I was drinking my alcohol at a respectable rate in order to boost my courage levels so I could actually approach women. While these days I am able to hit on a chick like nothing, back then, I still needed a good helping of alcohol to get myself to talk to one at a bar. The alcohol began to set in, ever so gently, taking over my psyche. Liquid courage had been spliced with my blood. I targeted a table made up of fuckable, but unimpressive looking women. I went in and begun speaking to one about witty and charming subject matter that surely sparked her interest. After a couple of minutes, the rest of my buddies decided to join the table. One guy in particular, Blitzy, began to hit it off with one of a generic looking chicks. Eventually, the girls tired of me and I went back to sitting at the bar alone. Blitzy was forming a true spiritual connection with the generic chick.

All the guys except for Blitzy rejoined me at the bar and we continued toasting and drinking. A couple more drinks in, I locked eyes with a woman who was in the late stages of being a cougar and in the early stages of being a sabertooth. She smiles at me, I sat there frozen not sure what to do.

Raul: “That chick is looking at me.”

Jonathan: “Go for it.”

Raul: “But she’s really old.”

Jonathan: “So? Women like that will show you some crazy ass shit that you can only dream of.”

Raul: “Really?”

Jonathan: “Yeah man.”

I walked up to her and begun flirting with her all awkwardly because I wasn’t sure how the fuck you’re supposed to hit on an older woman. She was dirty blonde, with rough skin conditioned by many a decade spent in smokey bar, and had a cigarette in her mouth. I don’t recall what we talked about or what poor excuse of seductive language I used to get her to the point of holding my hand. She pulled me close and said:

Older Woman: “You’re really cute, you should come home with me.” She squeezes my hand and places it on her thigh.

Raul: “Uh… I can’t… I have to stay here with my buddies. They’re my ride.”

Older Woman: “I’ll make sure you won’t forget it.”

Raul: “I can’t, I’m sorry.” I gave her a hug and walked back.

I’ll make no excuses about it. I pussed out because I was really intimidated by this older woman even though she wasn’t that attractive.

I rejoined my buddies and was mocked for having fucked it up with the almost-sabertooth. While my little frolic with older temptation occurred, it seemed that Blitzy had truly formed a one a kind connection with the generic chick. He went about consummating their one in a million love by fucking her doggy-style in the back seat of the van while she stuck her head out the window vomiting.

We continued to drink and were inebriated to the point where we sung along with the band. All morals and standards were being slain by the alcohol demon. Then she appeared: a paled skinned woman, with dark hair, and humongous breasts. She was like Snow White, if Snow White was about 100 pounds heavier. I didn’t care, I walked up to her.

Raul: “Let me guess, you’re drinking a Jack and Coke?”

Snow Fatty: “No, it’s a Rum and Coke, but good guess.”

Raul: “I like rum and coke, let me have a taste,” I take a sip out her drink, “Not bad.”

I introduced her to my buddies and we’re introduced to her shady looking friend “Daringer.” I got close to her and heavily flirted, touching her here and there. Fully aware that I was way above her league, I knew it was all a matter of playing the waiting game before my dick will be slaying her orifices. Eventually, the bar begins to close and Blitzy wants to go back to the motel. I asked the Snow Fatty if she could give us a ride to the airport the next morning and she agreed to do so. Snow Fatty, Tiburón, Jonathan, and I all pile into Daringer’s shitty little sedan.

We arrived at the mobile home park she calls home. She and I immediately head to the bedroom. I do my standard operating procedure of shoving her on the bed, positioning myself on top of her, and kissing her. All the while, firmly squeezing her huge breasts. I begun to undress her and that’s when the magnitude of the situation hit me. Her clothes, albeit not well, hid how fat she truly was. I had estimated a 100 pounds overweight Snow White, not a grotesque 150 pounds overweight Snow White. I made the executive decision not to fuck her, instead opting to get my dick sucked until I nutted.

I straddled on top of her, had her support her head on the pillow, and began thrusting full force into her throat. She stops me at some point and wants to fuck. I tell her that I don’t have a condom and luckily, she doesn’t have any laying around either. I continued until I busted in her hair.

I came out the bedroom and Tiburón was passed out on the couch. Jonathan and Daringer were nowhere to be found. It was nearly 4 a.m. and our flight was to leave at 7 a.m. I called Jonathan up and he told me that he went to get some cocaine with Daringer. Since they were my only ride, I began to panic a bit, but then decided that most practical solution was to sleep until they return.

At 6:15 a.m. I was awoken by the pounding of the door and my buddies voices. I scrambled to my feet and scoured the floor for my shoes. “Felix, we have to go man! Lieutenant Snuffy keeps on calling Sergeant Tiburón and he’s fucking pissed,” yells Jonathan. Fuck! I finished getting dressed and we all piled into the car. We were about 20 minutes away from the airport as Daringer drove us as quickly as his little jalopy could take us. Every five minutes en route, Lieutenant Snuffy called Tiburón to get a status report on where the fuck we were at.

At 6:35 a.m. we arrived at the airport. We stumbled out of the car and right before we were going to run off the Snow Fatty asked me, “You’re going to come back one day right? You got my number.” I smile at her and said, “Of course,” and gave her a reassuring hug and run off to the check-in. One of our buddies was on stand by with our bags and we checked in. We got through security rather quickly and ran to the gate where we met up with Lieutenant Snuffy and the rest of the men. “I don’t want to hear any of you fucking idiots speak. I’m going to take care of this shit when we get back! Got it?” He yelled.

“Roger, Sir!” we all responded. We tried our best not smile and giggle at the events that unfolded the previous night. We headed into the boarding gate and Jonathan took out his phone and showed me a picture he took of Snow Fatty. “Ugh… that’s pretty gross,” I said with disappointment. We boarded the plane and I sat in between two lovely women. That’s when I noticed how horrible I must smell.

~Raul Felix

“Tell me more about your follies of picking up women.” Here mother fucker: The Pick-Up Follies: Sleazy E’s Revenge

My Personal Independence Day

The 4th of July holds a double meaning for me. The most obvious one is the independence of our great nation from those tea taxing Brits. In addition to that, the 4th of July of 2009 was the day I got my personal freedom back. It was my ETS(End Term of Service) day. Civilian types don’t quite understand the large feeling of burden that is lifted off of ones shoulders and soul when they are no longer an indentured servant to the big green machine that is the United States Army.

I had saved up a month of paid leave and was able to go on terminal leave on June 4th. I was still officially part of the Army when I left Fort Lewis, Washington and headed on my motorcycle trip around the United States. One month later, I was in the small town of Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

The day had been rather uneventful, and I was headed to Colorado Springs after spending a couple of nights in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The ride turned out to take longer than expected, so I decided to pick a nice enough looking small town to spend the night at and Pagosa Springs was it.

I walked around town and the locals were gathering for the Independence Day festivities. It was full, but not overwhelmingly so. I had some dinner, then headed to one of the bars, while there someone told me there would be a firework show in about an hour. I attempted to make friends with some people, but no one was interested in me or my story. I sat at the bar drinking a couple of beers alone while watching people dance until the firework show started.

I went outside and found a place to sit to watch the fireworks. I was surrounded by families drinking, eating, and laughing. I sipped on my beer in silence, not attempting to talk to anyone. The fireworks started. I began thinking about how this show was not just for America, but for me specifically. I’m done, its official, I’m out of the Army. The days where I could say being a soldier was my profession were behind me.

No one there knew who I was or what I had done for this country, but it didn’t matter, because I’m sure amongst them there were veterans who had done way more than I have. I thought of the hundreds of missions I went on as a Stryker driver through the streets of Baghdad and Mosul. I started thinking of the soldiers I knew: the ones who didn’t make it back, the ones who mentored me, the ones who smoked my balls off, the ones who were my friends, even the ones I hated. How we each did our part.

The families were in glee of the fireworks. I missed my friends and family from California. I thought about my mom. How she cried her eyes out and gave me an uncountable amount of kisses the day I left for basic training. How she constantly worried about me during my entire time in the Army and was prouder of me than words could describe. I thought about the rest of my family and friends. How each one showed me support in the best way they could. I thought about the drunken bull shit my best friends had to put up from me when I was home on leave. A smile came across my face because there was a lot of it and it was piled high.

There were couples holding each other. I thought about the various women I had been with that I had met during my time in. Yet one woman consumed my thoughts, my only ex-girlfriend. I thought about how we met, how she became the first woman I ever truly loved, and how we had a roller-coaster of a relationship amplified by my alcoholism and her drug use. One which had its bitter fall out when it ended while on one of my deployments to Iraq. I didn’t feel hatred at that moment, but rather loneliness, for it would have been wonderful to embrace her at that very moment as the night sky filled with brightness.

The fireworks ended. People clapped and cheered. I sat there in silence. Everyone was celebrating our freedom; I was celebrating regaining mine. It was over. It was a wild four and a half years. Years that will never escape me. I sat there as an invisible visitor, in a town whose very existence I learned of only a few hours earlier. Just like the Army, once I would leave, it wouldn’t feel the difference. I wondered if I truly was ready to take on the real world. I left the Army, the same way I joined it, alone.

~Raul Felix

“What else can you tell us about the military?” That there are a bunch of whores of housewives in it: The Military’s Parasite Problem