From Algebra to Afghanistan

From Algebra to Afghanistan

By Fred Lambert
Special to Valencia Voice

I was in school when it happened.

My teacher interrupted the students’ work and day dreaming to say, “Alright, can I get everyone’s attention?”

He was standing up with the administrator, who had walked in moments ago and whispered in his ear. “Don’t worry about the assignment, you can do that later.” he assured. “A plane just hit a building in New York. We’re going to turn on the news so you guys can see what’s going on, because this is important.”

Many minutes passed by with the whole class glued to the screen. The consensus was that it was some sort of terrifying accident. In transit to my next class, I could hear a hundred different conversations in the hallways about what was happening.

People were saying that we were under attack. Someone mentioned a plane pulling the Kamikaze maneuver into the Pentagon, and then I knew. Someone was hitting us.

I took the news with a sort of emotional blankness. The fact that I had joined the Marines just days earlier was not a flashing-red issue for some reason, and I felt like that experience was far away. At the very least it was far enough that I would probably be left out of any retaliatory action, which I assumed would be swift and short.

At the MEPs center in Tampa I was asked what job-field I wanted to be assigned to. I quickly replied to the liaison, a chubby Staff Sergeant with a bald head, that I wanted Recon. They were the equivalent to something elite, exclusive and hard like the Army Rangers, so they were my choice.

The liaison blinked at me, then looked down and chuckled. He said that he would mark me as “open-contract,” and that if I wanted to change my mind before shipping out, I could.

Then I started to think that maybe I was underestimating events. Maybe I should have had the worry of death hanging over me like a dark cloud. But I didn’t, and at that moment I realized my stupid confidence was a paper shield. It was a thin protection from all of the thoughts of death and maiming, but an effective one. My confidence would carry me, and I would move forward with it.

I would probably not go to war, but if I did, I would do it with dignity. And that was about all of the thought which I put into that subject from then on. I tried to enjoy the rest of my senior year, partying and hoping to get laid. I expected a good summer, with a few months of reprieve after graduating, and then boot-camp.

In English class we finished the semester off with the events of the previous September lingering in the back of our skulls. It was mostly inconsequential to many of the students. The main deviations in their lives consisted of heightened security annoyances at the airport, whenever they actually went. Altogether, they were just normal students who were more interested in their own existence. This was apparent with the crafting of the List.

The List was hanging up on the wall in English class, with students’ names printed in marker ink, a line linking each to the college in which they were enrolled to enter in the fall. I watched the List grow each day, and soon there were several dozen names marked in different colors, indicating Ivy League institutions and local community colleges. Daniel’s name was there, with Valencia posted up beside in neat blue handwriting.

I scribed my own name, with a red line shooting over to Parris Island, SC. I think a lot of students had no clue what that was, and chalked it up as some private school in South Carolina. They were partially right. Over the next four years, I would receive an education in what happens when your country is bloodied and the only natural reflex is violent revenge.

The finger of duty pointed at me, along with thousands of other young, naive go-getters. We volunteered for military service never suspecting that hijacked passenger jets could one day come out of the clear, blue sky to deal death and infect the nation with aggressive, paranoid war-lust for a full decade.