Support the Troops 21FEB2008
Today as I ride another plane on Navy business, I recall my feelings as I took the first steps of the mobilization journey. Since 911, when you wear a uniform in public you receive mixed reactions. The occasional person steps up to thank-you or tell you about their loved one in the military. A few older men share their stories and pride from their days of service. For the most part the public quietly avoids contact. I am not old enough to remember how vets were treated in Vietnam, but we have all heard the stories of angry citizens dishonoring vets with catcalls and derision. This war is different; instead of bitterness most Americans seem vaguely aloof. They obviously know that we are at war. The polls indicate most Americans believe that going to war was a mistake and want our Soldiers to come home irrespective of the effects on the Middle East. It puzzled me then and it puzzles me today. I have never understood how people can support the troops but not the war. That day I pondered these things as I flew to Memphis on a gray rainy morning.
As a brief aside, it is important to know that returning to Memphis was a bit of a home-coming. My mother is from Memphis and I grew up spending three summers living at my Grandmother’s little house next to Messick High School on Carnes Avenue.
I developed a culinary desire for Barbeque that my mother honed to a sharp desire as she hauled us from BBQ shack to BBQ shack in search of that Memphis taste amongst the vinegar drowned chopped pork of Eastern North Carolina. So the first thing I did at the airport was down a plate of southern comfort food. Being recalled may mean suffering a great deal, but I did not intend to starve for my country.
I picked up my “grip” (my Memphian grandmother’s name for luggage) and caught a taxi to the old Millington Naval Air Station. This was yet another link to my heritage. My father enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1947 and had drilled at Millington while attending optometric school in Memphis. During the long ride out of town, the taxi driver shared with me his experiences in military and his life in Memphis. He treated me as a long lost Native Son and his hospitality was exactly the sort of welcome that I needed.
We made our way to the base’s gates and then I learned that the taxi could go no further due to missing insurance documents. By this time, a steady downpour had set in.
The gate guards asked me where I was headed and I responded, “To the NMPS”.
“The what?” they asked.
“NMPS – Naval Mobilization Processing Site”, I responded.
“Never heard of it. Sir, you had better go ask in the pass office”.
So I grabbed my kit, throw my sea-bag on my shoulder, and walked through the gate for a sloppy slog to start my introduction to the active duty Navy. Fortunately, once inside one of the guards found a helpful gentleman that knew where to take me. I have to say that I was very surprised that the guards didn’t know about NMPS. A few years back, the Naval Personnel Center (NPC – used to be called BUPERS) had moved from DC to Millington. I had mistakenly imagined a bustling mobilization center where dozens and dozens of Navy Reservists would pass through everyday on their way to theater or home from war. Instead, I found that the NMPS consisted of a civilian administrative officer and his enlisted assistant that dealt with a few reservists a week. I had feared becoming a number, but instead was treated as a VIP. In fact, everyone coming through that site was given the red carpet treatment.
Once I had arrived, I learned that the Navy had actually modified my orders a few weeks earlier (remember I had only learned of my orders the week before) and I was supposed to have been sent to Norfolk (a very large NMPS site I subsequently learned). Rather than delay me further, the orders were modified again so that I could be processed there.
The mobilization process is rather straight-forward and some what like starting a new job at any big corporation. There are tons of forms to be filled out and checklists to be reviewed. You go through medical screening, you are transferred to the active duty payroll, your dependents are enrolled in TRICARE (health care for military families), you see lawyers, deployment councilors, your ID card is reconfigured (in the old days you were issued in a new card – these days a computer reprograms the chip in your card), and a host of other folks. Universally, I was treated with much courtesy, gratitude, and concern. Many asked if it would be Okay to add my name to their prayer lists. I was clearly not a number.
The only challenge in this process involved receiving medical clearance. The Navy had managed to misplace my medical record when I had been transferred from the Charlotte NOSC to the Fort Worth NOSC the previous year. I and the Fort Worth corpsmen had been chasing it ever since. It was finally located in Saint Louis where it had been mistakenly sent to the VA archive. This meant that it would not catch up with me anytime soon. The corpsman managed to resurrect a temporary record that I carried for the next 12 months from computer databases, personal medical records, and lots of phone calls to the various NOSC from my past.
Once all was in order, my name was officially on the books, and I was getting paid it was time to take the next trip. I still had not managed to find out where my orders ultimately led, but Navy Combat training at Fort Jackson, SC was next. This time, I took the Navy shuttle from Millington back to the Memphis airport. It was still raining (I think it rained all five days I was there). The driver was a middle-aged black lady that was quite eloquent. When she learned I was headed to war, she mesmerized my heart for the next hour with words of loving kindness. She spiced her language with the “land-sakes”, “honey-child”, and “I will pray for you sugar” that stirred pleasant memories from my youth.
As I boarded the plane, I was very thankful for the gentile hospitality of the good folks in Millington. Instead of a number, I had been cocooned in warm, love, and gratitude. No aloof civilians here – just good people doing their part to Support the Troops.