Military Life Story, or What White Privilege, Pt 1

In February of 2009, I was informed I would be sent to Iraq for a year, starting mid-July of the same year.  That gave me some time to prepare, including curtailing my children’s summer visitation and arranging permission for my wife to return to China. Her English wasn’t developed well enough at that time for her to remain in the US for an entire year alone.

That meant putting all our household goods in storage.  I contacted the proper military office 30 days prior to the date we needed to get everything packed up.  It was originally scheduled for 7 and 8 July.  I would then take my wife and kids to the airport on the 9th, then fly out myself on the 10th.

Note that I say “originally scheduled”.  That means there was a change, right?  Right. But not by me.

I was working a little bit late on Thursday, 2 July, to finish things up before departure. See, in the military, we often get a 4-day weekend for Independence Day. Since the 4th of July fell on Saturday that year, that meant pretty much the entire Air Force base had Friday and Monday off.  And most functions were shut down early so people could leave around noon-ish on Thursday.

So at 4pm I get a call from the office in charge of household goods moving and storage. The company they had contracted to pack my household goods and move them into storage had received an offer for a job that paid more, and exercised their clause to cancel my appointment.

I had a choice: I could reschedule for the following week, or I could do it myself.

Rescheduling for the following week was a non-starter.  My wife and I would both be gone. We would have to trust a co-worker to watch over the movers.  We hadn’t had horrible experiences with movers to that point, but even when people are watching over their own items being packed up, there are always items lost/stolen, damaged, or packaged inappropriately.

“Packed inappropriately” includes things packing up garbage and letting it rot in a box with household goods. In our case, my wife was still upset that the movers from the previous had packaged bathroom/toilet and cleaning supplies in the same box as kitchen utensils and plates.  So she didn’t trust the ability of disinterested co-workers to keep a close eye on how the hypothetical next round of packers put things away.

That left doing it ourselves.  My second step was to arrange to rent a truck for the 7th and 8th, and purchasing a metric butt-load of packing supplies, to begin packing up the whole house ourselves on the evening of the 2nd.

That’s the sort of thing you want as many people to come help as possible. So after making the decision, my first step was to immediately began calling all my co-workers…

…it was 5:30pm on the last workday of the week before the Independence Day holiday, and those of you paying attention already know what happened: I got no answer.  From anyone.

Oh, my supervisor was still in, and the Squadron Commander. People in charge work late.  So I explained the situation to both of them. The Commander said the situation was unacceptable.  From my perspective, it was pretty much accepted without a peep. There was nothing she could do to change it.  My supervisor said he’d help, but could only help for about an hour, and he’d see if he could get others to help out.

All I got was my supervisor’s help, for about an hour on Tuesday (loading everything on the truck), and another co-worker’s help for about an hour on Wednesday (unloading everything off the truck and into the storage unit).

So from Thursday night through Tuesday morning, we did nothing but organize stuff and box it up.

Tuesday I started loading, while my wife continued to pack the remaining household items. My supervisor showed up at a good time to help me load a couch, the washer and dryer, and an old-style arcade-style video-game console.  As it got dark, I was still loading stuff up.


The next morning, we took it to get weighed and commenced to unloading.  The one co-worker who managed to get some time off from regular duties showed up to help me unload the couch, w/d, and game console.

One event of note: one of the last items loaded onto the truck (it all just *barely* fit) was a reel push-mower.  I had taken off the handle, and just put the body on top of one of the boxes near the top.  I didn’t make allowances for everything shifting as we drove the truck over. So when I opened the back door…

…a box began to fall down.  I stepped up, raised my left hand, and caught it with my flat, upraised palm.  Then I was starting to lower it, I saw the reel mower roll and fall out.

I don’t know how I did it, but I reached out and caught it, as it was falling.

This is what it looked like:


See that bar there across the front?  That’s what I grabbed. Not, I repeat not, by any of the blades.

That is probably the single-most bad-ass thing I’ve ever done. I felt like Superman.

Anyway, we got it all in storage.  That night, around 10pm, when we were all done, we went to eat at McDs, about the only thing open.  We ordered our food. I was exhausted. I hate a hamburger, then felt nauseous, and didn’t *quite* manage to make it to the toilet before vomiting.

That is the only time in my entire life I vomited from exhaustion.

Also, the tally for weight?  7,700 pounds.  I think it might be fair to say the items I got help with totaled no more than 1400 pounds, so my part would still be at least half of those items.  The rest: all me.

That means that in about a 36 hour-period, I personally lifted, carried, set down, and arranged 14,000 pounds, or 7 tons.  Personally. Myself. With no help.

And I didn’t even hurt my back.

In this, it is quite possible we made some bad choices.  We certainly had choices.  We could have decided that with my unit’s help, my wife could stay in the US by herself.  We could have decided to pack up our stuff a week earlier, and it probably wouldn’t have been cancelled. We could have decided to trust someone to oversee the packing, and just dealt with whatever losses and problems occurred.

But we made the choices we made, and we dealt with the consequences. I didn’t waste energy trying to find evidence of discrimination. I didn’t wallow in self pity. I didn’t waste any time blaming anyone else or trying to avoid the fate.

I just did it.  With hard work, stubborn effort, and persistent consideration of a problem and how I could solve it.

White/Male privilege?  Where?


2 thoughts on “Military Life Story, or What White Privilege, Pt 1

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