Day Five & Aftermath
0600 Hours-Thursday, 18 March 2004, and 2108 Hours-10 March 2005

It's been nearly a year since I embarked on my odyssey. Things have changed greatly, a lot of things concerning my life, the conditions in JROTC, and the lives of the others. But first, I'll give you a brief summary of what happened on our final day in 29 Palms, California.

We woke up at 0600 that final day. It's amazingly poetic how I started that journey at 0600 and ended the journey at 0600. Either way, we were allowed to sleep in late, and allowed to dress in civilian clothes. I wore the same clothing I had worn entering 29 Palms. We went down for an informal formation and we marched off to chow. We were allowed to get anything we want, even soda. CPL Rector, the instructor who was the most feared-next to LCPL Hancock, that is-walked up to my table. For a moment, we thought we were going to get chewed out, despite the fact he was wearing civilian clothing.

"Is there anything on my back?" he asked innocently enough.

We were all apprehensive to answer, thinking perhaps this was a trick to lower our defenses, but finally, I answered. "No, sir. Looks clean to me."

"Good," Rector said. "My kid likes to mess up my car and I was afraid that perhaps he stained my favorite jacket. Thank you."

"Yes, sir," I said, resuming my meal.

We went back into formation after chow, and we were allowed to break up into our platoons. Instructors Williams, Shelley, and Hancock all presented us with some token of remembrance. I sat and watched the entire platoon get their just awards. I half-hoped I would get something, and at the same time, I half-expected to be left out of the running because of my prick-ass attitude earlier in the week. Either way, I would live, content that I made up for it during the second half of the camp.

"Hildreth," Shelley said, "Front and center."

I got up, relieved that I was being recognized. She handed me a piece of brass that said U.S.M.C., for United States Marine Corps, of course. "We weren't going to forget you," Shelley said, bringing a smile to my face. "You had a rocky start this week, but you pulled through and carried your weight. You were one of the good cadets this week, Hildreth. Stay that way."

"Yes, ma'am," I said.

"She said all I had to say," Hancock added. "I'm going to give you my e-mail. Keep in touch with me, man."

"Yes, sir," I said.

"You keep up your good work and stay out of trouble," Williams concluded.

I hugged all three instructors. I may have hidden it, but damn, it was an emotional moment. Just thinking about it right now, I'm starting to break up. I carry that USMC emblem on me for good luck. When I enlist in the military, regardless of the branch, I'll probably carry it around with me for luck. As I type this, the emblem is on the desk next to me. The pin on the back is broken because of the constant carry in my pocket, but it still shines in all of its glory.

We went back into formation one last time for Lieutenant Colonel Trombley to present certificates of appreciation to all the Marines involved, and we packed our stuff on the busses. We drove away from 29 Palms, and I remember feeling sorry to go.

The ride back was kind of blurry. I don't remember much from when we left to when we arrived in the amusement park in Phoenix. When we got there, we were given tickets and told to stay together. Of course, I didn't follow that rule. I spent most of my actual money on video games, and went go-kart racing, laser-tag shooting, and boat racing with some lovely girls, both in the boats and watching us to make sure we didn't fall in.

I just sat there and reflected on the previous week. For a while, I felt good about myself, something I needed to do more. After a while, I noticed everybody else with their clique of friends, having a good time, laughing, swapping stories. Me-I was sitting alone, thinking about things, almost on the verge of tears. My motivation had been shot. I didn't want to be alone, and yet, there I was, alone. These feelings started after my best friend, the Crack Monkey, had left to live in his beloved California. Since then, I felt very alone, eating lunch by myself, spending the majority of time for lunch in the computer lab, parts of it writing this and other parts doing other things. I felt like a wreck.

We got back on the bus and drove back to Sierra Vista, where I was greeted by my dad. It was late, so I threw my things on the bus, said good-bye to some odd friends, and told them I would see them after the conclusion of Spring Break. I went home and just crashed in my bedroom, glad to feel a properly made bed for the first time in almost a week.

Thus endeth my final day of Spring Camp.

That did not end the aftermath. I missed promotion in the final quarter of that year, and was retained as a Staff Sergeant. Early on the next year, due to minor discipline problems outside the JROTC, I was demoted in rank to Sergeant. When my father received new orders to Fort Sam Houston's Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, I retired from the JROTC after two and a half years of mostly honorable service at the rank of Sergeant. The reason I tell most people about why I didn't join the JROTC down here is that it's Air Force, but there's a real reason I tell those who are in the program.

After LET-1 year, the program became slowly, but surely, political. It was all about who you hung out with, whose ass you kissed, whose shit you ate. Drill Team members were close to LTC Trombley, and were nearly always promoted, regardless of performance in the classroom. I saw people who deserve to get promoted that didn't and people who didn't deserve to make rank make it, all because of who they hung out with. The very concept disgusted me. I wanted nothing more to do with it.

A little about what has happened in the year since Spring Camp 2004. My parents filed for divorce. I thought I saw it coming but I was hoping that I was wrong. I wasn't. Hopefully, if my plans to join the Army this summer go through, I won't be around to see it. I had a girlfriend, Chayla, and she left me after a month because of her father's new job that required the family to move around. Somehow, I felt as if she used me for money. I haven't been able to reestablish contact with her since.

I got my first job, working at the Burger King. That lasted three months before the Permanent Change of Station, and I made pretty good money. I listed my qualifications as a Buena High School JROTC Staff Sergeant and being computer literate, and apparently, it did the trick. I'm now unemployed and searching for a job, like most great undiscovered talent are.

I never thought I would find myself saying this, but I miss Sierra Vista. My best friend moved back there. You remember the beautiful girl, Emerald? Well, truth be told, I had a crush on her, but before I got the chance to get the cajones to tell her, I had to move. It's a common case. There were three girls like that, and I told all but her. I mostly concentrate on the one who I think likes me back (I'm not making any conclusions) but if I can't visit said girl (which is entirely possible her parents think I'm a bad nigger-my words, not theirs) after basic training, perhaps I could tell her and something could happen. I don't know. I suppose if I visit and she's there, I'll find out.

I'm making it down here in San Antonio. Got a couple of friends now, Jon and Paul. Both are going into the Navy. Fucking pussies. Of course, I'm kidding. One's a smart guy and knows jujitsu, and the other wants to be a Navy SEAL. I'm the only one going Army this year.

I'm in the process of setting something up with a Reserve recruiter to go into the reserves for a year and finish high school. I plan on going to Airborne school and eventually going to Ranger school. When I go active, I plan on going to Iraq and serving my country in the War on Terrorism. I love my country more than anything and I plan on serving it to the best of my ability.

Emerald serves as a platoon leader, last time I checked, in Delta Company, BHS JROTC. She continues to hold that post. She and I talked the last day I was at school, and she seemed to be one of a few who seemed as if she was going to genuinely miss me. Call it drama, but I call it something to appreciate.

Shit-For-Brains left for North Carolina before coming back to Arizona under Fourth Platoon, Alpha Company, JROTC. Nobody likes him, still. Go figure.

Hollywood continues to serve as Alpha Company commander, as far as I remember. He has his own radio show in Sierra Vista on Fridays, the only station at all that plays hip-hop. Unfortunately, they'll only play the hip-hop when he's on. Still, it was something to look forward to.

Cadet Colonel Jennifer N. Darrow (ret.), BHS JROTC, left the program with highest honors. She is currently attending college, where she is in the Naval ROTC, and has a Marine boyfriend. He had better be treating her right. Retired or not, she'll always be my battalion commander and if she ever needs anything, I'll come to her aid. If you ever read this, Darrow, I'm always at your service, ma'am. I wish you the best of luck in all things-I know you'll make it. Look me up sometime.

Parrot continues to be a whore who preys on guys. Again, go figure.

I honestly can't recall the fate of Comedy Central. I think she might have left the program. Stinky became Bravo Company Commander, a post she holds to this day.

Spazzy Poe became a squad leader, I believe, in Bravo Company, BHS JROTC. I keep in contact with her because she's a good friend, despite some difference we have had in the past.

The Bird left the JROTC because of the same reasons as me. He thought the whole thing was political. The Bird, God bless his soul, had stayed in for the same reason as me-to try and change the system. It was an ill attempt, but we tried.

There's a correction to be made. Spazzy Poe is in a different company. Polish, an LET-III, is the company commander now due to lack of leadership. He runs her company. Lack of leadership? I think it's lack of leaders who know how to run a high-school unit without turning it political.

Tec-9 also quit the JROTC program because it was too political. I'm starting to notice a pattern here.

I could go back and find every name I remember over those one hundred and twenty hours, but it'd be a waste of time. If I missed your name in the catching up portion, that doesn't mean I've forgotten you. All of those people who were with me in that five-day period are with me to stay. You've changed me for the better. I gained more of a confidence from that camp, something of an "I can" attitude. So your influences, good or bad, have made me a better man, and I thank you for that.

This year, my spring break will consist of flying out to Florida to have some fun at my grandparents' winter house. Something new every year, huh? Perhaps I'll be on MTV and I'll get laid. Sounds like it could be fun.

Thus endeth the documentary.

-Steven T. Hildreth, Jr.
Cadet Sergeant, Buena High School (retired)
US Army JROTC
10 March 2005