I was born to Eva Hart and Kenneth M. Taff in the summer of '72 in Aächen, Germany. I have a sister, Melissa Ann, who is 3.5 years older, and I had an older brother Michael Anthony, who would have been about eight years older than I had he lived more than a week.
After about a year in Germany, we returned to the States, again taking up residence in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (well, obviously it was my first time in Oshkosh). While we moved fairly regularly, we stayed in Oshkosh and Marion Wisconsin until I was finished with 5th grade.
In the summer of '82, we moved to Clearwater, Florida, traveling on an Amtrak train—quite the exciting tri for me. When we boarded the train in Chicago, Illinois, it was a cool day, and the train was nicely air-conditioned. As a consequence, when we arrived in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the train doors opened, a blast of muggy heat enveloped me and I labored to breathe. It made quite an impression on me. Even at midnight, it was warm enough to run around in shorts, which was certainly not a typical experience for someone raised in Wisconsin, with memories of playing outside when it was -75°F with the wind-chill factor.
In early spring of 1987, we moved to Spokane, Washington as a waystation on our eventual move to Colville, Washington, and our newly purchased land on the Columbia River.
By the beginning of my junior year in High School, my excellent grades had plummeted as a consequence of the rules being changed. Previously, your grade depended on whether you demonstrably knew the material or not. Now, they were more concerned with whether you conformed and obeyed instructions. Even if you knew the material better than anyone else in your class, you could still fail if you didn't demonstrate your blind obedience to authority.
Obviously, this situation was untenable for me. After an intervention with my teachers and the school principal—wherein they implored me to follow their rules without regard to reason—the principal offered a deal whereby he would allow me to leave school if I got my GED first.
I took the test at the next opportunity and passed with 90+ percentile scores in all areas. While being free of the obedient citizen-slave factory was liberating, I had no real idea of what to do next. After about a year of wandering, looking for opportunities in a small town with very few of them, I decided it was time to get out of Colville. For the record, in a society that requires you to sign contracts to get anything accomplished, it is very difficult to live when you are prohibited by law from signing such contracts—a very Orwellian situation.
Having just turned 17, I was now eligible for the Army, so I walked into the recruiter's office and informed him I would be joining the Army today. He was a bit taken aback at the strength of my will, but he recovered nicely and asked me to have a seat. Likewise, my mother was surprised when the recruiter and I showed up at her house to get her permission for me to join the Army. As an aside, I do have to thank my mother for always allowing me to make and live by my own decisions, especially when the consequences weren't pretty. I imagine it takes a fair bit of intestinal fortitude to allow your child to suffer the negative consequences of their decisions.
Having joined the Army, I served a tour at Fort Riley, Kansas, and another at Fort Hood, Texas. I also served with the Big Red One in the Persian Gulf War, earning myself an Army Commendation Medal in addition to the other decorations awarded. Out of all of them though, I think I'm most proud of that Big Red One combat patch.
To digress a bit, I went to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, home of the BFR, in January of 1990. The first few days were spent in the Reception battalion, where you get your inoculations, haircuts, uniforms issued, etc. It was in Reception battalion where I learned the folly of making remarks like "this bathroom is filthy." Toothbrush in hand, I had plenty of time to do a cost-benefit analysis of making such unconsidered remarks.
Upon arrival at my basic training unit, Charlie Company, 4-10 INF, the first order of business was a shakedown, a procedure designed to ensure you have all the stuff you should, and none of the stuff you shouldn't. Being ordered to empty my duffel bags, I did so. However, the drill sergeant closest to me decided that my shaving kit was a duffel bag, and since I hadn't emptied it, I had disobeyed an order and should thus be punished. Apparently, intelligence and a firm grasp of English were not prerequisites for becoming an officer, whether commissioned or not.
The drill sergeant ordered me to drop (meaning to start doing pushups), assuming that the instructors in the reception battalion had taught us what this lingo meant, which they hadn't. According to Patton, assumption is the mother of all F%$#-ups—Patton was most likely inspired by just such a sergeant. Suffice it to say, they made an example of me. It was already beginning to dawn on me that one of the realities of the Army is that you will always have to suffer the consequences for mistakes made by those who outrank you.
With the inevitable ups and downs, I graduated from basic training having earned the expert award for the M-16 rifle. Being that I was a smart-ass, they probably would have kicked me out rather than let me graduate, except for the fact that I excelled at every task and test they gave me. This was my first inkling that it would be a trivial matter to out-smart and out-maneuver those placed above me.
For my advanced training, where they would teach me how to be a cook, I was off to Fort Lee, VA. It was shortly before this trip that I met my best-friend and war-buddy, Al Chladek. The training was informative and interesting, and I value it to this day.
As luck would have it, Al and I were not only both sent to Fort Riley, once there we were assigned to the same company (HHC 4-37 AR), and became roommates in the barracks. A month later, Sadaam invaded Kuwait. I made rank quickly, being promoted twice in four months, so I was now a PFC. In January of 1991, we arrived in Saudi Arabia as part of the offensive buildup. The flight over was longer than expected, because when we landed in Spain for refueling, one of the engines fell off the plane. We were delighted to wait while they properly installed a new engine.
About 15 minutes before we landed in Saudi Arabia (at the wrong airport, no less!), the pilot turned off all the external lights, and all the internal lights except for the emergency floor lighting. Immediately, the plane began roughly pitching and rolling. From the smoking section at the back of the plane, I hollered towards the cockpit "Hey, if you can't see without the lights on, turn the damn things back on!" We obviously survived the landing, but it was the roughest landing I've ever been in—it felt like we were going to veer off the runway and tumble to our deaths.
To be continued...
Remember boys and girls, a preposition is a terrible thing to end a sentence with.