Army Series : Part 1 - Why I signed up

I joined the Army at a time when the world seemed relatively calm to me. The Iron Curtain had fallen. The Gulf War came and went in the news cycle. Somalia and Haiti happened but by 1995, the only up and coming event was the peace keeping mission in Bosnia; something I felt sure to avoid because it was only mandated to last a year.

In 1995, I was the lead singer of a funky garage band formed in the San Fernando Valley California. All the other members were talented ladies.

I remember one day in fall of 1995, I was at my mother's house in Thousand Oaks, California. I was sleeping there instead of driving back out to Hollywood where I was living on my own for the first time: successfully! Despite the achievement, I was unhappy with life in southern California and I dreamed of traveling abroad and having training in something. I wanted a career path that would give me some skills that would help me survive in the big scary world. I was in TO hanging out with friends one Saturday night. I was at the Record Outlet on TO Boulevard. They would host local bands sometimes and that is what happened. I smoked a little weed that night and reminisced with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. The next morning I woke up at my mom's house and out of shear boredom picked up the local Sunday classifieds to look at job openings. There was one that I had seen before but just a different iteration in the wording and included: free training, free housing, college money, travel and more...


At the bottom of the classified it said- US NAVY


I thought that it was really attractive. I wanted everything to be free in life if possible because I struggled so much with imagining how I was going to pay for my life. Since childhood, responsibility and working a job seemed so oppressive. It still seems that way even to this day. I was fighting more in my head which was a mental health issue more than anything else but, my parents recent divorce made my disorders stand up and walk around on their own like an emotional Frankenstein. I was known for doing zany stupid acts to get peoples' attention. I had dreamed of being a famous actor and I wanted validation from someone. I was coming to terms with the reality that nothing was going to fall in my lap. Even when I had a job and apartment in Hollywood, was the lead singer for a funky little garage band and seemed like I might have a platform to launch myself from; I felt so perturbed and indecisive sometimes. I still do to this day. That mental health thing right?


After seeing that Navy ad, I really started thinking about the benefits and how easy it would be to sign up and get the F out of LA. Southern Cali was a place of delusion and fantasy that didn't quite match my mood. It seemed fake, plastic and brutal. Maybe there was a gram or two of truth and art but most of it was hidden from sight. I felt my own pain and SoCal was like a petri dish for fungal thoughts and viral feelings. I felt trapped and only felt free when I was on the road like driving up to the mountains to look out over the shit and feel just slightly removed from it for a moment: therapy.


I really started thinking hard about the military as an option in that same Sunday, sunny, boring and safe. Far removed from places where soldiers get deployed to places that have a tendency to change you for better or worse.


The next day, I did not go to work. I called out sick and I went to the Army recruiting station on Yucca street, just around the corner from the iconic Capitol Records building in Hollywood. I decided that the Army was my best bet. My reasoning hinged on a couple of ideas. The training probably wasn't as hard as the Marines which I found out was basically true. There are lots of Army bases and jobs available. My paternal grandfather was a career Army officer and I felt that it made sense as far as a family tradition goes. I would be the second Wengler who I know served in the Army. I wanted a technical job with computers. I wasn't joining the Army to go and die on the battlefield. I was a punk rocker who liked limits and wanted some freedom from the grunt mentality. I found out later everyone is a grunt when they first come in. It almost doesn't matter what your Military Occupation Specialty is. When you get indoctrinated into the Army, you go threw a basic transformation funded by the taxpayers that relies on young naive US citizens to train on and deploy billions of dollars worth of hardware that can terminate lives with ease. Everyone is a part of the machine. Everyone is a cog in the wheel so to speak. Everyone has to stab a dummy on the range with a bayonet to simulate an unlikely scenario of close quarters combat; a bygone era.


So that Monday when I went to the recruiting office, the staff sergeant who put me in the system had me setup for my appointment at the Military Entrance Processing Station four days later on Friday. MEPS is a place where old crusty doctors look at your genitalia just to make sure you still have them, and where you get to pee in a bottle to make sure you don't have any scheduled substances in your body. Additionally you have to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). Basically it's an intelligence test designed to determine which jobs you are smart enough for. This was the part that stressed me out a little bit but I overcame it with a shit ton of positive affirmation. In fact, I don't think I have ever said so many uplifting things to myself regarding the future outcome of something that depended on me to have the focus of an auto mechanic on methamphetamine so that I could get a good job with lots of fancy training. I have issues with attention and I was wondering what it would take to score high. The best I could do was to repeat to myself that I was going to achieve 100 percent and envision myself getting trained in my dream computer job.

 There are many pictures like this where I was performing in a band and on this occasion I decided to look as weird as possible.

The other issue I had with getting into the Army was the urine test. I had just smoked some weed and I needed a way to overcome this hurdle. I called a friend but didn't tell him that I was trying to enlist in the military, and I only mentioned that I had to take a test for a job. I didn't know what to do to pass it. He told me one general thing was to drink lots of water. Another option was to drink vinegar. Lots of vinegar. I though about it and felt like it was worth a try. Joining the Army was my escape from Los Angeles plan and I was dead set on walking out the MEPS door with opportunity in hand. I wanted to get on an airplane and fly to a different part of the country to start my new journey in life. I wasn't feeling patriotic at all. I actually wanted to avoid war and death. I did come close to it but in the end was lucky to avoid it for the most part.

 I had a tendency to experiment with my hair and in the photo, just a couple  of months before basic training, I lightened my hair and dyed three long chunks auburn. And don't forget the long side burns. I was into Wolverine style mutton chops that covered half my face but these were tame in the photo.

Friday rolls around and I had to be up super early and get to the MEPS station for processing. I had drank about 8 ounces of white vinegar the night before and another 8 ounces in the morning before leaving. I was also drinking lots of water. I kept saying nice things to myself. I needed to get past this in one fell swoop. They like to get you an MOS at the end of the testing but I would have to wait until the next Monday to go back and see if there were better jobs available. When I got there I was holding my bladder and had to go so bad that at one point in the administrative part of in processing I left to go to the bathroom. I was worried thereafter that I might not have enough urine to take the drug test. I eventually got through that and the ASVAB which I scored a 90 percent on. I remember an enlisted Navy dude who administered the ASVAB- he said to me that I did a good job when I got up to leave. I was the last person in the room. He must have been able to live monitor the results as it was a computer based test.


When I got to the recruiter at MEPS, he wanted to throw any cheap job at me like military police but I insisted that I wanted some kind of job with technology. He said I was ineligible for a Top Secret clearance, which is what I needed to become an interpreter or satellite operator, because I admitted to experimenting with drugs. Thankfully I was eligible for a Secret clearance and when I returned the next Monday there were some Signal Corps jobs that popped up in the system. One of them was 31R- Multichannel Transmission Systems Operator Maintainer. I didn't see the word computer much in the description of skills and tasks but I did see the names of equipment and jargon that looked modern and sophisticated such that I chose this job out of convenience and a modicum of satisfaction. I certainly didn't want to come back on another day. This was my third sick day I had taken in one week so I had to make the best of it for fear of being let go from my lousy job working in the world film post production. To become a 31 Romeo, I had to go on delayed entry which meant that the next training window for my MOS wasn't until April of 1996 which positioned me for an earliest entry to basic training around the first of February. It was currently the first week of October and I was about to turn 21 years old.


I gave notice to my employer and worked for maybe another month. I left my apartment on Beachwood Drive and based on an agreement with my father at the time- I stayed with him until I left for training. I spent time trying to get in shape and prepare myself. I had so much fun telling people that I joined the Army. Most of my friends were musicians and artists who never would have chosen the military as a career path. It freaked a few people out for sure which kind of made me laugh. I wasn't afraid anymore than I was simply desperate to get out of LA and live a new life that I had chosen for myself. It didn't require selling my soul to the Devil but, it did require the willingness to sign over my physical person which had a mind inside that could be easily damaged. I took the risk. I needed a launching pad to get to the future as fast as possible. I'm impulsive and always have been. I needed change before life changed on me. I wasn't going to suffer like I had when my parents separated, and I had to move out of the house I grew up in. I couldn't count on anyone to really give me stability and opportunities that met my ultimate criteria for change. The Army was my extreme makeover.

 My grandfather, WW II and Korean War veteran, retired Lieutenant Colonel George A Wengler cutting my hair a week before I shipped off to Ft Jackson South Carolina.


To be continued in my Army Series blog posts....




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