Lost, But Not Missing
When Will got home from Iraq, we visited sometimes about his experiences there. They weren’t all good, obviously. Fortunately, Will is pretty laid back and he pretty much takes things in stride. Even getting stuck in Kuwait for over a week and being crammed in a building like sardines.
It came as little surprise that he mentioned a few times he wished he was back in Iraq. He liked his job, he was good at it and he likes organizing things. If you’ve ever watched M*A*S*H and seen Radar, that’s pretty much what he was. Technically, he was in charge of the armory. He also repaired weapons and worked on other procurement.
Sgt. Jeffy showed him how to work the system. Drop off an extra case of Dr Pepper to the mechanics and they work a little harder to get that vehicle fixed you need for the next convoy.
Another thing that helped was Will has a very agreeable personality and a sharp sense of humor. People like him.
Will likes things to be organized. He likes feeling like he’s accomplishing something. He likes to work. He likes people. He likes feeling like he makes a difference. Iraq pretty much satisfied all the things he wants.
He did, however, talk about one time that the army lost him for three weeks and that wasn’t one of his favorite experiences.
He was supposed to go to a school. He got to his first transfer and they put his ID in the system. After that, for whatever reason, he dropped off the radar for the army. They bumped him from his flight and he got switched to another one. Something happened with that and he got switched again. He finally made it there with no sleep and started the school.
He was in the school and they entered his ID, but it still wasn’t showing up in the database, so they put a question mark by his name at his base. Every soldier is listed and they update his location each time he goes somewhere. Since the database dropped him after the first transfer, he was missing even though he was where he was supposed to be.
Getting back from the school was worse than getting there. You can fly on a “standby” basis or sign up for a flight and you’ve got a seat within three days. Standby usually gets you out quicker so that’s what he did. Looking back, he admits he should have signed up and listed as standby also.
He and the other soldier from his base got assigned to a flight. They sat out on the tarmac all day with body armor on and packs and then were told they couldn’t get them on the flight. This went on for several days. They had a flight and then they didn’t have one.
The last one they got turned out the same way. The pilot decided to go with less fuel and squeeze the extra soldiers on. Will told him they’d wait but the pilot insisted. “Nah, that’s all right. We’ll make it.”
After they got on they were told to douse all lights. The plane was flying on minimum fuel so they’d be skimming the ground. Anti-aircraft would be able to see them from the ground if they detected a light.
So, after a tense, but uneventful, flight Will arrived back at his base a little after midnight. He kicked the door in to his hut and threw his stuff on the floor. His sergeant bunked with him and woke up. “Uh, hey, Weathers. Missed you.”
Will went into the office the next morning. Yeah, morning comes at the same time regardless if you’ve had any or much sleep. On the board, next to his name, was the question mark. The army knew he was still in Iraq someplace, but they had no idea where.
Thankfully, no one called me to tell me he was missing.
I sometimes wish my characters had ID badges. I’d look at the board and make sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
I’ve come to appreciate this outline even more as I go through the story. I read a chapter to catch obvious problems and then I outline it. Oftentimes, when I do the outline, a flaw I had missed surfaces. One chapter looked absolutely anemic when I dissected it. It worked in my mind, but when I took the meat off the bones, I could see the structure was off.
In this case, like Will, the story was lost, but not missing. Now, after three days of fiddling, I can stitch the flesh back in place over the straightened bones and move on.