A Girl in Barracks by John L.  Neel

My weekend routine when I was a soldier, on those rare weekends off duty, was to make a list of all the things I needed to do at home and work them off on Saturday morning, leaving the rest of the weekend to do John Things and spend quality time with Kady and the Kids.  Kady, by agreement, could add to this list all week, but could not add to it after Friday night.  I became very good at knocking out the list on Saturday Morning...especially before Auburn Games.

During my Platoon Sergeant and First Sergeant days, I made it a habit to go to work on Sunday for a few minutes.  I would visit Battalion, check-in with the Staff Duty Officer and NCO for any hot news or problems identified in my unit the day before then would empty my distribution box, the precursor to the e-mail inbox, and sift through the fliers, orders, and other minutia tossed there since Friday morning.  Then I would walk through Barracks.

Walking through Barracks on Sunday morning was the perfect time to see what was going on, check for cleanliness and spot problems.  It was always better to catch the Friday Night and Saturday Night issues before the Sergeant Major got wind of something stupid.

One Sunday, while walking down the hall in the Mortar Platoon section of Barracks, I heard a sweet soprano voice filtering down the hall from the Mortar and Scout latrine.  As I entered the door, I was amazed to see a little redhead, about eighteen, combing her wet hair in front of the mirror that ran across the wall above the sinks.  Just out of the shower, she was wearing nothing but a short white kimono, which left very little to the imagination.

I stood there for a moment, not shocked that there was a girl in Barracks, Paratroopers were experts at sneaking women past the Door Guards, Charge of Quarters, and Staff Duty Officers.  I stood there taking in the view.  She was a knock-out.

Not wanting to scare her, I gave her a friendly, "Good Morning."

"Oh, Hi," she said, "Good morning.  Can I help you?"

"Yes Ma'am, I hope you can.  I'm very surprised to see you here.  May I ask who you are?"

"Of course, I'm Mrs.*Hall, Karen, and my husband and I live here."

"You do? Is your husband around?"

"Why, yes! He's in our room."

"Thanks So Much."

I went to Private Hall's room.  I tapped on the door and he opened it.  He almost passed out.  The color drained from his face, he began stammering and stuttering, and his eyes began darting down the hall as his bride came out of the bathroom and walked up behind me.

I simply said, "Be in uniform and in my office in no less than ten minutes."

When I got back to my office, I called his Platoon Sergeant and told him to get to Barracks and My office ASAP.  Next, I called Kady to tell her that I might be at work for a while.

When Hall arrived, I chewed his ass and bombarded him with questions.  He and the little girl had been married a few weeks before and while he looked for a place to live, he decided it would be best to just have her stay in his room.  Yes, he knew it was against the rules, but what choice did he have? I gave him until his platoon sergeant arrived to get upstairs and pack up all of her things and get her ready to move.

Not long after that, Mrs.  Hall appeared at my door, walked right in, smoking, and put her cigarette out in my prized Canadian Commando coffee cup, liberated from Petawawa in 1982.**

"Just who in the hell do you think you are?" she demanded.

Amazingly, I kept my cool, smiled, asked her to take a seat, trying to calm her down.

"Ma'am, I'm the First Sergeant and I run this company.  I am responsible for the good order and discipline of just about everything in this area of the world, and by that I mean, I have power over your husband's body and soul, everything from the clothes on his back, the boots on his feet, the room I assigned him, to every red cent he earns.  I'm not his boss or his boss's boss, but his boss's-boss's-boss.  I have the power to confine him, send you back to your parents, and take a large portion of his paycheck for many months.  That is who I am."

I explained the problem.

It looked like she was about to cry, but she steeled herself and simply asked, "How do we fix this?" For someone so young, with little or no military experience, she was quick to grasp the situation.  I assured her that I knew this was not her fault, that she would be treated kindly, and that we would fix the situation, for her, as a new member of the 82nd Family.

When the Platoon Sergeant arrived, we discussed the situation.  I left it for him to execute the plan.  He made accommodations for the Private and his wife, helped them find a place to live, got their car fixed, and fixed his pay and allowances.  For my part, I briefed the Commanding Officer and administered a Summarized Article-15, making Private Hall my personal slave for a few weeks.

For her part, Karen got a job and helped pay the bills, became an active member of the family support group, and checked in with me often to make sure her husband stayed on the straight-and-narrow.

I came to realize that, though she was young, she was a far better trooper than her husband, who continued to be a knucklehead throughout his time in the unit.

Final Note: While we were deployed to Panama in late 1994, Hall got a letter from Karen saying that if he didn't come home, now, she was going to leave him.  I assured him that he was not going home and that it was doubtful she would leave.  She was gone before we returned, running off with one of my soldiers we left back to PCS out of the Army.  I was sometimes wrong.  More power to her.  I often wonder how she fared in life.

*Hall is a name I chose for this story.

**Thanks to my most faithful Paratrooper, Mike Underhill, for reminding me of this part of the story.

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