Huggin' and Chalkin' by John L. Neel

We jumped into Missoula Montana and it looked like the whole town turned out to see us. The road that ran parallel to our drop zone was lined with cars. Along the fence were loads of folks who turned up for the show. As we landed, it began to look like the end of a winning football game as the "fans" ran out on to the DZ. I had about ten people helping me collapse my chute and pack it up. There were cowboys, old men, moms, kids, and college students, all very friendly, and all overly helpful. I remember focusing on securing my M203 above all else. I didn't lose anything, but you can't be too careful when faced with that many people around you. I think they were a little hurt when I insisted on carrying my ruck and chute myself. I could see my thousand dollar chute disappearing in some cowboy's pickup truck.

This was to be a fun trip, unlike any I had ever been on with the 82nd. Usually, we would fly to some Army post, jump into an open SS place among pine trees, conduct our exercise, and then wait for the C130s to pick us up and take us back to Bragg and sand and pine trees. I had been to almost every state in the Union and all I had ever seen was sand and pine trees, except in Texas where we saw sand and Mesquite bushes. This time, we would train during the day and were to be "Let Out" in the evenings, which was unheard of.

The first night we had a lot to do, so we stayed at Camp. The next morning we loaded trans to the mountains to hone our Mountain Skills. The Scouts were the primary instructors for the rest of the company, teaching free climbing, military mountaineering, rope bridges, and rappelling. Once the day's classes were accomplished, we'd head back to camp, secure our gear, and then head to the town for some fun.

Within walking distance from the camp was a great cowboy bar. I remember it as The Rusty Nail, but I could be wrong; there doesn't seem to be a Rusty Nail in Missoula these days. It was packed every night, had live music, lots of pretty girls, and everyone was happy and friendly. The place was gigantic! We had a hard time buying drinks. It seemed like everyone at the bar had seen us jump and wanted to sit at our table or have us sit with them. Every night we had pretty co-eds or cowgirls at our table.

One night, one of our guys came up missing. It was close to midnight and we were all feeling pretty good, but he had been drinking more than we had. He was drunk. Now he was missing and, like good paratroopers, we decided we needed to look for him. We left the single guys at the table with the three lovelies that had joined us for the evening, split up in buddy teams (good training) and began to scour the bar. He was nowhere to be found. When we all gathered back at the table, w e discussed our options and came to the consensus that, if he was mugged and dead in a ditch somewhere, it wasn't our fault, we had done due diligence, and he was not spoiling our fun. We went back to drinking and dancing.

About the time I sat down, I felt a big hand grab my shoulder. I turned around to find three very large Cowboys standing over us. I stood and asked, "How can I help you, Guy?" The largest one said, "We saw you walking around the bar like you were looking for trouble." Before I could respond, Mitch stood up. This is where things usually went very wrong. You did not fuck with Mitchell Pigg. My guys and Mitch's guys started to their feet. I held them in place with a hand signal. I tried to do the same to Mitch, but he continued to approach.

"If we do find trouble, we expect you guys to be on our side," Mitch said.

I was dumbfounded. Normally, Mitch was ready to throw down ant the smallest provocation. The boy loved to fight. What prompted this perfect response is still beyond me.

The cowboys, likewise, were surprised by this comeback. They stood there for a second with stupid looks on their faces, until one finally broke the silence and said, "We wanna buy you boys some drinks!" They sat down and the party continued, with me more than a little relieved.

More people joined the party. Before long, there was no more space at our table so people were standing around us. It was loud and close.

Then, like before, I felt a large hand grab my shoulder and I turned around, trying to figure out how we had offended this person. Standing over me was the biggest woman I have ever seen. In her boots, she stood three to four inches taller than me. She also outweighed me by quite a lot.

"You and me, we're gonna dance," she said, much to the delight of my drunken friends and everyone at the table. Now, I'm usually up to any challenge, but this one was a bit scary. Why Me? What would happen if I declined? What if she wanted to lead. What if her jealous boyfriend came in; he had to be gigantic!

Throwing caution to the wind, I jumped to my feet, bowed and said, "Why, Yes Ma'am!" I drug her to the dance floor, spun her around, put my hand in the small of her back and pulled her close and said, "I noticed you across the bar and was just about to ask you to dance. Thanks!" I lied, but now I was in charge. We two-stepped, waltzed, and I taught her to jitter-bug when a good song came on. We danced for about 45 minutes until I made out like it was time to head back to camp. I told her I had a good time and sent her back over to her friends.

When I got back to our table, my buddies went silent, looking to me for some kind of explanation. Mitch was the first to speak up. "Boy, where have you been? Were you a huggin' and a chalkin'? There was much slapping me on the back, the cowboys bought me a drink, and my friends continued to push Mitch's joke even farther as only crude paratroopers can.

Huggin' and a Chalkin' is from a song about a big girl whose boyfriend has to hug a little, make a chalk mark, and hug a little more.

The rest of the night I kept a watch on her table, and if she headed my way, which she did several times, I would take one of the girls at our table to the dance floor. This cat and mouse game went on for about two more hours until she and her friends finally left.

After many years, I finally re-connected with Mitch. One of the first things he asked was, "You remember dancing with that big old cowgirl in Montana? Man! We couldn't even see you out there."

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