As soon as the doors of the car shut in the parking lot, she asked how it had gone. He answered first with complete silence, then a quiet, “wait until we are out of the parking lot.” Instantly she knew it had not gone well. As they pulled out, she searched his face for clues, but waited for him to speak when he was ready. Far too much was revealed in his face, and the level of his anguish was palpable in the car. Her mind raced, she longed to break the silence and ask, “How could it have gone badly?” Instead, she held her breath waiting for him to speak. When he finally did, his usually quiet and confident voice was even more quiet, and shaking with emotion and pain.
The trouble for her new husband, Colonel Douglas Cutler, had actually began a few months before when the Army had announced that due to “The Transformation,” the 2nd Brigade would be moving from the 78th Division of the Army Reserves to the 36th ARTEC. The Transformation was the process of reorganization and base closures that the Department of Defense had determined was necessary in order to change the Army into a new, leaner, and meaner organization, and save the country’s taxpayers billions every year in doing so. The 2nd Brigade which her husband commanded, and where she served as the unit’s FRG leader, trained drill sergeants in the fine art of being drill sergeants, and the Soldiers under Colonel Cutler’s command tended to be the “best of the best.” Their job was the training of men and a few women to be those who took the Army’s raw recruits and turned them into dedicated and loyal Soldiers, who were highly disciplined, in the best physical condition they would know in their lifetimes, and confident to the point for some, of being completely without fear. The Army would then assign them specialties and populate their ranks with this fresh set of America’s sons and daughters, who were ready to stand the wall in defense of all national security threats, and when necessary, wage war. For four years now, it had been necessary to wage war.
The term “OPTEMPO” had become familiar to her, and a part of her everyday work as the FRG leader. Her lifelong respect for all those serving in the country’s military had grown past even what she had learned in childhood. From her own father’s service in the National Guard as she was growing up, she gained the impression of all things military being honorable. Her father had first entered the Army when he was seventeen years old. Somehow, he had convinced his mother to lie about his birth date, giving him the few months he lacked being eighteen years old and of legal age to join the military. She had to write a letter saying his birth certificate had burned in a house fire, and being the time it was, few hand written records of such things existed anyway. She probably would not have done it if the prospects of having food enough to feed him were even a glimmer on the horizon. Already she had cut the toes out of his shoes to allow for his still growing feet. Where or when new shoes could be had wasn’t even something she thought of, there were so many more pressing matters.
There were the stories of her father's active duty service and how it had been, for him, the opportunity to leave the abject destitution of his childhood growing up during The Great Depression. Serving under a West Point graduate he identified as Major James, her father told of coming for the first time to understand successful living as he was led under this young soldier’s command. From that experience, he had gained the rights to certain benefits, including the obtaining of a GED at the government’s expense, and then training to become an electrician. The work ethic that was his through his instinctive survival of poverty, hunger, and need, had coupled with the positive attitude and ethics developed by Major James, and fueled her father’s success in life. His life was also anchored solidly in a deep and personal faith in God. His principled life had enabled her childhood to be sheltered, safe, and full of happiness, which developed in her a naivety few still possessed at her age. The honor, integrity, and loyalty, taught as the basic principles of the Army to all young recruits, was internalized by her father, and now at 79, these traits burned as strongly as they ever had. In his lifetime, he had never slipped an inch from duty, honor, and country.
This parenting model had been one of the things that first drew her to the Colonel. She saw in him the living embodiment of the legendary “Major James.” He too, was a West Point graduate, possessed of deep beliefs in self-less service and all that was honorable. Her Colonel to endeavored to live as closely as possible what he had learned at West Point as the sacred “Seven Army Values.” His own childhood had created in him a drive for excellence in all he did, and he left West Point as an honor graduate in the top fifth of his class. Later, as he attended The Army War College, they were already acquainted, and by the time he graduated, again with honors, they were in a relationship. Oddly, despite his own bleak childhood, growing up in privation and a physically and emotionally abusive family, he was still possessed by naivety in certain areas of reasoning. To her developing wonder at this fact, he was even more naive than her concerning people, he always first gave them the benefit of the doubt. Over the next several months she would watch the heartbreak he experienced as those he had looked to with such admiration for leadership, revealed feet of clay, and dishonor within their lives he could never have conceived of them indulging.