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Home is in the Ranks



Dark red, green and yellow camouflage fatigue pattern

This is an excerpt from River City One: a Novel (Simon and Schuster)

When we came home after seven months, I spent all my time with the guys—“the dudes” was what we called each other—relying on each other instead of the families that waited behind for us.

We were glad to show up to work before the sun rose, starting most days with a beach run then a swim in the ocean, workouts that would last two, three hours, as long it took for our lungs and legs to burn off whatever memories still lingered from the night before.

After the exercise, I worked.

Mostly desk work, scheduling appointments and checking in on the dudes.

Did Jones see the eye doctor for his new prescription?


Did Taylor make those child support payments?

He had received a paycheck for the last seven months with no way of spending it, so he had to have the money.

And what about Jackson?

How was the platoon’s wounded warrior?

Did he have another skin graft on his stump, or had the sores healed so that he could finally start building a callus where the prosthetic attached?


The work would last until about three in the afternoon, never any longer, and, just as the day should have been drawing to a close, we’d file out the door of the headquarters building and make the short drive to the club at the edge of base.

About the club

The club was a small, nondescript red-brick building near my exit onto the highway, crowded on all sides by tall pine trees.

I always called my wife when I pulled into the parking lot, telling her that I was “on my way home” though I knew it would be hours before I got back on the road.

We liked the club because the lights were low and the bar was quiet.

The music never rose above a whisper.


By then it had been years since you could light a cigarette indoors, but the sour smell of smoke and ash still hung in the air, embracing you as soon as the door swung open.

We knew the bartender, we knew the group leaning on pool sticks under the Budweiser lamp that hung above the billiards table, and everybody was in uniform.

We would seat ourselves around the big oak table at the center of the room, the same table every time, then bring over that first cloudy pitcher of light beer.

I never went for the drinking.

I went because I wanted to hear stories, and this was how the dudes liked to tell them, around plastic cups of beer arranged on a rubber tabletop.


The talking would last until at least nine, maybe ten, before anyone acknowledged there were reasons to leave, that there was some other place called “home” where people waited for us.

This article was originally published by RealClearDefense and made available via RealClearWire.

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John J. Waters graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He served in the Marine Corps on deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He lives with his family in Nebraska, where he was born.

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