Flipping through the photos, my mind went back to a different time and place. I could smell the open breezeways of the barracks. I could see every stain on the concrete hallways and shitty barracks floors. I could picture that tiny room filled with bottom-dollar furniture. I could remember what it was like to cram everyone in those tiny rooms to play Call of Duty, drink, or just hang out. Six or seven guys smashed into a 10×12 room filled with furniture–all of us crammed into two chairs, a bed, and the floor.
When I show these photos to others or share these stories, on rare occasions, they look at me perplexed. They have no conception of what it was like to be so pent up. They do not understand what it was like to stand in a breezeway littered with crushed beer cans, boxes, tables, blood, and whatever made its way into the hallways, including passed-out bodies. One could not believe the before and after photos, contrasting 0300 with 1300. The once-littered floors were as clean as one could make such stained concrete.
Entering into the first-floor breezeway always brought some risk. One’s head was always scanning the upper floors, anticipating some flying remnants of the party raging above. The more debris the more one was drawn in. One must always be aware of flying gaming consoles no longer working, kegs, furniture, bodies, whatever fell victim to drunken rage, ill-conceived decisions, and vigorous instigation of others.
The barracks were a place like nothing else. They were a place that would put Animal House to shame. They were a place with only a simple rule; whatever mess was made must be cleaned up before returning to duty. It was a place where guys did things with women of which I shall not speak, but those who know… know. Rangeretts stalking the halls, backpack filled with weekend supplies, knocking on every door until they were taken in were never my thing–but to each their own. It was a place where blood was spilled just for sport. I once wrestled a great friend of mine onto broken glass for no other reason than entertainment. Others tried to stop us from entering the glass, but neither of us was willing to stop and they were unwilling to offer anything beyond a light verbal prodding.
The barracks were a symptom of something much greater. They were the symptom of young men continuously deploying. They were a symptom of men taught to fight and take life. They were a place that meant more than I could explain. They were a place where a quiet weekend night did not exist. It was blasting your speakers as loud as you could. It was using your metal front door as a beer pong table. It was a place where CQ or Staff Duty expected weekends to be wild and crazy. It was common for them to drive you to the 24-hour gas station just to resupply.
The barracks were a place of great pleasure and pain. They were the place where taboos were broken, where men indulged in the pleasures of life, but also the place of late-night conversations. They were the place where men shed tears, heavily induced by alcohol, together, yet alone. Their gazes avoided one another. They knew what the other was doing but created plausible deniability when the sun arose the following day. It was where men talked about those lost, their greatest fears, trials, tribulations of life, and everything else. It was a place where there were no social restrictions. There was no topic left unspoken.
Returning from deployments, I quickly learned to live in those barracks without relieving my loved ones from the burdensome silence. I returned and wanted nothing more than to live in those halls without the obligation of those who could not understand. I could not speak about the trials and tribulations of our day-to-day while deployed. As I sat in those barracks, I was unable to speak about them still. How could I explain what it was I had just done with such a cavalier attitude? It was the world I chose, the world I so yearned for. It was the world that, once explained, others could not understand or comprehend.
I quickly learned to live in those barracks for days with those who understood, without a single call to those who sat back home and worried in silence. The barracks were a world of their own. They were the place we needed. They were the place we deserved. They were the place where we found peace and torment. They were the place of amazing joy and pain. They were the place of lifelong memories and stories. They were the place I found my greatest friends. They were a place I found myself.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.