We hadn’t been there, well, I hadn’t been there but a few days. We were practically at war. I was in a country called Albania. We were on a real-world emergency deployment. You know the kind. The President comes on the news, “there is trouble in the Balkans, we are sending an expeditionary force from the 82nd Airborne Division to the region. Talks are underway and UN Forces may be needed in Kosovo as peace is emerging there.” We had bullets in our guns and we had Stinger missiles, and Light Anti-Tank Weapons, and .50 cal Rounds for our Avengers. I have a helmet, flak jacket, big truck, and I’m looking at a tank flying the same flag as me. If someone wanted to pick a fight with us, we had a dang good chance of ending the fight in our favor.
Staff Sergeant Hunter told me that he had cancer. He had a tumor in his right calf. His platoon had just been recalled to go to Albania. SSG Hunter used to be my platoon sergeant. Just a few months ago, I was a squad leader in his platoon. My commander and First Sergeant wanted to know if I would volunteer to take SSG Hunter’s place on the deployment. Go back to my old platoon and be their platoon sergeant. I was only a Staff Sergeant though. “Of course I would. Hell yes, I would.” “Dang, Hunter, you ok man?” He said, “Yeah man, I don’t know, it’s a thing, just take care of my boys, right?” “Of course, I will man. Love you! Get well.”
It was actually complicated. I was in the middle of the Jumpmaster of the Year competition for the 82nd Airborne Division. Because of that, I didn’t actually deploy until almost two weeks after the rest of the platoon. I won the competition; the Division Commander and Command Sergeant Major came down to our unit area. They had a ceremony just for me. Then I shipped off to Albania to catch up with my platoon the next day.
We were on a big airfield. They had force protection barriers up everywhere. My lieutenant and I had a few growing pains when I got there. My section sergeants and I had a few growing pains when I got there. We were all young Staff Sergeants with lots of vigor and fresh ideas.
“Specialist Hinojos signed up to box,” he said. “What?”, I remember asking. His section sergeant then says, “yeah, boxing match tomorrow night, Pappi signed up, Heavyweight, main bout!” We were practically at war. We are having a boxing match?
He won! Knocked him out. O. U. T. Out! Go ADA! Go Pappi! International Champion.
A few days later, we, uh, kinda invaded Kosovo and made a new Army base called Camp Bondsteel. We helped raise the flag. We kept the peace.