My little sister

My little sister was always ticklish. When we were kids, I used to chase her around the house and tickle her until she would surrender. Occasionally our mom would be in a lousy mood and she would chastise us when she heard Annette shrieking and trying to get away from me. It was always in fun; I wasn’t trying to torture my sister by tickling her. When Annette would breathlessly pant, “I give up!” I would give her a peck on the end of her nose and help her to her feet.

Every once in a while, Annette would just be in a bad mood and wouldn’t feel like playing. I could tell the difference when she playfully yelled, “Stop!” and when she was serious. Whenever that happened, I would quickly switch to being her protective older brother. Annette could always trust me not to run my mouth when something was bothering her. She could tell me anything…well, to a point.

Once she started having her periods and menstrual cramps, her “female problems” were a little out of my comfort zone. On the other hand, when she started having crushes on boys I was able to provide some useful insight. I was also there to tower over and intimidate any young guy who was disrespectful to my little sister. I never had to kick anyone’s ass for her, but I would have.

After high school, I joined the National Guard. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I would get money for college, plus a few hundred bucks a month. As anyone who has enlisted in the military can tell you, recruiters lie their asses off. This guy assured me, “Oh, if you’re in the Guard, you’ll probably never get called on to go into a war zone. The last time that happened was back during the Gulf War, and they called up the Army Reserves first.”

Bullshit.

After boot camp, I was sent to Advanced Infantry Training in Fort Benning, Georgia. To be honest, that was pretty cool. It isn’t for everyone, but I liked getting out there and firing the weapons and participating in most of the training exercises. I felt like a real badass by the time we graduated—an honest-to-goodness killing machine. Then they sent me to join my Guard unit.

In Afghanistan.

I was shocked—at first—but my mother was apoplectic. She called people who were way, way up the chain of command from me, chewing them out and demanding that I be allowed to return home. Mom never told me that was what she was doing; I found out when that shit rolled back down the chain of command to land on me. Fortunately, my platoon leader was pretty cool. Even though he had taken some heat from our unit commander, he took me aside and explained what was going on rather than embarrassing me in front of everyone in the unit.

Still, word got around. I got the nickname “Momma’s Boy” for a while. And by “a while” I mean the rest of my tour in Afghanistan. I called her the first chance I got and explained, “Look, Mom, I signed on for this. I’m under contract for two years. This wasn’t what I was expecting, but our unit only has three more months here and then we’ll all come home. Please stop making those calls. You’re only going to get me in trouble.”

I wound up lying to my own mother, assuring her it wasn’t that bad and that everything would be fine. Before those three months were up, we lost seven guys in my unit. Two of them died and the other five sustained injuries that ended their military careers. Then the United States government decided to extend our unit for another six months. Before that was up, we were extended another year.

My entire two-year stint in the National Guard wound up being spent in Afghanistan. When I was approached about re-enlisting, I gave the guy a one-finger salute. I thought I was pretty clear with that response.

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