Summer 1986. Vietnam was far behind–its horror, its close borders, our life on hold. I had been in the US for two years, a sophomore in college averaging 18-24 quarter units, holding a part-time job, and dating and partying. I embraced life with every breath and burned with impatience to make more of myself. At 24 years old, I knew full well I had a late start. In my mind was this constant warning that time was running out, and I’d better hurry in this order of urgency: by all means get my career going—a bachelor degree, then immediately a job so that I could have that needed health insurance to fix my cavities, then locate a suitable man to start a family. Meanwhile, I should grab as much fun as I could while discovering myself and reaching the two urgent goals above.
That summer I desperately wanted to travel out of California. The summer before an appendectomy had kept me homebound before the summer quarter started. Then school. Then work. Then school again.
With no money to begin with, I had to be creative. One day, on my way to class I walked by a sign. It said, “Be All You Can Be.” I was fascinated by what I read. That was exactly what I had been wanting. Below the sign was this picture of a soldier dressed in a camo fatigue uniform. Hmm! That wasn’t in my plan, but…, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire. I pushed in the glass door to sit down across a desk from a black man in army uniform. He flashed his teeth and extended his hand, a very American gesture that I wasn’t yet comfortable with, but we shook hands nonetheless, or he shook mine. After the mutual introduction and I was to call him as Sergeant X (I can no longer recall his name), he described to me in length what the program was all about. It was called ROTC, and it trained college students for later recruitment into the US army. As of immediately, I could sign up for the summer basic training, and the US Army would give me a free medical evaluation and if I qualified, would send me all expenses paid to Fort Knox, Kentucky for a six-week stay. Afterward, I could choose to return straight home, or go on to another destination of my choice, and the ticket would be provided.
I didn’t share it with him my ulterior motive—it wouldn’t be wise to do so, but the sergeant has just described my summer travel plan. In my mind it was an excellent opportunity to travel, live among “real’ Americans, earn some money as I would be getting a stipend, and to top it off, being given six full weeks of free workout. Sergeant X could call it an army training if he wanted. For me, it was a dream vacation. I walked out of the ROTC office elated.