Yes, that's a pretty short military career, isn't it.  In a fever patriotism, I joined the U. S. Army National Guard in 1981.  I signed up with a unit of the 348th Cavalry in Griffin, Georgia, where my brother-in-law was assigned.  I attended drill there for several months until scheduled to ship off for Basic Training, and those days served my budding interest in writing well by giving me many colorful, exciting and insane experiences to draw upon in later days.  I also forged some lasting friendships with the great guys with whom I served.  Unfortunately, I had suffered from allergies all my life and had been forced to take many medications and injection treatments.  (I made my recruiter and the physicians at the induction center well aware of these issues, but they didn't think it would be a problem.)  Once submerged in the environment at Fort Benning, Georgia (I was assigned to ancient, dusty barracks that I think pre-dated World War II) my health rapidly deteriorated.   I broke out in hives, itched, sneezed, and wheezed every day.  I was consistently unable to catch my breath, which made the daily routine of running everywhere difficult, to say the least.

I was sick and away from home, and boot camp is not a place noted for a profusion of sympathetic faces.  Continually holding back my platoon, I was a drag on everyone else and a thorn in the side of my Drill Sergeants, who with characteristic zeal endeavored to help me overcome my physical short-comings with profane verbal encouragements and copious ridicule.  Needless to say, these were some of the darkest days of my life. 

With its well-deserved reputation for efficiency, the Army eventually sent me to be evaluated by competent medical personnel (as opposed to the "Physician's Assistant" warrant officer at the company sick-call, who looked at me and told me to "tough it out.")  I still remember leaping to attention when the doctor (a Major) entered the room.  Just like a doctor on M*A*S*H* might have done, she laughed at me.  To make a long, long, long story short, the Army finally decided it didn't want me any more, and I was medically discharged on 7 January 1982.  I left for Basic weighing 240 lbs. at 6' 1" tall.  I came home weighing 175 (I was still 6' 1") and looking like a concentration camp survivor.  I will never forget sitting down in the tub for my first hot bath in seemingly forever, and painfully bruising my coccyx (that's a tail-bone, for some of you) as my now pitifully unpadded butt banged down on the hard tub bottom. 

I put a lot of effort into restoring that padding, and my coccyx is relatively safe now.  (I knew you were concerned.)

May 16, 2015: An Additional Note: I was very sick in Basic Training with symptoms of shortness-of-breath and extreme fatigue, but there were other things going on too: upper-body weakness (could not do one pushup or make it across the horizontal ladder even one time) difficulty chewing and swallowing (lost 65 pounds!) and crazy vision problems such as occasional double-vision and constant headaches. In April 2014, shortly after major back surgery, I was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune condition characterized by shortness-of-breath, extreme fatigue and upper body weakness, difficulty chewing and swallowing and double-vision. The neurologist who finally diagnosed me (there were about two weeks of panicked uncertainty in there) told me that I had probably had the condition for years and years, but the long anesthesia and narcotics use had brought it out of dormancy. Looking back on it, I could remember occasions when I would become inexplicably short of breath and would suffer sudden weakness in my hands and arms, but my heart checked out okay, and nothing else was ever found. Wait a minute. Shortness-of-breath? Extreme fatigue and weakness in the upper body? Vision problems? An autoimmune condition? One of the first thing that happens to a new inductee is a massive, two-arm blast of inoculations against everything from smallpox to anthrax. I asked my neurologist. "There is NO proof that inoculations blah-blah-blah..." (As you may have noticed, doctors get very sensitive when anyone ever suggests that inoculating against disease might be anything but 100% safe.) Well, I know the difference between "no proof" and "we know it doesn't happen," and I will always believe that my MG was originally triggered by those inoculations. 



Copyright 2004 Raymond K. Paden
Page last modified  05/17/2015