At the Academy, I used to take everything I had to study with me to the library.  There were big round tables and I would stack everything I needed to read or work through onto a pile.  I would work from that pile, on the right, and when complete move it to a second-forming stack to my left.  When I needed a break, I would walk through the aisles searching for something different to give my attention in between.  The top floor held history and philosophy, and I would read through WWII, Civil War, and classic Greek, Roman, and Catholic works to re-engage my mind after too much time in Chemistry or other classes. 

          I would pick a table with a window view, and from it you could look over College Creek which stems off the Severn, and you could see the lights of The Yard (what the Academy grounds are called) lining the edge of the water, and then the shimmer of night off the face of the creek and the lights of a bridge further off that crossed from one bank to the other where cars traveled, moving streams of white and red lights, beyond the Academy gates.  I would stay until the library closed, and either study more or go to bed.  Sometimes, I would go and search for works in the basement where there was a theology and Christian section where I found a book by T.S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, that I read multiple times but couldn’t cite anything specific now if asked why it struck me.

          In Quantico, before a big exam, I would grab all my study material and head to an IHOP in Stafford.  I would go alone and find a big corner booth table and do the same.  I would order a coffee and a breakfast, and as they were open twenty-four hours, stay until my studies were complete.  I would read everything again before the exam, making outlines and notes so that it stuck in my own words and understanding.  I would also bring a spiral of crème-colored graphing paper on which I’d write letters to clear my head, and a leather Moleskine journal where I would record thoughts, poems, and sometimes stories that rarely made it further than its pages.  I would clear my mind and emotions before I sat down to studies.  I always worked better from a cleared heart, even if it was a catharsis that went unshown.  On these nights, I would study, and return between three and four in the morning and then sleep for an hour or two before rising and taking the examinations.  I finised fourth out of three hundred plus officers.

          On the weekends I would go fish the Rappahannock where Lee crossed multiple times in the Northern Virginia theater.  I would visit battle fields and historic towns were war waged and view historic vantage for perceiving what conditions must’ve been like then: the woods, terrain features, traps laid, set, and fallen into that defined this region and an era in our nation’s history.  I would get goosebumps seeing how terrain set conditions for how battles played out, the most pronounced standing from the top of Saint Mary’s Heights overlooking Fredricksburg, where Lee positioned his artillery when Hooker took the town but didn’t make it out without the annihilation of his Army from artillery fired from these heights.  That battle happened on my birthday, and Union Troops took the town, were shelled and then froze to death, wounded, when they couldn’t find cover or make it back across the river. Combat is ugly and should never be stated otherwise. There is beauty to be found in war zones, but killing is only that.  

          I would also go into Fredericksburg studying in restaurants and a little park where I’d read, write, and take in the scene. It was one of the most beautiful towns I’vd ever seen, and historic streets with southern belles in summer sundresses added a degree of romance for someone love, and home, sick learning a profession of violence that leads to potential early ends.

          There was a cigar shop I would go to and buy the same cigar each Sunday I was there.  Sometimes I would smoke it on the town, and other times wait until I made it back to Base and smoke it alone as the sky burned away and into stars.  It was my reset before returning back to training, especially when Infantry Officer Course began in full. 

          In the field, I would always pack books.  I would read them in the little down time we were in a defensive position, already entrenched, or when we went to the desert in 29 Palms for the last evolution before graduation.  I remember reading the last half of David McCullough’s Truman, by redlight with desert coyote songs and a star sky undiluted by artificial light.  It was a story of great moments in world history, of a common man that achieved uncommon things, but also a love story of a small town Missourian the world never thought much of until the greatest chapters of his life were written and critics looked back with greater wonder of all that he achieved.  In it too, and the most drawing part, was the love story it told: Harry and Bess, and the letters he wrote to her throughout his life, expressing what he didn’t share with all but showed his heart and full spirit, and survive still for anyone willing to read his private words and intimations with the woman he always loved.  She never said much publicly, but she was what always drove and kept him grounded, and when his Presidency and service was done, they returned to all they had: a little town house in Independence that Bess’ mother gave them when she passed.

          On ship, I changed my sleep patterns so I could train with my Marines and then have the wardroom nearly to myself all night to read and write.  I’d order books that would arrive when we’d get close enough to land for a helicopter to deliver mail to ship.  There was a little library on ship as well, and I read what in it I found interesting and bought other books when we’d make it into port calls. 

          In Afghanistan, I packed books of stoicism, and friends mailed me others: The Histories, by Herodotus, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, and I packed a little library with me on my Kindle.  I read multiple Steinbeck novels and used some of their messages for translated messages for countering the negativity and violence of the insurgency that we then broadcast over radio stations.  I always had something, and I would read on down time in the tent adjoining the Command Operations Center or beneath a piece of camo netting over the top of Hescoes for a smoke pit and IDF (indirect fire) bunker.  There was always something to keep my mind engaged and thinking beyond my present state.

          I think about this again, 2 A.M. and I haven’t been able to sleep.  I write it out because, after I do, maybe sleep will come.  I still read, still write, still learn, but new topics, new thoughts I try and capture then record into my own words. 

          I am outside, typing beneath an overcast sky, pale lit by a full moon through thin clouds.  The night song of summer is playing in the cadence of crickets and cicadas.  The patio is lit by a strand of yard lights that give view to my immediate surroundings.  My rambling thought is done.  I will try and sleep again.  

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