My troop got promoted to Staff Sergeant last week! He played it pretty cool in public, but he was absolutely geeked about it, and I’m geeked for him. For those who are reading this for the first time or unfamiliar with me in general, I’m a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force. The process, which involves a combination of standardized testing, annual job appraisals and good old seniority, is fairly pressurized, and they publicly post the results of who got promoted from everyone who tested, basically reducing a bunch of military professionals to children trying to see if they made their high school varsity team.
The road to my rank and being responsible and not despised by my peers was arduous, and the time that I spent between earning the rank, losing it, and regaining it symbolized the direction in which my life was going. I can honestly say that I wasn’t ready for the jump in responsibility the first time I made it, not because of hindsight being 20/20 or God having a special plan for me, but because I was still speeding and driving drunk regularly. I was a fucking moron. Granted, I was a moron who tested well and could really use the extra money at the time, but a moron nonetheless. I was blowing tons of money, not taking school seriously and doing all kinds of other stupid things people do in their mid-20s. The knowledge that I was getting promoted combined with potentially leaving for Japan within the next few months basically ensured that I gave zero fucks about anything unless something drastic happened. Naturally, I lost my rank in one of the dumbest ways possible.
During Labor Day 2012, I drove to the front gate with my friend after a long night at the club. Normally, the guard checks the ID card for a brief moment then allows us to drive on base. Unfortunately, the car reeked of liquor, so instead of us being allowed to go home, we found ourselves being suspected for DUI. Hilariously enough, that was not what got me in trouble. I misplaced my driver’s license a few months prior to that night and never got it replaced because, well, I still don’t know why. On previous brushes with the police, I was able to give my license number from memory and give some bullshit excuse about how I left my license in the room. So sure enough, when the guard asked for my license/registration/insurance, I was ready to spout off my routine again. Only this time, my license number wouldn’t appear in their system. I say the license number again. Nothing. Once more, nothing.
The cop suddenly remembered the reason he stopped me in the first place: he thinks I’m driving drunk. He had me undergo a sobriety test, which, I’m ashamed to say now, I was quite well versed at passing while being intoxicated. There’s something about being a black guy dealing with cops, along with my career being on the line, that sobers me very, very quickly. The first round of tests involved him shining a light into my eye and telling me to follow it. I passed, or at least I assumed so, because I haven’t been asked to exit the car. The next, and more difficult test, was to say the alphabet backwards. I took a deep breath…”Z-Y-X-V-shit I’m kidding-W-V-U-uhhhhh….-T-S….” He stops me at “L.” Suspicion of DUI over. Crisis averted, at least for now.
There’s still the matter of my license not existing in their system. After going back and forth with the cop about how I’m not actually an unlicensed driver, I had a decision to make: either come clean about losing my license and accepting my relative slap on the wrist, or bluff and tell him that my license was in my dorm room, hoping that I get off completely unscathed. I choose Option 2. He called my bluff in the worst way possible. He demanded to follow me to my room and stay there until I found my license. It was such an autopilot response that I didn’t even think about the fact that I DIDN’T EVEN LIVE IN THE DORMS ANYMORE. My actual residence was 20 miles away. In short, I am fucked. My friend is now awake in the passenger seat. He asks why there are cop lights following us. I tell him why. His response? “You’re fucked.” Thanks, friend.
In a last ditch effort to avoid coming clean, I “searched” for my license in another friend’s room, under the pretense that it was mine. I didn’t know what I was going to accomplish at this point. It was the equivalent of a hail mary being thrown backwards. My plot was blown after the cop searched the room and found an ID of the person the room actually belonged to. Now I’m in handcuffs. My friends, who have now all congregated to witness the lowest point of my career, have resorted to using thesauruses to find new ways to call me stupid. I head to the police station on base, get fingerprinted, give my official statement (go me for not having a lawyer present at the time) and get escorted to the 8′ x 12′ holding cell where I would spend the rest of the night. For a final nail in my emotional coffin, the cop who arrested me relayed a message as I incoherently rotted on the cot in my cell: my driver’s license was finally found in the system, and it was clean. What happened? “You missed the number by one digit. You said it was ‘*****384,’ but it was ‘*****385.’ Good night!”
I got “bailed out” by my First Sergeant the next morning, and after confirming that yes, I was indeed fucked, I finally got released to be on my way. I went to my friend’s house on base to charge my phone. The first message I see? My girlfriend at the time saying that she doesn’t want to be my girlfriend anymore. Yep. I thought my life was over.