The military is always looking for a few good men. Sometimes, however, they'll just make do. John Sansker is a conscript, forced to choose between a life in prison, or a few years of military servitude. An easy choice right? Yeah, I thought he'd choose prison too...
"Lieutenant John Sansker, reporting for duty, sir!" I saluted and stood at attention.
"At ease soldier..." came the expected response. "You think you're ready do you?" he asked, a challenging look in his eye.
"Sir, yes, sir!" I answered with enthusiasm about as genuine as point-five beer. If there was anything this man's army taught you, it was how to fake that. I knew that if any doubts showed through, I'd never receive the station I'd earned, and the respect I felt I deserved. If I got sent back to my unit, I truly believed my life, and not merely my military career, was over.
I'd watched the special forces units strolling through the base more times than I could count. Ever since the first days of boot camp I'd envied their solidarity. They were so tight, so careful who they talked to. In my youthful eyes, I suppose they were the ultimate clique. Unlike high school, though, it wasn't based on how mean and petty you could be. Well...on second thought, meanness could still have played a role. I certainly felt the 'mean' in testing. It had taken me five long years to reach eligibility, and I didn't want to miss out now.
I was a victim of the Youth Offender's Conscription Act of 2013. Overcrowding of the prison system had reached an all-time high, and though the proportion of youth offenders didn't necessarily make up anywhere near a majority, it was surmised that most youths entering the prison system were likely to re-offend...and re-offend...and re-offend again, until they reached that magic demographic that comprised the majority. Sound logic, I suppose, but really, I think it was just a convenient excuse, using some padded statistics. The Iraq war was over, true enough...but that just shifted into conflict with North Korea, and then Iran. Not to mention a couple of other smaller conflicts in the slow months. Stop-loss was no longer stemming the flow enough, and noone was joining.
But I digress.
So yeah, I was a conscript. The choice was clear really. More and more youths were being tried as adults, supposedly due to more and more violent crimes being committed by those youths. I was one of them. I had a history, I'll admit. Several B&Es, a joyride or two. All were still in the system awaiting court-date when I committed the big one, though. I beat a teacher within an inch of his life because my 12 year old niece told me the bastard was 'doing bad things to her'. Didn't matter, I had no proof, and she wouldn't testify. To make matters worse, some of these states that were trying kids as adults(and I happened to be in one), were the same states that carried the death penalty. At any rate, in the months before I committed my 'heinous act' the media had gotten a bit finicky about the courts killing kids...as had a few parents. A rather large general strike was called, not in just one or two sectors, but in pretty much all of them. Riots occurred when everyone was ordered back to work, and soon martial law was declared...this only depleted the military reserves more. So a compromise was reached. Violent youth offenders would be given a second chance, in the armed forces. They didn't lift the threat of the death penalty, because hell, if you needed motivation, they'd give you motivation. The idea of helping youth criminals be all they can be was more appealing to the media...and a bit stronger of a deterrent, oddly enough, to some of the more authority-despising youth.
Anyway, the choice was clear. Even if I hadn't killed someone yet, it was only a matter of time before someone thought I 'shore do 'ave a pretty mouth'. That would end in someone dying, sure enough. Another trial would take months to occur, and the choice would be taken away from me when I turned 18. Or so the lawyer explained it to me.
So I was pinned for attempted murder. But because I signed a few papers, I only had a few years of hell to look forward to, rather than a lifetime. Without the conscription act, I could have easily gotten 15 years...I'd have been thirty! Can you imagine how loose my behind would've been going into adult population at 15? In my state, there pretty much were no juvie camps any more.
In some ways, boot camp was worse than prison. You never had a private moment, you were called a maggot about three hundred times a day, and the food was complete crap. But it was less time, noone thought I was pretty (that I knew of) and it was reasonably safe to drop the soap. Still, many bunkees couldn't cut it. Only half ever made it the whole way, the other half bugged out in numerous ways. Some went AWOL, or committed crimes within the compound, and others (these were my favourite, almost the only entertainment we had going in camp) used straight up, good old-fashioned gross insubordination. I'll never forget the day Sgt, Talbot was told he looked like a constipated bulldog. Because, oh man, he did...especially after being told so.
At any rate, being a conscript, even one who had finished his sentence, and who had even seen a few months of combat duty, I wasn't highly regarded. We didn't belong with them, we weren't to be trusted. Sometimes it was likely this isolation that caused many desertions. Bunkmates and squadmates came and went. If you actually tried to advance, even your squadmates thought you were a suck up. So I became quite the loner. I always envied the special forces teams walking around base. You could generally see the cameraderie there, they often seemed closer than family. I wanted that connection. To be a part of something, not just going through the motions.
Being a loner was at times dangerous for a conscrip. I was a ripe target for some of the brats, as I called those on the other side of the fence. Those were the career boys, the ones who all apparently had generals for fathers if you went by attitude.They'd jump me when they could, insult me when they couldn't. I always made sure at least one of them had something to remember me by though. I think at first, I stayed in just to spite them. For some of my first months, homework got done in the infirmary. My drill sergeant must have had a soft spot for me though. I rarely got in trouble for fighting, and I got tested for promotion with the rest of the brats despite having a couple months left before finishing my sentence. And I succeeded when many of them didn't.
So...there I was with the colonel prowling around me like a panther around a staked goat...him trying to lay my soul bare with his squinted eyes. Thought he might do it too. Then he spoke.
"Well, lieutenant, your tests show you are a born thief." He must have seen my eyes widen, and my mouth open to interject, because he continued quickly. "Now before you get all in a huff, let me explain." He poured two drinks, and offered me one. This was the first alcohol I'd had in five years, but I dared not refuse. “You’ll notice I said tests, not records. Thief is probably the title you can expect, with your background, and your chosen path as security expert. I’m actually intrigued, Sansker. Why would someone with a past as checkered as yours choose such a controversial expertise? Your past would suggest you’d want to stay as far away from locks and security devices as possible. Besides that, some would say it is the most difficult and dangerous of assignments. Many don’t survive the year, without enhancements.” The colonel downed the drink quickly, urging me with a hand gesture to do the same. I did, but with far less aplomb.
Once my eyes had finished watering, and my throat would open once more, I answered. “It wasn’t really a conscious choice, sir. It’s what I was good at.”
“I see...And you requested LRRP?”
“Yessir. Long Range Recon is what I asked for.”
“Why?” he asked, eyes narrowing. If he hadn’t been trying to dig out a soul before, he certainly was now.
“To serve my country, sir!”
“Sure, sure, cut the crap son. The real reason.”
“I want some respect, sir!” I told him, more quietly. “I don’t want to be just another Scrip, or streetpunk. I should have gotten away from that a long time ago. “
“Still calling you guys that, huh?” said the colonel, mild surprise in his voice.
“Not to my face sir. Punk, Conscrip, Con, it’s all the same. I’m never going to be Lieutenant Sansker to some people sir...not without this opportunity, sir.”
He began scribbling immediately in a notebook, a pensive look on his face. He reached for a form, but I could not see what it said. The next few seconds seemed like an eternity.
He looked up at me, and I’m sure he waited a bit, just to watch me squirm. The brass lives for that crap.
“Alright, soldier. Your new assignment will be across base tomorrow night at seventeen-hundred hours, Section L. Don’t disappoint me, boy, or I’ll have you cleaning the mess hall toilets with your tongue!”
I was shocked. I was in! I saluted, and had to restrain the urge to hug the man. I stammered several thank-yous.
“What are you waiting for? Dismissed!”
I quickly backed out of the office, still thanking him.
“Good luck, kid. You’re gonna need it.”
“Thanks sir” I said, shutting the door. It didn’t even register that he might have known something I didn’t.