Special Blog Post:
Weekend on the Homefront
One of the students is regular Army, in a unit that's between rotations into Iraq. He is always joined out there in the open area by several other college students in his unit. They're not my students, but they usually hang around, maybe hoping for a turn in the conversation to something about training, deployment, scuttlebutt, whatever. The fellow in my class is always so darned respectful to me. It's almost strange: none of the slight condescension, none of the cold distancing, none of the "you're not one of 'us' attitude" I get in vague hints and impressions from the others. They're not openly disrespectful, of course. They're not quite sure how to take me, especially considering one of their own seems so loyal. I do wonder, however, how many of the professors on campus know just how little those service personnel think of them.
My Army student is in his mid-thirties, but he looks younger, this despite several rough tours in Iraq already. He's forever struggling in his classes, but Lord knows that guy is persistent. Aside from teaching him economics, I've been helping him with his calculus course work. I never thought he'd make it as far as he has since he just struggles with remembering very basic concepts from one tutoring session to the next. However, at least in part because I use a break-down, simple-step-by-simple-step approach to everything I possibly can when it comes to math, he's getting it. In a way, it's similar to a military training approach without the screaming and name-calling, although I prefer to think of it more as a "mechanic's approach" to math. Call it whatever, it works for a lot of people who otherwise have trouble learning methods and processes in mathematics courses. The economics material he's learning in my class is just overwhelming to him, at least the quantitative and graphical stuff. The memory work is what's keeping him going.
Thursday, I made arrangements to meet him on Friday for an hour of calculus tutoring: the product rule, the quotient rule, and the chain rule. We'll deal with word problems next week.
On Friday, we did the tutoring sessionabout an hour that gave me a lot of hope for his success in the course. He was finally seeing how to do the simple, bite-size steps instead of trying to look at and tackle the problems like undifferentiated blobs. He was getting answers, and they were right. He couldn't simplify the answers because he cannot do numerical fractions or see algebraic tricks to make long expressions shorter with factorings and cancelations, but his answers were right nonetheless, and telling him that made him grin from ear to ear. Such a boyish smile, especially when he hears praise that has almost a tough edge to it. ("Well, I'll be damned. You got that right. Well, shit, boy, you're going to be a PhD in mathematics one of these days.")
We went back outside to visit for a few minutes before I had to leave.
"Looks like we've got a cold weekend coming up," I said, feeling the blustering wind chilling me to my bones.
"Yeah, this sucks," he said as he lit a cigarette. "I'm out in the field from six tonight 'til God-knows-when on Sunday."
"Cripe, out in the bush, huh?"
"Naw, not like last time. This weekend we're training at the base," he answered, staring out at the clouds above the just-harvested corn field.
He's a mortar guy, and he's something of a rising star, despite his desire not to be. He doesn't want to make the Army his career, but all indications are that he's being moved up the line, with "First Sergeant" written all over their plans for him.
"Training on mortars at the base?"
"Naw, civil defense," he grunted absently.
I figured that meant he and his unit were being prepped for redeployment back to Iraq; then he added, "Homeland Security bullshit... just the usual riot control training."
"You want to cancel the tutoring session for Monday and do it on Wednesday?" I asked him as I picked up my books and got ready to leave.
"That'd be good. I'm going to be exhausted Monday," he answered.
He always likes to part company with a firm handshake. As we did, he thanked me for all the help. The genuineness of his gratitude was so evident. I swear, right there and then I knew he wouldn't kill me. I just knew it.
Someday, he might have to, though. After all, that's what he's being trained to do.
The Dark Wraith hopes this story makes your blood run cold.