Serving in the Army was a nice soft landing when I left home at 17. While most of my duties began with intense training and supervision by higher ranking individuals, as I progressed and began gaining rank, my responsibilities increased. Once I figured out that asking why was detrimental to my career advancement, I learned to remain silent on the issue in real time, and research my questions later at the education center on post. My frequent visits to this location resulted in my being in the right place at the right time for more training opportunities.
I took a test to determine my aptitude for learning languages first, then another testing for my ability to decipher code. This led to my being sent to a few more schools, and a change of MOS (military occupational specialty). By that point, I had volunteered for anything and everything offered, so leaving my unit for destinations unknown didn’t cause much anxiety. I trusted that there would be people there who were going through the same new experiences, and others who were familiar and could help us along.
I was a private for longer than most, because I took the hard road. I went from E-1 to E-2, and then E-3 on the same timetable as my peers. Then I got busted back down to E-1, and started over. The reason I got demoted in rank was because I hit the battalion commanders’ Cadillac with a 2 1/2 ton truck. Let me explain. A 2 1/2 ton truck has a manual transmission and no power steering. It’s not something I should have been assigned to drive, ever. I wasn’t strong enough to steer it properly. I went up and down curbs and crossed the median line whenever I turned. I had to stand up in my seat and lean in order to turn the wheel, but I couldn’t make a sharp turn. When I tried to combat park (back in), I went in crooked, and didn’t know I had struck his car until I saw it bouncing in my side mirror.
In case it’s not obvious, this was an epic fuck up. I was semi famous on our post because of this incident. It was the story of the month and spread like mad. When I realized what I had done, I pulled forward (doing even more damage, oops). Then I reached into the glove box and got the accident report form, and began filling it out. I wasn’t upset or nervous. It was over and done, and I couldn’t undo it. So I suspect when the brigade commander came outside and saw his car, I must have looked perfectly calm. The fact is, I was. I knew what to do, and I was doing it.
To me, if you know what you’re doing, and doing it, there is nothing to be upset about. Apparently this is not the typical reaction. The MP’s came and took my report. The B.C. didn’t say a word to me. He just kept staring at his crumpled mess of a Cadillac. Then I was ordered to return to my unit and see my commander. So I walked back. It was about half a mile. I went directly to his office, and knocked on the open door. My commander lost his shit very loudly.
He was furious. It took everything I had in me not to laugh. He looked like the Pillsbury doughboy. Bald, chubby, and pale white. It was widely giggled about behind his back among us privates. I managed to keep from laughing, but not smiling. This made him even more angry. He screamed at me that as long as he was in command I would never get another promotion. Then he sent me out of his sight, and back to my office.
By then, his driver, who apparently overheard the phone call between my commander and my battalion commander, spread around what had happened. When I walked into the office, the two guys I worked with started applauding and laughing. It made me laugh too, until I saw SGT Charles’ face. Then I started to cry. She was scary when she was angry. I respected her more than any officer by a long shot. She started shaking her head slowly, and told me she couldn’t protect me from this mistake.
I had only just gotten my PFC (private first class) rank. I didn’t even get a single paycheck with the new increase. I got another company grade Article 15, with reduction of rank to E-1, 14 days of restriction and 14 days of extra duty. The restriction part meant I could only go to work and my place of worship. Fortunately for me, that commander got relieved not too long after that. He was an asshole who looked down on enlisted personnel in general. He learned the hard way that NCO’s are the backbone of the Army, and if you treat them poorly, they will do nothing to help their superiors look good.
Things like recovering items that fell off trucks on the way to 29 Palms. Things the commander signed for, and is responsible for. Things that cost millions of dollars. The commander who replaced him was so hot, he made Denzel Washington look ugly. And he thought I was funny, much to my giddy delight. He was good to our NCO’s, and everyone else. He was good at motivating people, and increased the standards of pretty much everything. When you support your commander, everything runs more smoothly, equipment is well cared for, and the soldiers are happy and motivated. It makes a huge difference.
I regained my rank quickly, as I was super gung ho. Not just because I had a crush on my commander, either. I was a good soldier after that. SGT Charles took me under her wing and started preparing me to become an NCO when I was still a private. She encouraged me to do correspondence courses, and attend college at night. I was young, and I could sleep anywhere. I had a tight routine, and so much confidence I was almost cocky. I won’t go into why I ended my Army career right now. Suffice to say, I acquired PTSD and was no longer able to serve after several years.
When I got home, I lived with my mom again. It took me a full year to regain my desire for independence. I started out slowly, attending one class the first semester, and increasing my class load as I went along. I also resumed OT, and my mom pushed me a little to regain my confidence. It felt a lot like starting over, but it was easier the second time around. From then on, I took small steps, and progressed in my schooling. I became even more obsessed with computers. There was a lot of new software available, and I started doing animation, and other creative digital endeavors. I also worked on my social skills online with a few friends after my mom passed.
Once I learned the basic skills required to maintain a home, I had an aide who helped me stay on track. She helped with errands and coping with unexpected things such as having a repair person enter my home, etc. Improving my confidence in my own abilities was key throughout my transition to independence.
I realized my obsessive interest was the best way to begin a new career. I did a lot of research, and visited some schools with my sister. I won a scholarship, and was accepted at schools I only applied to as a joke. I was lucky to be able to pursue my interest at the school of my dreams. I stayed with a military buddy while I attended. I finished my schooling this year, and have since been thinking forward to my future.
I’m moving to Denver soon, where I’ll be teaching other kids on the spectrum who are interested in computers and programming. I’ll also be working toward building a retreat for both children and adult autists and their families. I think it’s important for us to network, and keep up the fight for our rights in this world. I see a future where we help each other grow and gain independence. And that’s basically how I became independent. There are several alternate ways of achieving this, but this is what worked for me.