The ROTC freshman class was designed to weed out the ranks. The sophomore class had fifteen and the upper class had just twelve juniors and seniors combined. The freshmen class had twenty-three.
Weeding out the ranks was one of Captain Driver’s innovations. Emily had not met Captain Driver yet, but she spent two weeks in the summer at a kind of boot camp. Thus the short hair. Yes, she put a red streak in it after camp, but that would go when her hair got cut again. Meanwhile, she heard that Captain Driver could be hard but fair. An expert at readiness training, he served a tour with the 82nd Airborne Division in his youth. She also heard he was not a fan of women in the ranks, but she would deal with that if it came up.
Emily did ROTC the last two years in high school, so she knew the drill. She still played soccer then, but had given up on most other sports. She felt an attraction instead to the military and knew she could be good at it. Whether it went further than a couple years of ROTC at the university remained to be seen. She honestly felt interested in nursing.
Getting into formation in that big, echo-filled gymnasium was not a breeze, but not too bad for a first day. Emily landed in the front row, of course, with the only other woman, Karyn. The class had twenty-one young men, but the odds were worse than biology. More than likely, half would not return for their sophomore year. They stood at attention while Captain Driver introduced his hard, no-nonsense attitude, and then introduced his staff. “Our senior representative is Lieutenant Terrence Williams who most of you will know as tight end for our very successful football team, and our junior is Sergeant Carl Baker. You will take their orders like you take mine. Is that clear?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
Emily stole a glance at the big tight end. He stared right at her while Carl kept his eyes on Karyn. Unfortunately, the captain caught her eye movement, like he just waited for one of the women to mess up.
“Soldier!” He shouted and came right up to her face. Actually, he looked down at her, as most of the people there would. “Is there something about my officers I should know?”
“Sir, no sir.”
The captain waved to the two men and they stepped up while he never turned his eyes from staring down at his captive. Emily kept her eyes straight-ahead, as she should, and only saw Williams and Baker move into her peripheral vision. They all towered over her and all had to be over six feet. Lieutenant Williams alone had to be six-three or bigger.
“You are a little girl.” Captain Driver frowned at her. He had to choose his words so carefully. She stood five-six which might not exactly be small for a woman, though not exactly big, either. Karyn stood more like five-ten, and was big besides—not fat, but built more like an athlete than a ballerina.
“You would not even make a tiny, little blip on a radar screen,” the captain went on and lifted his hand to pinch his finger in her sight so she could see how small she was. “You need to listen real good to this. You will receive no special treatment in this command. You will maintain discipline at all times. You will receive no special favors for being a little blip on the radar screen so do not ask for any. You will keep up with the men at all times and in all levels or you will be out. Is that clear?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
Captain Driver shifted his eyes at last to look at Karyn. Emily felt the relief from the pressure but wondered briefly if there might be a hole in the top of her head. “And is that clear to you soldier?”
“Sir, yes sir.” Karyn’s answer came out clear and crisp. She practiced that all summer.
“Well, in that case you two can be our color guard today.” He backed up and the others backed up with him. “Fall out and fetch the flags.” He looked toward the end of the room. Emily ran to the American flag. Karen got the regimental flag, which was just the university flag with ROTC attached. Carl stepped out from the group.
“Right here.” He pointed to the place beside him. “Hustle, hustle.” The girls ran and fortunately neither tripped nor touched their flags to the ground. That may have been what the officers looked for, but the girls were careful and held their flags out at the correct angle as they had been taught over the summer, so Captain Driver had no reason to complain.
Lieutenant Williams brought the company to attention to salute the flags while Carl played a recording of a very slow and drawn out version of the Star Spangled Banner. When the song finished, Captain Driver made the girls remain in place, the flags at a thirty-degree angle, while the rest of the company stood at ease.
“Lieutenant Williams and Sergeant Baker will remain behind. You two need to hold those flags until told to stop. The rest of you men follow me.” The captain jogged out of the building and the twenty-one sort of bunched up at the door but eventually made it outside. Once they left, Terrence and Carl got out two folding chairs, a card table and a deck of cards. Carl also got the soft drinks. They ignored the girls and passed only quiet whispers between them.
After about five more minutes, Karyn wanted to complain. Her arms were not built to hold steady like that for so long. The flag had not been especially heavy at first but it grew heavier by the second. She finally dared a whisper.
“You all right?”
Emily thought about it. She had gotten herself into a place, mentally, where she hardly felt the weight. She supposed it could be something like a meditative trance. She did not know she could do that, exactly, but as with many things lately, she could look back at high school and see where the seeds had been planted.
“Fine,” she said. “For now.” She did not want Karyn to feel bad if she started to feel the strain.
“I bet you can hold it a long time.”
“I heard you took out two men with knives.”
Emily shouted and turned her head. “What?” Who had not heard? She snapped back to attention, but too late.
“One demerit,” Lieutenant Williams said with a click of his tongue.
“Permission to speak, sir.” Karyn spoke right up.
“Granted.” The Lieutenant said as he laid down a card.
“I should get the demerit, sir. I provoked her.”
Carl reached out to the Lieutenant and shook his head. Lieutenant Williams spoke. “Okay, no demerits, only don’t let it happen again.”
“What?” The word sounded sharp.
“Where has the rest of the company been taken?”
Lieutenant Williams smiled to himself while Carl spoke. “They have gone to the obstacle course to practice. Don’t worry, you will get a chance at the time trials.”
“Of course, you won’t have the practice so it will be hard for you to do well, but I can’t help that,” Lieutenant Williams said. His smile suggested that he thought the girls not doing well was a good idea.
“Permission to speak freely, sir.” Emily felt the urge to counter that smile.
“What?” The word sounded curious.
“I’ll set the course record, sir.”
Carl laughed, and so did Lieutenant Williams. Then Lieutenant Williams raised an eyebrow, wondering if she might do that very thing.
An hour later, when the troops returned, Karyn had long since given up and sat quietly on the bench. She had put her flag back and taken her demerits with pride. They said she about beat the record. Emily, of course, remained in place at attention, her flag held at just the right angle. Captain Driver looked dumbfounded. He had to call Emily twice to get her attention and on the second call, Lieutenant Williams started to slap her. Emily caught and stopped the man’s hand cold with her own hand. Only one hand remained on the flag, but it never wavered.
“Are we done now?” she asked, which did not come out sounding very military, but she only got one reaction from the captain.
“We are done.”
Emily put her flag back, went into the women’s locker room, showered, changed, and walked slowly back to her room. Her arms ached all the way through her shoulders, down her back to her feet. She had a lot to think about. Just exactly what all might be involved in being one of the elect?
Note: If you missed the first posts in this story, are starting late, or have just discovered the work, the first 4 posts are an easy find. Look under recent posts and you will find parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 listed as clickable links. Happy reading