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Sunday, February 22, 2015

James H XXXXs

Another of the quirky and zany characters I came
across during my career in leadership positions

We all know them: the quirky and zany characters that pass through our lives on their way to future endeavors that we hope do not involve us. The time they spend with us can be interesting, offbeat, cockamamie, goofy, insane, a little touched and sometimes just plain silly; but more often than not: downright funny.

James H XXXXs hailed from West Virginia, was a Specialist 4th Class and had a little over four years in the Army when he was assigned to the petroleum section in my platoon, just after my having become the platoon leader. He subsequently reenlisted and became command sponsored. This meant that he was allowed to move his family up from the Lower 48 into post housing. The reason I’m telling you this fact now will become quite clear a little later on.

Part of the strange lore of James H was that he hailed from the hills of West Virginia. Claiming to have four brothers still at home, he added that each one had the same name as him: James H XXXXs. I kid you not. I never knew whether this was true or not, but James H never indicated otherwise as long as he was in the command.

James was another of those truck drivers assigned to my petroleum section. He seemed to have a level head, but very opinionated when he wanted to be. Most of the time he kept a pretty low profile and stayed out of trouble. He didn’t mind being sent to the field, actually, none of the guys did. They spent a great deal of time of one and two man missions and almost to a man; they would tell you that their time in the field was pretty relaxing. Those that liked the outdoors, enjoyed it even more; especially those that claimed to be fishermen. Even in support of an entire battalion, they worked no more than an average of two to three hours a day and were pretty much left to their own devices the rest of the time.

I haven’t mentioned it here, but we were a Quartermaster supply platoon attached to a Transportation Company for the purpose of determining the needed organization required to support a separate light infantry brigade. This was where I received my first experience with prototype organizations that I would be asked to test over and over throughout my career. We moved people and assets around several times looking for the best arrangement of personnel, equipment, supervision span of control and performance indicators. As a result, James H was sometimes in my petroleum section and sometimes in one of the transportation platoonsbut most of the time with my platoon.

Sometime in the second year of our time in Alaska, the drug scene found the Army big time and one of those to get caught up in it was James H. Even with his family living in quarters on post, he fell into the drug scene fairly hard. James H received several non-judicial punishments for possession and found himself in dire straights monetarily, again especially with a family to support. Eventually in the late summer, James H found himself under charges for Courts Martialhaving been caught in possession too many times. Fortunately for James H, there were far too many prisoners in the stockade and he was confined to quarters when not on duty.

As winter set upon us, one morning James H failed to show up for morning formation. I sent his squad leader to his house to check on him. His wife said that he had left yesterday, had not come home and she didn’t know where he was. We informed the Post Provost Martial and classified James H as AWOL (absent without leave). The world moved on.

Thirty days later James H XXXXs was moved from the AWOL rolls onto the Deserter rolls and at the appropriate time James H was classified DFR (dropped from the rolls).

This action caused the next appropriate action to start. We had to physically move James H’s family out of their military housing and back to their home of record in the Lower 48. This turned out to be more unpleasant than any of us had imagined.

Both the wife and the two children were living in a standard that most of us would term as squalor. The house was a mess. The unit 1st Sargent assigned personnel from a duty roster to assist in the transition. The stories these guys told would turn your stomach. The worst of which, to my memory, was the basement of the housing unit. The family had two dogs of about medium size living in the basement. I use the term living advisedly. According to the family, the dogs had not been upstairs since the onset of winter, at least three months back. Each dog had been chained to its own basement upright with just enough chain to travel about four feet. The dogs were being fed, but that was about the limit of care provided. The floor three to four feet from the upright was as clean as anything else in the quarters. But just past that travel distance, a ring of feces formed about a foot to a foot and a half wide. The stench was horrible. How could they stand it? I cannot tell you, but they lived that way. They must have used air freshener to get down to the dogs when they went down to feed, how else could a human being stand that?

The house was cleaned up, but it took some time and effort. Their belongings were packed up and the family was flown to Seattle and finally back to West Virginia. This, we thought was our last involvement with James H XXXXs.

It was not.

About four months later, we were advised that someone needed to go into Anchorage to identify a body the police had come across. Straws were made up and as there had been some turnover there were only a few qualified to undertake the task. The short straw was drawn, the trip was made and the identification (as gruesome as it was) was accomplished.

James H XXXXs’ body had been discovered in a melting snow bank out behind Alaska Methodist University Hospital with a bullet hole in his left ear. James H was dead. When James H wound up in that snowbank was anybody’s guess. He had had been frozen for maybe only a couple of months to up to four or more months. Because the body had been frozen for so long, there was not an exact way to determine the time of death. The exactness of the science did not exist at that time in our history and maybe doesn’t exist now for all I knowexcept on “Bones”, “NCIS” and several other TV shows.

We also had no idea just how long James H had walked around alive subsequent to his no-show at morning formation earlier in the winter. The short, instead of the long here was: we had to go back and reverse all the official records relating to the desertion of James H from the Army and change his official discharge from “Bad Conduct” to “General.”

Take my word, James H XXXXs left the Army at some point during that winter and the Army cleaned up after him and his.

I very much welcome your thoughts and observations.

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