Curse you, Bob Parks!

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Curse you, Bob Parks!

Perhaps there is roughly the same proportion of weirdos in all occupations, but sometimes, the U.S. military seems to attract a higher percentage of oddballs. Maybe the weirdness simply stands out more in the close living quarters and unusual environments of the military. Don’t misunderstand me. I have profound respect for those who serve, but whenever veterans start talking about our military experiences, we almost always laugh about some strange soldier.

Spc. Baker was a good soldier with the courage to serve his country in the war in Afghanistan. He’s a good man. But… well, let’s just say he’s unique.

Before moving to our assignment in Farah, Afghanistan, Baker purchased a special ammo vest that carried 16 30-round magazines. To my knowledge, he was never issued 480 rounds, but the problem was the vest was so big, Baker couldn’t fit behind the Humvee steering wheel. Furious, he had to throw the extra gear away and go with six magazines like the rest of us.

Later, in our rented mud brick Afghan house in Farah, Baker wanted to destroy some envelopes bearing his home address. This was a sensible precaution, as we didn’t want our personal information to fall into enemy hands. The problem was Baker decided to do an extra thorough job with this security task by burning the papers. On a blazing hot July afternoon, Baker dumped a cup of gasoline over his papers in an empty 50-gallon drum. His first match went out. The second broke in his fingers. Then he leaned over the gasoline-doused barrel, tossed in the lit match, and screamed a moment later as the fireball shot up in his face.

He was OK. Just a minor burn, and he was without eyebrows for a while. I think the teasing he received as a result was worse than the extent of his injury. “Hey, Spc. Baker! Looks like you baked your face!” Yeah, the guys were real creative and oh-so-compassionate.

Especially in that giant sandcastle-style house in those early days of our tour, there wasn’t much to do when off duty. The guys would talk and joke and sometimes tease one another. The key was to try to avoid giving the guys an opening to make you the source of mean entertainment. Baker had no skill in this.

“Soon as I get back to Minnesota, I’m running for mayor of Rochester, and I’ll get that Bob Parks out of there.” Baker said this with bitter contempt. But he spoke as though he was certain we were all familiar with Bob Parks.

With nothing else to do, I figured I’d mess with Baker. “Yeah, that Bob Parks is the worst!” I punched my fist into my palm.

Oblivious of my sarcasm, Baker was excited. “You know Bob Parks?”

“I’ve never met him, but in Iowa, we’ve heard of how terrible Bob Parks is. You gotta stop him, Baker, before Bob Parks ruins Rochester and all of America!”

My good friend Pfc. Weigand entered the room, shaking his head. “You guys talking about Bob Parks?” Baker was thrilled. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Weigand was brilliant and continued furiously. “Baker, you defeat that f***ing Bob Parks. People are pissed about Bob Parks up in Fargo. He ain’t just run Rochester into the ground, but he’s cheated a bunch of Fargo businesses.”

The other guys picked up on the game and cursed Bob Parks, about whom none of us knew anything. Baker took it all in, gazing into the distance, smiling at his future political triumph. We all laughed about Bob Parks for the rest of the tour.

I don’t know whether or not Baker ever ran for mayor of Rochester. But I do know I’ll always remember him, one of the most unusual soldiers with whom I ever served.

Trent Reedy, author of several books including Enduring Freedom, served as a combat engineer in the Iowa National Guard from 1999 to 2005, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

*Some names and call signs and locations in this story may have been changed due to operational security or privacy concerns. 

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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