“Man, there’s some shit going on. I’m even thinking of taking my pension and going home. I’ve got my 20-plus in and I can take care of Mom and still have college money for Todd. I thought he might enlist and use the GI Bill, but now I don’t even want him to…”
Mark was thunderstruck. Johnnie gave up his wife and son for the Army; it was his entire life. He had busted his ass to work his way up the ladder. Mark had planned to do what he could in the House to get his cousin that star he had always been fixated on.
Johnnie started to rattle off all of the new faces popping up around the office in the week or so after the election: retired three- and four-stars, Air Force intel, ex-military types wearing the kinds of suits and watches that all of those Blackwater guys buy when they come back from AfPak and Iraq, and, just the day before, the Governor of Indiana. The last one was the oddest to Mark, as he was the bottom of the losing Republican ticket.
Mark listened patiently as Johnnie explained why none of these guys (and they were all guys) belonged in the office, that the Navy and Army chiefs both got into very heated screaming matches with the Chair, Air Force Gen. Bert “Brownie” Samuels, in front of the entire staff on separate occasions, and that transfer requests were flying out of the office like 747s on a holiday weekend. People he had never seen before were coming up and making small talk with him, usually armed with some knowledge of his service record.
Johnnie saved best, or weirdest, tidbit for last: Samuels asked (or ordered) Johnnie into his office Friday morning. That was a first; the Air Force guys typically treated the rest of the services like Godless heathens and unwitting tools of the President. He didn’t think Samuels even knew his name. The conversation was brief. After acknowledging all of the new faces coming and going, Samuels thanked Johnnie for all of his hard work and said he hoped that Johnnie wasn’t going anywhere. Johnnie thought it best to reassure the General that he liked his job; with that, Samuels cleared his throat and steered the conversation around to religion. He asked if Johnnie knew about the Charles Town Church of the Redeemer, some church on the Virginia state line. Johnnie said he didn’t know of the place and joked that he hadn’t been to Mass since his confirmation (which was mostly true -- aside from his wedding, Todd’s baptism and a few funerals, neither Mark nor Johnnie had attended church in years). He said Samuels’ expression suddenly changed to concern. The General quickly wrapped up the visit and told him to enjoy the weekend.
Johnnie thought his comment had gotten him out of the conversation. He said the whole born-again thing was thick around the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, as well as the USAF side of the Pentagon. With the exception of a few Opus Dei types, the ringleaders were all evangelicals. After years of open proselytizing in the wake of 9/11, the first term under the new President was a bit quieter and much more businesslike, which made this sudden rush of new faces and Jesus-mongering all the stranger. The Defense Secretary’s office had even circulated an email around the Pentagon reminding personnel about the regulations intended to keep religious activities away from work. One of Samuels’ assistants made an impromtu speech during the weekly organizational meeting in response, claiming the Secretary didn’t understand the Constitution but failing to explain the basis of his logic.
“These guys work Jesus into every fucking conversation,” Johnnie said. “Everybody just listens politely, you know, not wanting to get on the shit list.”