Six months left Joe tells himself. Half a year and he can retire. No more uniform, no more worries, no more headaches, just a life of relative luxury after a career of service. He looks across the desk at the fresh-faced, worried Private First Class, and nearly two decades of loyalty, honor, and a few mistakes flash before his eyes. “Why now,” he asks himself and, beneath his breath, the young enlisted man. He has come so close, why this last hurdle before the home stretch?
The kid is not an idealist, not like Joe was all those years ago. He’s not like that boy all over the news and social media. He was just caught in an awkward place. He did the right thing, went to his First Sergeant when he saw what he accidentally taped at his little sister’s birthday bash. He saw those young officers take the waitress in back on the video, he saw what she looked like after, and did what he was supposed to do: followed the chain of command. Top, however, wanted nothing to do with it, and the boys CC berated him. He knew what he saw, though, and more to the point why his commander tried to sweep it under the rug, so he did one more good thing, and brought it to Joe.
“Why me?” The middle-aged officer, bright silver eagle on his shoulder, shakes his head and asks. Just a little while longer. No, it was not to be, the buck has been passed to him by weaker men, and he does not know if he has the strength. One of the young officers is a Senator’s son. They will drag his name through the mud if he helps this naive, honest boy do the right thing. His mistakes, the ones Courtney long ago forgave him for, will be brought out for public consumption, tossed over his unknowing children and parents, burning them as it did him and Court all those years ago. Six more months, and he would have been free.
He sighs heavily. Five administrations he has usually done the right thing, no matter how difficult. He will be true to his oath one more time, the oath to his Commander-in-Chief, God, and the uniform. He smiles wearily at the boy, and picks up the phone.
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