When I was young, I suffered from the delusion of indestructibility, triggered by hormones and too many Roy Rogers movies. While Roy offered good advice, all I seemed to absorb involved fist fights and six-guns.
Years later, I was offered the most valuable bit of wisdom I would ever receive and those same hormones almost caused me to ignore it at a critical moment. I would have surely died had this knowledge been delivered by an ordinary man, but fortunately for me, it was spoken by a grizzled old Special Forces Master Sergeant at the Fort Bragg Special Warfare Center.
I had been placed on something called "medical profile" after skillfully steering a T-10 parachute into a red clay road at such impressive speed that I cracked a metatarsal, a cervical spinal thingy and a coccyx. (If I had still possessed a prehensile tail, it would have also been ripped off.)
The Master Sergeant, aware that I had a "profile", and was temporarily freed from training status--the close supervision hormone soaked young folks require--sought to prevent me from running amok. Taking me aside, he instilled the wisdom that would guide me for decades. He said, "Son, here at Bragg--at any given time--there are 15,000 82nd Airborne paratroopers, Rangers and SEALS on temporary training, thousands of Special Forces operators, and scary units you've never even heard of. Guys wearing blue jeans and beards, understand? Now remember this forever: Be polite to everyone, you never know who you are dealing with."
The MSG had incorrectly assumed I was headed straight for a saloon to pick a fight or acquire something demanding penicillin; he had no idea what I had actually planned. I was headed straight for the Winn-Dixie to buy the world's biggest filet mignon, for I had been living on Army food, of the C-rats and freeze dried variety for months.
Later that afternoon, standing in a hypnotic state in front of the meat counter, I saw only one filet left and just as I reached for it, some little old geezer (late thirties) snatched the steak before I could grab it and then had the nerve to laugh at me. My first reaction was to put on display my many years of martial arts training and whup his tiny little butt all over the shiny Winn-Dixie floor.
However, just before contact was initiated, my brain played back the warning: " . . . you never know who you are dealing with."
At that moment, I decided a Porterhouse steak might be preferable, so I skulked away, muttering and casting sidelong glances at the little old man. Poor old guy had odd bony protrusions on his elbows and hands, so I felt better about not beating up an elderly fool with severe medical issues.
The next day, the MSG, having noticed broadcast TV experience in my file, gave me a temporary assignment shooting a film for Special Operations Training. I was to cover subjects like intel, commo, field surgery and weapons, among others. As the various instructors were introduced, I noticed a diminutive Staff Sergeant with bony protrusions on his hands and elbows; it was the Winn-Dixie Filet Filcher.
I cast a threatening glare his direction, just before he was introduced as the senior hand-to-hand, judo and Hapkido instructor.
I immediately willed myself into a state of invisibility, but he still located me. Grinning while he thumped me on the back with his granite hand, he said "Kid, that filet was really good."