Staff Sergeant Kemp

Staff Sergeant Kemp hated me from day one. I was a college kid and a surfer in the army to pay for college. I was vocal about my intention to perform one enlistment to pay for college, get out and return to college to finish my degree. Staff Sergeant Kemp was a Vietnam vet and a career soldier. He did not like college kids like me who did their one enlistment and got out as quickly as your enlistment.

No matter how hard I worked I could not impress Staff Sergeant Kemp, nor gain his respect. We were the First Military Police Company, a combat military police unit that went to the field every other month for war games. When we weren't in the field, we were performing garrison law enforcement. I conducted traffic stops, wrote parking tickets, and answered radio calls. I got an award for saving a sergeant major during a blizzard and Staff Sergeant Kemp was not impressed.

I made the most of my time and took law enforcement correspondence classes. I had a car and explored the Kansas scenery. I made friends with some of the locals and got a girlfriend. I did everything I could to have a life knowing that my supervisor hated my guts and had no respect for me.  You know when someone does not like you. You can feel the discord as they stare at you, grimace, or when they have to talk to you. I began to understand Staff Sergeant Kemp as I realized he never smiled. The more I worked with him, I more I began to see him in action.

Kemp was a husband and a father. He had a family that we rarely saw. The married non-commissioned officers rarely brought their families around knowing the brusqueness of soldiers. The one time I saw Kemp with his family I saw the love he had for them. He did not smile, but he demonstrated concern for their well being as they had stopped by our company quarters before a trip. I began to realize the impact combat had on Staff Sergeant Kemp. The one place that he seemed truly happy was in the field playing war games.

I was a unit armorer trained to repair our firearms. We went to the field for a field training exercise. During the exercise Staff Sergeant Kemp needed a machine gun repaired. I worked tirelessly to repair the weapon and return it to the mock battle. That act must have warmed Kemp as he told me about an army study where soldiers were kept in low light conditions for extended periods and how it improved their night vision. This was the first time in a year and a half that Kemp ever spoke to me other than to yell at me.

 The field training exercise was designed to test out an army reserve unit with my platoon playing the enemy known as the OPFOR for opposing forces. We attacked the army reservist every night for a week. These poor guys did not know what was happening to them. We would attack them at all hours of the day and night. Finally, the army reserve commander decided hi s troops need a win. So, we were told to surrender to the army reserve unit.  Staff Sergeant Kemp did not like this, but he told us what to do. None of us wanted to surrender or be captured. Ours was the John Wayne generation, so surrender was not an option.

I surrendered after wiring myself up with mock plastic explosives. I was complying with my orders by surrendering, but I did not want to go without a fight. The field training exercise observer stepped forward when we surrendered. He observed the army reserve unit searching us as one of the soldiers discovered I was wired up with mock c-four explosives. The observer called out that my squad were all dead as were the army reserve squad searching us.  The observer asked if I knew what I was doing killing everyone like a kamikaze. Everyone was shocked as evidenced by their faces of friend and foe. Their faces were of shock, disbelief, and horror. The exception to this was Staff Sergeant Kemp who displayed a big smile.

I had to look twice as I had never seen the sergeant smile before. He had beautiful straight teeth, so he did not smile due to bad teeth. Kemp came over to me and told me how proud he was of me. He slapped me on the back and he was beaming. I was amazed, happy, and shocked. I finally reached Staff Sergeant Kemp and it only took my death to do it. The rest of the field training exercise, we were now friends and he treated me like a peer. I tried to act and perform as a soldier like I deserved that treatment.