Aaron's Journey Down The Long Road chapter 22

The months that went by found the two couples regaining the closeness of the past. As fall approached Mitch called Aaron and asked him what he and Iukekini had planned for Thanksgiving. Not having made plans, it was decided that the four of them would spend it together. Aaron, while bitterly disappointed that the Air Force had invoked some long-forgotten regulation and had his enlistment involuntarily extended for two more years because of a sudden critical shortage of experienced Firefighters, which caused him to lose his job with the HFD, suddenly reminded him of the times when, as a junior enlisted man, he had to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas eating alone in the chow hall. An idea came to him for which he requested to see the First Sergeant.

“I had an idea I’d like to run by you and see what you think.” No sooner had he finished outlining his idea then the First Shirt picked up his phone and dialed an extension. “This is Turanski. I have Sergeant Suarez in here and he’s come up with a fantastic idea. I’d like to have him explain it to you. Yes sir.” A few moments later both men snapped to attention as the squadron Commander entered the office.

“Sit. Sit. Sit. Sit. What is this idea of yours Aaron?” The Commander had always made it a point to learn and use the first names of those under his command. If he ever used their last name either outside their buildings or during formal ceremonies, they knew they were in trouble.

“Well, sir, as I explained to the First Sergeant, I remember what it was like to spend the holidays eating alone in the chow halls. My idea is that we make a list of families that would be willing to host one or two people for Thanksgiving and match them up with people who would be spending the holiday alone. We could also ask for volunteer families to bring food to those who are on duty. We could call the program Share-A-Turkey, or something like that. We could do the same thing for Christmas only call it Share-A-Tree.” He concluded, then sat back waiting for the Commander’s reaction, which was almost immediate.

“That’s a fantastic idea.” The Commander emphatically replied.

“I wish I’d thought of it. It would be a great morale booster.” The First Shirt commented.

“How would you implement such a program?”

“If it were up to me, Commander, I would first send copies of two different questionnaires to each shop, one for people who were willing to be hosts, and one for those who would like to be hosted. I would create a computer database to keep track of the responses then match people up. It would be cool if people from different shops could be matched together. More people in the squadron would get to know each other.”

The Commander looked at Aaron for a minute then made a call. Shortly the NCOIC[1] of the orderly room came into the office. “Yes sir?” Sergeant Ellis inquired.

“Mary, Aaron here is assigned to a special project. I want him to use the spare office. Do we have a spare computer with a database program on it anywhere?”

“There’s already one in the office.”

“Great. Please give him keys to the office, orderly room and building, and whatever supplies he needs.”

“Of course, sir. May I ask what this project is?”

For a third time that morning Aaron found himself explaining his idea. “What a marvelous idea. I wish I thought if it.” She responding, not knowing that she was echoing the First Shirt’s response. “I get everything set up immediately, if you will excuse me, sir.”

“Begging the Commander’s pardon, but why me, sir? What about my regular duties.”

“It’s your idea, Aaron. There’s no way I’d let anyone steal your thunder. As for your regular duties, well…” He picked up the phone and dialed. “This is the Commander. I need to speak with Chief Turner, please.” There was a slight pause.

“Turner speaking. How can I help you, sir?”

“Leo, I am relieving Sergeant Suarez of all duties effective immediately. I’m assigning him to be the squadron morale NCO.”

“Of course, Colonel. If I may ask, has he done something wrong? He’s always been an outstanding NCO.”

“Not at all. As a matter of fact, he’s done something extremely right He came up with an incredible idea which I firmly believe will have a positive impact on our personnel over the holidays.”

There was an audible sigh of relief. The Chief, while gruff in his demeanor, really cared about his Firefighters. “May I ask one favor? Can I have him for a couple more days to bring someone up to speed on our training program?”

“Yes, of course. Will the rest of the week suffice? I really want him to get started on this project.”

“I don’t think it would take any longer than that. That would give him four days. I’ll relieve him and Sergeant Baker from everything except actual firefighting.”

“Excellent. Thank you, Leo. Sorry to deprive you of one of your best men, but I think this is really, really important, especially with the holidays coming up. I’ve never held with the Air Force’s philosophy that the mission comes first. If you don’t take care of your people first, then there won’t be anyone to complete the mission.”

“I agree with that one-hundred percent. I’ve always been a people-first type of person.”

“Then we’re on the same page. I’ll let you go.”

“One real quick thing; I know it’s his day off, but could you send Suarez over when you’re finished with him?”

“Yes certainly. Goodbye, Leo.”

“Thank you sir, have a good day.”

After telling Aaron to report to the firehouse, the Commander sat back in his chair. “You know, Ryan, this idea of Aaron’s is absolutely inspired, but I don’t think we should do it at this level. I think it would be great it implement it wing-wide or even base-wide. Morale is always hard to maintain during the holiday season. I think I’ll bring it up to the wing[2] Commander.”

“You know if you bring it up to Colonel Kennedy we will most likely lose him.”

The Commander smiled. “Not without a fight. He can’t steal Aaron if he doesn’t know whose idea it was.”

“Good luck keeping it from him. You know how stubborn he can be.”

“Well, I guess then that the irresistible force is about to meet the unmovable object.”

The First Shirt laughed. “That’s something I’d love to see. Well, if you will excuse me sir, I have some Article 32[3] paperwork to prepare.”

“Don’t tell me, let me guess, possession of marijuana?”

“Yes sir. I’ll have them for you by the end of the day.” He returned to his office to do what he had to do.

Aaron knocked on the doorframe of the Chief’s office. “You wanted to see me, Chief?

“Yes. Close the door and sit down, Suarez.”

Uh-oh. I’m in trouble. He thought as he complied.

“I’m a little upset with you. What’s going on?”

Aaron explained yet again the Share-A-Turkey and Share-A-Tree programs.

“I see; excellent ideas. Why did you go straight to the First Shirt instead of coming to me first?

“Chief, to be honest I really didn’t see the need to come to you with this because we’ve always taken care of our own over the holidays. I wasn’t thinking about us, but about the rest of the squadron.”

“I understand. Well, I’m sorry to lose you. You’re one hell of a Firefighter. Bring Baker up to speed as best you can. I only have you until the end of the week.”

“Yes Chief. Is there anything else?”

“No.” At that moment the alarm went off, creating a flurry of activity. Hearing that it was a structure fire, Aaron ran out of the office, jumped into his turnout gear and found an empty seat on one of the trucks, which was a typical display of Aaron’s dedication to his chosen career, spending his day off fighting a fire.

A month later the First Shirt entered the squadron Commander’s office. “Sir, I need to discuss something somewhat disturbing. These pictures were mailed to me.” He handed a stack of pictures to the Commander whose shock and surprise became increasingly evident with each picture he looked at.

“Was there a return address?”

“No. It was postmarked from Barber’s Point N.A.S. two days ago.”

The Commander set back in his seat with a heavy sigh as he threw the pictures down onto the desk. “What options do we have?”

“Regulations require us to discharge him.

“There are no other options?”

“Well, given Suarez’s service record and given the fact that these pictures are from an anonymous source, they could be made to disappear….”

“Get Suarez and Ellis in here and have her bring me his personnel file.”

“Yes sir.”

A few minutes later Aaron and Sergeant Ellis reported to the Commander and she gave him Aaron’s file. “Sit down please. The First Sergeant received a package today with some disturbing photos in them that require an explanation.” He handed the envelope to a nervous Aaron. “Can you tell me who the people are in these pictures?”

Aaron removed the pictures from the envelope and as he scanned them he felt the world drop out from underneath him. “Yes sir, that’s me and one of the local HFD Firefighters that I met through my candle making classes. He’s the one who actually got me the job with them originally.”

“So you admit that it is you in these pictures.”

“I’m not going to lie to you Commander. That is me and my boyfriend. The pictures of us walking along the beach were taken at the North Shore, and the pictures of us kissing were taken outside Nighttown Waikiki and Candle Crafts.”

“So you admit you are a homosexual?”

“Yes sir.”

The Commander and the First Shirt exchanged looks. “Okay. Regulations require me to discharge you from the Air Force. Given all that you have done for this unit, and your outstanding service record, I am loath to do so. You’ve left me in a difficult position. What do you think I should do?”

“First let me apologize, Commander. I just got to the point where I couldn’t live the double-life anymore. I was hurting too many people. I need to be true to who I am, so I guess your only choice would be to kick me out. I’m on an involuntary extension anyway.”

“I could order you to stay away from him.”

“With all due respect to you, Sir, the First Sergeant and Sergeant Ellis, that is an order I would not obey.”

“I kind of figured you’d say something along those lines.” The Commander said as he opened up the personnel file and scanned through it. Lifting the prongs, he removed a set of papers, put them aside and removed a large stack of papers which he held in his hand. “See these?”

“Yes Sir” Aaron replied.

“Do you know what these are?”

“No Sir.”

“This is your personnel file. These are all of the letters of commendation and appreciation we have received on you. This speaks volumes about your courage, dedication and bravery. I’d be a fool to let you go.” He put Aaron’s personnel file back together, closed it and picked up the pictures. “So, I’ve made my decision.” He ripped the pictures to shreds. “We never saw these and this meeting never took place. Dismissed.” Everyone stood at attention, saluted and left.

Sergeant Ellis followed Aaron into his office. She turned to Aaron. “I’m very disappointed in you, Aaron. I do not appreciate being called into the Commander’s office for shit like this.”

“I’m very sorry to have involved you in this Mary, but I just couldn’t lie anymore. Too many people have been hurt by it.”

“Like who,” she inquired.

“My girlfriend and her cousin” He replied, using air quotes.

“Yes, about that. I’m confused about that whole situation.”

“It’s very simple. When I did the Firefighter training sessions over at Barber’s Point, my ex-best friend was there and he threatened to out me. I got drunk that night and ended up waking up on a friend’s couch. Her and her fiancé cooked up the whole charade with her being my girlfriend; her fiancé being her cousin and my boyfriend was her fiancé’s boyfriend.”

“I thought everyone here knew they could come to me about anything. Did you think I wouldn’t understand?”

“I couldn’t risk coming to you about this. You’d be required to report me and a discharge for homosexuality would eliminate any chances of getting back into the HFD.”

“None of that would have happened, Aaron. Believe me when I say that I already knew you were gay, and it made no difference to me. I don’t care who you sleep with. All I care about is your well-being and your duty performance, which has been exemplary. You are not a ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ type of leader. You lead by example. The Chief had told me about what happened last month while you were here on your day off telling us about your holiday program ideas. When the alarm came through for the structure fire at the old supply warehouse you would have been well within your rights to ignore the alarm and go home. No one would have faulted you for it. But you jumped into your turnout gear and helped put out the fire. You are extremely dedicated and that’s why I chose to ignore your sexuality. It never interfered with the performance of your duties.”

“How did you know I was gay? I did everything I could to hide it.”

“I have a younger cousin who is gay. I have a pretty good gaydar.” Mary smirked.

“Okay, so what do we do now?”

“I’m going back to my desk and you’re going to come up with more great ideas to help keep morale up. As I understand it, the Share-A-Turkey and Share-A-Tree programs are going to be implemented base-wide next year, only instead of each individual unit running their own program, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation division is going to handle it.”

“Wow. That’s great news. Hey, I just thought of something. You have a roster of everyone showing their enlistment dates, don’t you?”

“Yes I do. Why?”

“Why not have some kind of ceremony or celebration each month for those whose enlistment anniversary falls within that month.”

“Another great idea. I’ll run it by the Commander, but I know he’ll be in favor of it.”

“Maybe even throw in a three-day pass as well?”

“Can’t hurt to ask. In fact I’ll go do it right now.” She left and came back in a few minutes later with a computer printout. “Here you go. Everyone’s name and enlistment date. Get to work. The Commander wants you to write everything up for him to sign off on and distribute as soon as possible. Also he wants you to design some kind of certificate of acknowledgement. Damn if you aren’t going to get yet another letter of commendation” Which I have to write up for presentation to him at the first ceremony.

“Thanks, Mary. I’ll see what I can come up with” Another letter of commendation. I wish it was for firefighting and not for sitting on my ass. Aaron thought wistfully.

Meanwhile, in Honolulu…

Aaron’s going to shit his pants over this. Iukekini thought as he knocked on the door to the club.

“Can I help you?” A man asked, opening the door.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if it would be possible to get tickets to the Kyle Matthews concert? They’re a surprise for my boyfriend’s birthday, which is why I’m here now instead of coming when you’re open.”

“Of course, come on in. I’m Billy. I’m the bar manager here.” Billy replied, extending his hand.

“Iukekini” He said as he shook Billy’s hand.

“You picked a good time to come as the concert is almost sold out. How many tickets would you like?” Billy asked as he led Iukekini to the office.

“If possible, could I get four of them, please?”

“Sure, no problem” Billy counted out and handed Iukekini four tickets.

“Thank you. How much to I owe you?”

“That will be six-thousand pennies, please. The concert itself is free. The cost covers two drinks and an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

Iukekini looked at Billy with a confused look on his face, “Six-thousand pennies?”

“Sixty dollars; I like to say it that way just to see the reaction on people’s faces.”

Iukekini laughed and handed over the sixty dollars. “What time should we get here to get a good seat? I’m a big fan of Kyle’s.”

“The doors open at seven and the concert starts at eight, so I’d be here around two. It’s going to be a packed house and I’m sure the line to get in is going to start early.”

“Okay, thanks. See you tomorrow.” He left trying to figure out the best way to pull off the surprise. Inspiration wasn’t long in striking. A quick phone call to Mitch had all the pieces in place. Now he had to make another phone call to put his plan in motion.

“Aaron, Iukekini is on line two for you.” One of the airmen in the orderly room told him.

“Thanks, Ken. Hey, baby, what’s up?”

“I thought you might be interested in hearing about a call I just went on with the ambulance. You wouldn’t believe who they just found in an alley, beaten all to hell.”


[1] NCOIC – Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge
[2] In the Air Force hierarchy, a wing is made up of several squadrons.
[3] Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 32 – non-judicial punishment for minor offenses

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