Over the generations, the Taggert family kept to themselves, building quiet, meaningful lives. Although no Taggert male ever evaded the draft, neither did any volunteer for military service. Joel Taggert's parents, Will and Joyce, thought he might follow in their footsteps, both being respected professors at Illinois College. Perhaps he would go into a white collar business like Joyce's father, who was a banker, or even have his own business, like Will's dad, who owned a successful bakery in St. Louis. What they never expected was that their only son might choose a military career.
But at eighteen years old and just about to graduate from high school, none of his ancestors' paths called to Joel. He'd dutifully registered with the Selective Service, and knew that if he didn't go to college, he could get drafted into the Army. Draftees could, and often did, wind up in less than desirable positions, but he didn't have a clue as to what he would study in college. One of his football teammates was going to visit the ROTC center on campus, and Joel tagged along out of curiosity.
The recruiter saw something in Joel, an intelligence that was just waiting for a spark to ignite it, and decided not to let this one get away. He convinced the young man to sit for a battery of aptitude tests. The results were satisfying.
"Well, Joel, it looks like you've got a lot of natural ability and intelligence that could take you far. You show an aptitude for working with your hands, but you also scored high on math and spatial recognition. What's more, you've got an even temperament which would serve you well in pressure-packed careers."
"Okay, but what could I do with that to make something of myself?"
"Well, it looks like you could take apart and put together just about anything. So, working on cars, or jets, or ships would keep you busy and interested for years. Or, you could work in armaments, designing weapons. But that cool head of yours also make you uniquely qualified for a specialized unit: disarming bombs." The recruiter hid a smile when he saw Joel's eyes light up with interest.
"Of course, we would teach you how to disarm all sorts of bombs, and how to create them as well. But joining ROTC is about becoming an officer. If you went that route, not only would you learn how to do the work yourself, but you'd be leading a bomb unit, as a captain. You'd be commanding and mentoring others, passing along your skills to keep others alive who in turn will save countless lives.
"And you're in line for a ROTC scholarship. Your college will be paid for and you'll get your basic training done while you go to a great school and pick your major. What do you think?"
Joel weighed his options. In reality, he didn't have anything better to compare and the job sounded exciting. He'd get a chance to see the world, at least the parts of the world where there were bombs to be defused. And while he was doing that he'd be getting a college education, which would make his folks happy. The Army life would keep him in good physical condition; he knew that ex-football players like himself could easily go to seed. And, after his commitment was over, he'd have a degree, probably some money in the bank and a better perspective on life. He could always choose to get out then. "Where do I sign up?" he asked with a grin.
"And it turned out exactly the way you envisioned it? Wow," Blair's eyes were wide with wonder.
"Well, maybe not exactly, but 'close enough for government work', as the saying goes," answered Joel with a grin. He and Blair were sitting under the shade of a huge oak tree, watching their co-workers playing volleyball at the annual Fourth of July Cascade PD picnic. Joel picked up a sandwich and happily took a large bite out of it.
"So, why did you get out?"
"Frannie," Joel said, watching his wife fondly as she lay sunbathing on a blanket. "She was a good sport about moving from base to base when we got married. But once she was pregnant, she kind of got that nesting instinct and wanted to settle down. I asked her to wait the three years until I got my twenty in."
"And why did you settle in Cascade?"
"That was Frannie again. All of her family is here. She was able to get night shift work at Cascade General and her mom was happy to help take care of the kids when we had a scheduling conflict. That's another thing I'm blessed with: a wonderful mother-in-law. And, of course, the job opportunities for me were great. I thought it would be hard to find a job, but Seattle PD and Cascade PD were actually fighting over me. All I had to do was complete an abbreviated Academy course and settled right in."
Blair rummaged in the ice chest and brought out two cold bottles of beer. He popped the caps and handed one to Joel. "Well, I'm glad you got out, or I never would have met you. Thank goodness for the military that gave you the skills and for Frannie who got you here. Cheers, my friend."
He and Joel clinked bottles and drank, then settled down side by side to watch the rest of the game.