During this rigorous time in my life, several thoughts went through my mind: That chick is so hot. This bud is so sticky. This class is so lame. I want a beer. We should go surfing.
FORT IRWIN, CALIFORNIA (September 2001)
Irieguy has seen plenty of gambles in his life. It's never taken much to convince him to bet all the money in his wallet on a football game or on the number of push-ups he can do in a day. But this is the first wager that could conceivably be described as life or death, and he'd certainly prefer something better than fifty-fifty odds.
Maybe "life or death" is exaggerating the case. Then again, maybe not. Heads, he spends the next year and a half administering pap smears among the yuccas and Joshua trees of the California high desert. Tails, he's going to war. And Irieguy isn't exactly what you'd call "soldier material."
In fact, he's very nearly the embodiment of peace and love, a textbook California kid from Orange County who's about as laid-back as they come. Much of his don't-worry-be-happy personality can be traced to his father, Skipper Bob, who earned his nickname during the seventies, when he bought the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and ran the place like a singles bar.
For college, Irieguy trades one hot spot of mellow for another, leaving the O.C. for Malibu. He spends four years at Pepperdine trying to perfect his Jeff Spicoli imitation. Waking and baking nearly every single day. Surfing, ideally when the tides coincide with the university's mandatory religion class. Drinking beer. Chasing girls. Drinking more beer.
Somehow Irieguy still manages to get into medical school at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, trading palm trees, an idyllic view of the Pacific Ocean, and reasonable proximity to L.A.'s glamour for palm trees, an idyllic view of the Atlantic Ocean, and reasonable proximity to Miami's glitz.
The original plan is to become a plastic surgeon, until a rotation in Obstetrics and Gynecology unexpectedly rocks his world. During the most exciting twenty-four hours of his life, he assists in two live births, an emergency C-section that saves a baby's life, and a successful cancer surgery. There's no combination of drugs and alcohol that can top the buzz he gets from introducing new lives into the world. He is literally delivering happiness. Forget face-lifts and tummy tucks. Irieguy has found his true calling.
There aren't any idyllic ocean views or palm trees in Detroit, where he does his residency. During the long, cold winters, he vows to set up his practice someplace warm and fun and full of beautiful women — he hopes to return to California or Florida, or maybe give Arizona or Las Vegas a try. There's just one hitch: the three- year commitment he owes Uncle Sam.
Between medical school and his residency, Irieguy has to attend Officer Training School with the rest of the freshly minted doctors, lawyers, and chaplains who have volunteered for the military in exchange for tuition money. A two-star general strides briskly to the podium to deliver the orientation briefing.
It's called "Break Things, Kill People."
"I think I made a big mistake," Irieguy whispers to the doctor sitting next to him.
After finishing his residency, he gets assigned to Fort Irwin, a sleepy military base in the Mojave Desert about a half hour outside of Barstow, California. Skipper Bob drives him to his post. "The good news," he tells his son, "is that we're probably living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in human history."
It's an era of peace and prosperity that will last for exactly two more days.
Irieguy is on a treadmill in the base's gym, gazing blankly at the TV across the room. More night owl than morning person, he's having trouble processing the image on the screen — a torrent of black smoke pouring into the sky from what appears to be a gaping hole in one of the World Trade Center towers. Several minutes later, he watches a Boeing 767 jetliner crash into the other tower.
Irieguy's first thought is, Holy shit.
Then he looks down at his clothes. Yup, that's an Air Force star on his T-shirt. His eyes drift across the room full of soldiers, faces hardening to a grim sense of purpose, and he gets struck by a second thought.
This is one hell of a time to be starting a career in the military.
There are two OB-GYNs stationed at Fort Irwin, Irieguy and Dr. Miguel Brizuela. They become fast friends, commiserating daily during the buildup to war; both got into this racket to save lives, not to Break Things and Kill People. Then the inevitable orders roll in: one of them is going to be deployed to Iraq.
"Hey, Miguel," says Irieguy. "This might sound a little crazy, but ... want to flip a coin for it?"
Which is how Miguel Brizuela winds up in Mosul with the 21st Combat Support Hospital North, stitching up soldiers, while Irieguy spends the next year and a half in the Mojave Desert, killing time.
From Ship It Holla Ballas! by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback. Copyright 2013 by Jonathan Grotenstein and Storms Reback. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press, LLC.