I recently completed my seventh major military move, from Europe back to the United States. If you haven’t experienced the thrill of returning from overseas as a servicemember, here is a little back-story: There is typically a second set of belongings that you set aside before you depart the United States, which is strangely called “non-temporary storage,” probably to have enough letters for a proverbial 3-letter identifier (NTS). This exists so you can down-size your lifestyle footprint to fit what is typically a much smaller overseas home. This is then sent to long-term (non-temporary?) storage to sit in a warehouse while you’re away — for several years.
Unpacking this long-term storage shipment is a bit like Christmas meets “Storage Wars.” It is Christmas in the sense that you wrapped everything yourself, tucked it away in a storage locker, then waited four Christmases to open your own presents. It is “Storage Wars” in the sense that there is no shortage of disbelief of what the four-year-younger-you thought was so important that it needed to be set aside in storage — things you now only vaguely remember owning.
So there I was, wading through a sea of half-flattened boxes and moving paper, sifting through my toolbox from storage. Upon opening the top drawer, I found a lock.
This non-descript Master Lock with a black spin dial had clearly seen better days. Of course it was locked, so naturally I looked through the drawer in search of anything resembling paper that might have the combo. No joy; I had not written down the combo for myself to find all this time later.
How could I be so stupid? What a waste, to pack this lock away for four years only to throw it away once I was finally re-united with it. It wasn’t even a particularly nice lock either. I started to set the lock down in disgust, but something stopped me in my tracks. I raised it back up, and stared at it. Then it hit me – 12-22-32.
After a half-dozen attempts at the combo (I had to relearn spin dial logic), I kept inputting the combo that I was so sure was right. At the final pull, it clicked open and at that click something else hit me — August 4, 1997.
That was when the lock and I first met, shortly after stepping on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island South Carolina. This lock, the sole remaining one of a set of three 12-22-32 Master Locks issued to me, was from my footlocker. Its siblings both met untimely deaths from overuse as rifle locks, which speaks volumes to just how many times you lock and unlock your M-16 in just 12 weeks.
A flood of memories instantly came back to me, from squad bay games with interesting titles like “Mount Suribachi,” “the squad-bay 500,” and the most misleading of all “field day.” From sand fleas to the initial crucible, from the first day to the last day and everything in between. The mind is an amazingly powerful thing. Significant emotional events create memories tied to trinkets of little physical value, but are emotionally priceless when the memories are unlocked by the mind. Everyone has something that unlocks those memories. In this case, it just happened to be an actual lock.
It’s time for me to give that lock a new home. It’s going from my old toolbox to my stash of memoirs in my home office. Do you think I wrote down the combo? Nope. I’ll leave that surprise to the four-year-from-now-me.
Maj. Mike “Pako” Benitez is an F-15E Strike Eagle Weapons Systems Officer. He previously served eight years in the Marine Corps. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. government.