My name is a nickname. It suits me fine, and it is what my parents wanted to call me. But it’s short for Bartlett, the English last name. Unique in most circles, and maybe even more so since the yellow guy showed up, Bart is a name that I rarely experience among others. Funny thing, a lot of my friends, and even some folks who I have just met like to add something to it. It is as though a one-syllable name isn’t enough to say.
Barticus, Bartolo, Bartrum, Bartimus Maximus, Re-Bart, Bartimaeus, Young Bartlett, which evolved to YB, Bartholomew, and even My Bart – my daughter’s name for me when I started dating her mother. A 2 year-old little girl made me hers by adding something to my name. Some of these fuller nicknames have stories, some help me to have fond memories of the person who coined the new moniker for me, but only one friend ever labeled me “Battlin’ Bart.”
Although my time as an actual soldier is long gone, I think back fondly to my time in the military. ROTC at the University of Virginia gave me another place of growth and camaraderie that made a huge difference in my life. 5 semesters of Tuesdays in uniform, 2 summers of 6-week ROTC camps, lots of pushups, bivouacs, drill and ceremony…and a great group of sharp men and women who sharpened me simply being around them.
I “branched” Transportation when I became a commissioned officer. Military Police had been my first choice, but my nearsightedness was beyond the limit for that branch – and many others. I had been a decent cadet at school and made it into the top half of cadets in the country. Since my diagnosis, I see how some things about the Army were good places for me to be, and how other things didn’t work probably because of my interesting yet frustrating place on the autism spectrum.
Battlin’ Bart only had to dig a couple of foxholes after commissioning. Transportation Officer Basic Course was 5 months of classroom and field training, and I did well there. My group was a mix of new officers – some would go home and serve in the Reserves, the others would continue on active duty, assigned a new station for the next few years.
The Army Reserves was great for me while I was in New Orleans at grad school. Weekend work once a month, a stateside mission during Desert Shield, and decent pay for serving for my country. I thrived in this environment. Right after my honeymoon, I got the call. Our unit had been activated for DESERT SHIELD, the precursor stage of the first Gulf War. I spent 7 weeks loading ships with military cargo at the civilian port of Beaumont, Texas. When most troops go to war, it is a life of sleeping in tents – or worse. We had a logistics mission in the US, so we stayed in hotels! I shared a room with another junior officer. He worked day shift, and I worked night shift, and those shifts were 13 hours. It was like having the room to myself, but mostly to sleep and store my uniforms.
My autism, of which I was completely unaware, was prominent in one situation that I now understand a little bit better. My vessel operations team and I spent our overnight shifts planning one of the first loads of tanks, trucks and other rolling cargo to be loaded on to a huge ship. When the civilian stevedores began “parking” the cargo on the ship wherever they pleased, I got out of sorts. My captain had to put me in my place. I don’t remember the exact words he and I said to each other, but I was highly frustrated at what I thought was NOT going according to plan.
Probably 3 years my senior and a West Point grad, he gave me a quick attitude adjustment. I still feel the embarrassment about having needed that “butt chewing,” but I’m glad he did it. Battlin’ Bart figured it out, and I was able to get better perspective on the load, the situation with working with civilians, and the cold hard fact that the mission would be accomplished, no matter which slot in the deck the cargo happened to be.
There were other moments of misunderstanding and bad decision making on my part in my “military history,” but overall, I am thankful for the experiences. The friend who tagged me “Battlin’ Bart” was also a cadet – at another school – and he was really talking about me being a person whom he saw not giving up in the face of adverse circumstances. His belief in me, or perhaps his recognition that I was not a quitter has meant a lot to me. Autism is one challenge I will have for keeps, and yet it will not be the last. I won’t get it right every time. I will say the wrong thing; I’ll get emotionally torqued about intense situations and make the wrong choice on occasion. But I’m getting better at shifting gears when I do recognize that I’m in those skirmishes. Self-awareness – I’m starting to grow in it.
Any other military out there on the spectrum? I’d love to hear from you. I salute you from the driver’s seat, and then I need that right hand back on the stick – time to shift gears. Thank YOU for your service, and your perseverance – even with the extra autism pounds in your Alice pack.