I was 21 when I joined the Air Force in late 1995 and right after basic training my first duty station was Fort Hood, Texas. I was there from mid 1996 to mid 1998. It was my first real job, my first experience living away from home and my first real time on my own as an adult. It was at Fort Hood that I first learned how to use a computer and I'd spend hours at the post library internet room going to sites like ActionFigureTimes and BeastWars.net with Netscape Navigator. I remember hitting up the local Blockbuster in Killeen and ordering the first eight volumes of Streamline Pictures' VHS "Robotech Perfect Collection:Macross" one at a time. I never saw the Japanese versions of Robotech before so those tapes were a big event in my history of robotardation. Since I didn't have a VCR it was in the Fort Hood library VCR room where I first saw The Super Dimension Fortress Macross uncut, subtitled and in glorious Japanese (or at least the first 16 episodes of it). I went to my first anime convention at the Fort Hood Sportsdome-I think it was called DefCon II in '97 or '98-and I remember seeing one table with the most awesome Robotech poster I'd ever seen. Antarctic Press was doing their Robotech Comics around that time and I remember going comics shops just outside the post in Killeen to pick those up. There was one comic shop in nearby Copperas Cove where I would buy loose Transformers and talk about toys with the store owner who was an ex-Army warrant officer that got medically discharged when his helicopter crashed. I thought hell, Rick Hunter crashed his spacerobot jetfighter all the time even starting in the first episode and he never got hurt bad enough to be discharged. But that's the difference between reality and Robotech. If Robotech was real it would be the story of Rick Hunter jumping into a spacerobot jetfighter in the first 10 minutes, crashing, then running a comic shop on the SDF-1 for the next 35 episodes.
Most of all I remember that early morning in '96 when I was at the post hospital waiting for the bus to San Antonio. On my days off I would hitch a ride on these buses that left at like 6 in the morning from Fort Hood to the hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. They were supposed to be the shuttles used to transfer patients to Lackland but if they had room they'd take anyone else, and they always had room. I remember that day I was in the lobby and half awake on the couch waiting for the bus when I turned on the television in the waiting area. It was during a commercial break but when the show that was ending got back the credits began to roll and this crazy bongo music was playing and the screen had wild animals turning into robots and some guys growling "BEAST WARS" and at the very end the Transformers logo flashed. I couldn't believe they brought back Transformers. I knew the toys were in the stores because I was a Target stockboy before I joined the military but I wasn't at all into them. But seeing Transformers had a new show with original episodes that were not a rehashing of G1 was incredible to me. Just before I got orders to Korea I remember watching the cliffhanger ending to Beast Wars Season 2 on my birthday in 1998 in my apartment in Killeen. Man I was pissed off about going to Korea-not because the little army camp I was going to was a speed bump on Kim Jong-il's South Korean invasion route and I'd be dead in minutes if the north attacked-but mostly because I wouldn't get to see the start of Beast Wars season 3.
So Fort Hood has a lot of memories for me. I'm thinking about them now as I read about the young men and women stationed there about the same age as I was back in 1996 but whose lives were cut short last week. My thoughts are with the families.