She sent me an email, this woman I didn’t know. Let’s call her Ginger. There was this story I had written a while back about an Army Ranger. Ginger thought I ought to know the truth about him.
We had met by chance, this Ranger and me, at a coffee shop in my hometown. He struck up the conversation first. My hometown is a military town. I try not to bother the soldiers when they are out and about, figuring they get enough of that. My hometown is a friendly place, especially to the Infantry folks.
This Ranger is from Montana. I live in Oregon. We chatted about life in the West and our families. He told me a little about his deployments, and about his mother who’d died. I gave him an autographed book and went on my way. I counted it as one of many such encounters I’ve had over the years, a poetic thing. I thought of him from time to time, but not much else.
Then a year later, at yet another coffee shop, back in my hometown again, I ran into him once more. We made arrangements to have dinner. Over dinner we talked more in-depth about family. We swapped funny stories. He told me he was trying to earn one of the Ranger’s top awards. The competition was set for the Spring. I told him if he competed, I would come back and watch, cheer him on. And I did. I was also there the night Colin Powell spoke to his graduating class. I introduced him to one of my daughters. They went out a couple of times. Nothing serious.
I heard later he had married a very young girl. They had a baby girl together, then he moved away, leaving that baby and her young momma behind. I thought that odd because he seemed so starved for family. He said he was estranged from his dad, not that close to his brothers.
Maybe so. Or maybe it was just a line he used.
That’s what the woman in Texas wanted me to know: This Army fellow, he had a bunch of lines he used, over and over with different women.
Ginger met the Ranger in Colorado several years back when she was barely out of her teen years. She was doing an internship with Focus on the Family. There was this teen night at a local establishment where her friends would go and dance and hang out. He was there playing pool with a bunch of his Army friends. He always had a bunch of Army friends around him, even back in my hometown.
He was handsome, very handsome, and very fit. He singled Ginger out, spoke to her in his charming way, asked for her phone number. The next morning he called and invited her to join him for a bite to eat at Applebee’s. They spent the entire day together. Over that meal he had written something on a napkin. He folded the napkin and told her not to open it unless she really was interested in him.
“This is serious,” he warned her.
Some gals might have thought that was creepy. Something a stalker might do. But Ginger was young, and patriotic, and he was good-looking and a soldier. She told him she wanted to open the napkin, to read what he had written.
“Okay,” he said. “If you are sure.”
He’d scrawled a note about her being “The One.”
It scared her a little but he was charming and didn’t put any moves on her. He was totally respectful.
A snowstorm hit Colorado the week Ginger was supposed to make her way back home to Texas. The Ranger was getting ready to deploy to a war zone. He said he had time, though, he could drive her home to Texas and take the bus back to Colorado. She didn’t think that was such a good idea.
“Do you know what my dad would say if I just showed up in Texas with you?” she asked.
“Call him,” he said. “I’ll talk to him.”
So she did. And he did. He was all “Yes, sir” this and “Yes, sir” that. By the time Ranger finished, he’d won over her dad.
He drove through a snowstorm and delivered Ginger back to Texas. The next morning she put him on the bus back to Colorado, with hugs and kisses and promises to write each other.
And an engagement ring on her finger.
It wasn’t the real ring he wanted to give her, just something to hang onto while he was deployed. They’d get the real ring later. A better one. She had paid for this one because his money was tied up due to the deployment. Ginger hardly wore the ring at all, but it meant something to her, that promise that they’d marry when he returned.
After he got back to Colorado, he called her, begged her to come back for one more visit before he left town. His Army buddy had this girlfriend who lived in a town not far from her. Could she go pick up the girl and bring her to Colorado, too? Hang out, one last time before deployment.
Okay, Ginger agreed. She was surprised when she picked up the girl in Lubbock – she was so young. Maybe 14 or 15. She felt bad about that. What was she doing taking a girl not yet out of high school to see some Army guy off to war?
That young girl got pregnant on that trip. Ginger always felt horrible about that. It could have been her, too. For the Ranger who had always seemed so charming, so very handsome, so very respectful, put the moves on her that night. He was insistent, even when she told him, no way, she wasn’t that kind of girl.
But we are engaged, he said. What if I go to war and don’t come back? Won’t you feel horrible?
Yes, of course, she said. Still, she held firm. There would be no going off to war nookie. He was angry but did not assault her. There’s something to be said for that, I guess.
Ranger called her from the war zone. They wrote letters. She wore the ring one day after he left, then put it away.
She attended her college classes, stayed busy.
A few weeks, maybe a month or so after he deployed, she got a phone call from a woman she didn’t know.
“Who is this?” the woman demanded.
Ginger said her name, thinking it was a wrong number.
“How do you know Ranger ________?” the woman said, giving the name of the Army Ranger.
“I’m dating him,” Ginger replied.
“Well, I’m his wife.”
They talked for hours. Seems this gal really was the Ranger’s wife. They’d met in high school where they were both runners. She, in fact, was a professional marathoner. The two gals shared a love of running.
The wife of the Army Ranger had gotten the phone bill after the Ranger deployed. She noticed a bunch of phone numbers on the bill she didn’t recognize. She started calling them. The college coed was the third one on her list.
“I think we were both in shock,” Ginger recalled. “You find out the guy you thought you were going to marry is married and you are on the phone with his wife.”
Ginger was duped, which made her feel stupid, even though she knows she isn’t stupid. There’s a difference between being preyed upon and being stupid. The sort of people who prey upon others seek out the inexperienced, the vulnerable, the kindhearted, the trusting. People who prey upon others cultivate that skill. They work at it.
The Army Ranger enlisted the help of his buddies. That’s what upsets Ginger still. Those buddies he introduced her to from that very first night they met, they all knew he was married. They knew he was playing her. They knew all along his intention was to prey upon as many women as possible before he deployed. It was a game of his. Score.
They said things to Ginger like, “I hear you are The One.” Repeating the phrase the Army Ranger had penned upon that napkin.
She’s married now. Has kids of her own. She is still a patriotic Texan, but there’s a part of her that’s less trusting of the military than she once was, back when she was a young college coed who believed in the goodness of all people, especially those in uniform.
A lot of people don’t talk about all the ways in which they’ve been preyed upon by those in positions of authority – preachers, teachers, military folks, law enforcement people, bosses, celebrities.
Talking about it, of course, is the only way to ensure that there is a stop to such abuses. Still, victims are always left feeling like they are to blame. It doesn’t matter if you are 9 or 39 or 59. There’s a sense that you should have been smarter, wiser, more careful. Such thinking discounts the predatory behavior of the abusers. It exonerates the abuser, especially when the systems in place are there to protect those in authority, which is why those in power fight so damn hard to keep those systems in place.
Ginger thinks about the what ifs. What if she had given into the pressure, ended up pregnant. She thinks about the other victims the Army Ranger has preyed upon. How he is probably continuing his predatory ways even as I type this.
“Some of these military guys are amazing men. But some are out preying upon young girls,” she said. “They have no integrity. They have a good ole’ boys club.”
There are questions that continue to haunt her about these particular soldiers, the one Ginger dated and his co-horts: “What kind of character do you lack to do this sort of thing? How do you live with yourselves?”
Karen Spears Zacharias is a Gold Star daughter and author of the book AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins). She, too, has been the victim of predatory sex abuse.