It’s getting cold in Texas. As last week came to a close, a friend came to my office and asked me if I knew anything about why there would be a pair of painted boots in a tree outside of our headquarters. I smiled, ear to ear, because I hadn’t heard of anyone tossing their boots up over a wire for a long time.
I first saw it at Fort Bragg. Going outside for morning formation, a pair of leather combat boots, painted glittery gold were dangling high over us, rocking slowly under the electrical wire. We formed up and I watched the First Sergeant quietly fume as he took roll call.
I asked someone what the boots were all about and I was told that when a soldier gets out of the Army, one of the last things he might do is tie the laces of his combat boots together, paint the boots, and then throw them up over a wire or into a tree in front of the commander’s office, or as close as possible. The more bold you were, the higher up the chain of command you went. I also heard of stories of soldiers trying to get the boots on the actual desk of the commander. Boots on a wire is was a way of getting in one final insult to the Army before disappearing to the real world.
“I don’t get it,” my friend said in my office, “how is that offensive, it doesn’t mean anything.”
I smiled again. “Right, it doesn’t mean anything to the commander. But to everyone in the unit, they know what it means, and the point is, the commander was not able to prevent it and now that the soldier is gone, there is very little he could do in retaliation.”
He shrugged and we walked outside to see a group of soldiers climbing the tree to take down the boots.