He can feel it in his feet. Lieut. Aaron Ojard glances around and wonders if the other six people at the table can feel it.
Maj. Marc Dauphin is seated to Ojard’s left. He feels it too. Ojard would walk across any battlefield on earth to serve in Dauphin’s MASH unit. He looks up to Dauphin like a father, even though he towers over the Canadian doctor.
The feeling takes them back to Afghanistan, to another day in the suck, when that vibration meant birds incoming. Casualty reports came into Role 3 trauma unit at such a feverish pace that there wasn’t time to grab a piece of paper, so Dauphin scribbled notes on the back of his hand-lost eyes, lost foot, lost hand, shot head, shot foot.
As the helicopters approached, Ojard would crank the music on his iPod: “Jump Around,” the unit’s time-to-get-to-work song. The docs and the nurses bounced, hands in the air-get out ya seat, jump around. The birds were coming, another wave of casualties on the way.
“That’s where you feel it first,” Dauphin tells me as a waitress takes our dinner orders. “In your feet, and it shoots up through your gut. It’s not the sound. It’s the vibration.”
Across from me Ojard is wearing the suit he got married in back in December, and he’s looking around the Carolina Dining Room at Pinehurst Resort as if something’s happening that he doesn’t want to tell us about.
I pull the waitress aside, and though we’ve been given the best table in the house, I ask that we be moved. An air-conditioner is being installed in the basement, and a steady hum is buzzing through our table. She looks a little unsure, but then I tell her, “I’m dining with guys who were in Afghanistan, and the vibrations. . . .” There’s no need to finish the sentence. We are immediately reseated across the room, and are back in Pinehurst, N.C., a few hours removed from the greatest round of golf Ojard has ever played. We are not in the suck, a place that those who have been to never want to experience again.
It wasn’t the Dream Tee I expected. It was meant to be simple and even a little silly: If you could play golf with any three people, tell me who and why, and I’ll make it happen. Who to include in an ideal foursome-a “dream tee”-is common grillroom banter, and when I solicited SI readers for their bucket-list playing partners, the nominations came flooding in.
As expected, I received a lot of requests for Tiger and Phil and Arnie. I was amused by how many people wanted to get Obama and Trump together and surprised that Condoleezza Rice was such a popular choice. (The angle was that her green jacket would be the ticket to get on Augusta -National.) There were Fred Couples, Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Bill Murray and Tony Romo; the request for Soupy Sales, Buddy Hackett and Richard Pryor held intrigue but, well . . .
I set out to identify a trio of big names whose good humor and everyman-ness would be revealed through 18 holes with a regular one of us. I expected lots of laughs and wagers and a blushing beer-cart girl, with plenty of back-patting photo ops at Pebble Beach while I watched Joe Six-Pack steal a backside press from David Feherty. Then I came across a submission from a reader who wanted to play with three men whose names might as well have been taken out of a phone book. And everything I envisioned in a dream round changed.
Suddenly, the Dream Tee wasn’t simply cocktail chatter or a Christmas-card photo. It wasn’t much about golf, either. I set off to find entry number 56: an Aaron, a Marc, a James and a Jim, ready to offer the oppor-tunity to tee it up at Pinehurst No. 2.
He brought his golf clubs to Kandahar. He concocted a mat out of a piece of carpet and a wooden pallet and pounded balls into a net, or sometimes out into the minefields. After joking that he made the Taliban shag the balls, Ojard says a friend back home sent him a steady supply.
He was a neonatal nurse in the Bethesda Naval Medical Center before deploying to Kandahar and the Role 3 unit in March 2009. Role 1 was a sick -clinic-blisters, cuts, scrapes and the flu. Role 2 performed surgeries, but its job was primarily short-term stabilization. Role 3 took everything, and since it had a CT scanner, all the neuro-trauma landed there. During Ojard’s seven-month deployment Role 3 was one of the busiest trauma centers in the world.
It wasn’t the type of nursing he had studied at the University of Minnesota. He was never trained to clean mud off brain tissue after an IED took a chunk of a soldier’s skull and blew him into a river bank (he survived), or to mop maggots out of the head wound of a civilian. Aside from the flies and the TB (doctors had to assume all the locals had tuberculosis), it was a regular hospital. It might have even felt like a hospital back in the States, if it weren’t for Rocket Man.