Christian Cohen-Muhamed was the fruit of a union that celebrated diversity with some enthusiasm. He grew up in a dumpy, used-to-be kind of city, where the little kids at school called him “Chris”. Later, when a few of those kids paid a little attention to high school social studies, they called him “Rainbow”. In college, his frat brothers called him “Buddha”. They said it completed the cycle, but it was a double joke, because all those beery nights had made him newly plump and oddly peaceful.
Buddha’s dad ran a homeless shelter, and his mom worked for a nonprofit devoted to developing minority artists — preferably with an abstract bent, though that was only her personal crusade and not official policy. Worthiness having its price, the family had no money to keep their son in college past sophomore year. So, plumpness and peacefulness notwithstanding, Buddha joined Army ROTC to pay for college. Mom and dad were not thrilled, but they valued autonomy over autocracy and gave consent by silence.
During summer field training, his company fell out for a 12 mile forced march. The Drill Instructor, who wore a Ranger tab, had them chant Ranger marching songs to keep cadence. So there was Buddha, fast-timing through the Georgia woods, chanting with all the other summer warriors:
“Locked and loaded and ready to kill.
Always am and I always will.”
As the summer went on, Buddha got leaner and harder. In quiet moments, he began to feel a little strange to himself. His first major shift in self-image came the day he realized, after some training in combatives, that he had begun to look at everybody else as a target, automatically figuring angles of attack as they walked by. The second shift came when he scored “Expert” on the marksmanship test and the DI called him “Killer”.
Back at school in the fall, the whole frat heard the stories from another brother who’d been there. Buddha no longer looked like Buddha, nor did he still have that peaceful vibe. They kidded him that he needed a new name. They asked him to pick one, just so they could scrap his choice and pick something else to bug him.
He knew that “Buddha” was out and needed burying anyway. “Rainbow” was too gay to stay, even though it would be kind of backwards-cool. “Chris” reminded him too much of third grade. So, with wisdom born of Budweiser, he picked “Rambo”. One minute later, they’d scrapped “Rambo” and given him the handle that stuck for years. The day after graduation, after the commissioning ceremony, his peers toasted him by his new name: Second Lieutenant Christian (“Shiva”) Cohen-Mohamed, United States Army”.
Dr. Thomas Reed Willemain is a software entrepreneur, emeritus professor of statistics, and former intelligence officer. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His memoir, “Working on the Dark Side of the Moon: Life Inside the National Security Agency” was published in 2017. A native of western Massachusetts, he lives near the Mohawk River in upstate New York.