The first serious mistake in trying to out-fox the army was thinking that a long advanced training school was a good thing. The pecking order in the army is first of all rank. However, the time that you are in basic training, and the time that you are in advanced training means that you aren’t really a soldier, and you get no respect. Plus for the first six months you look like a boot, your uniform is too new and your haircut too fresh. And rank? You haven’t done anything to deserve rank so you are a private, not even a first class private.
Only two things stand out from my time in the barracks at Fort Monmouth. The first is some problem seen by the company sergeant that was resolved by twelve boots scrubbing the latrine floor and ceramics with toothbrushes. This never happened in basic training, even with Drill Sergeant Fagan. Although I must say that toothbrushes do a great job in the latrine.
The other memory is about the Colonel’s objection to yellow flowers mixed in with the green grass. They were called dandelions, and he didn’t like them. We weren’t allowed to pull the plant, we were only allowed to pick the yellow flowers. If we were to pull the plant then generations of boots behind us would not have the experience of pulling flowers.
One of our men decided that if he could prove that he enjoyed the flower picking, then he would be excused from this particular duty. It made sense in a twisted sort of way. So he made it a habit to make a joyful noise every time he found an earthworm, then he would flip it in the air, catch it in his mouth, and suck it down with smacking lips. It made everyone else sick, but did nothing to release hm from the duty.
I could avoid a lot of this if I could just get off-post. I finally found a two room apartment, bath down the hall, in an older Queen Anne two blocks from the ocean. It was very different, sharing a shower with two other renters, but at least it wasn’t in the barracks, and at night I could come home to my family.
I remember early morning runs on the beach, and after Matt was born, I would tuck him inside my down jacket as I did my morning walk.
My training took on a serious tone as I was not quite understanding some basic electronic theories. It’s one thing to study Ohm’s Law quietly in the library, it’s quite another thing to be screamed at by a drill sergeant with his lips three inches from your ear. I wasn’t getting it and it was becoming obvious that I was heading to the infantry real soon.
Then something happened, it just sorta clicked, almost an audible sound going off in my cerebral cortex. I got it, I understand electronic flow. Electronics was simply a series of valves or spigots. Small flow opening a valve for larger flow looks like amplification, it isn’t, but that’s what it looks like. I might not get everything but I had a good grip on the basics.
Once we finished our basic electronics we had a small ceremony before we were introduced to our first machine. We had to move from the classroom into the secure training center. We had to line up and present ourselves at attention with our identity card square under our chin, then one at a time we passed into the secure building.
We were then issued schematics for the first machine that we studied. I think we studied four machines in all, and the procedure was exactly the same. We were given most of the test equipment, we were issued the schematics, and we could use our own hand tools.
At the end of the day we counted all the electronic cards that were classified, then we counted every page of every booklet of schematics that had been checked out. Counted and signed by at least two people. It was a very serious business. I remember that an electronic card went missing and we were all locked in for hours. I was told that the Canadian border was contacted to watch for anything suspicious. After five or six hours the card was found in a classroom, hidden in a strange spot. They released us but everyone in that classroom was under double scrutiny.
The lockdown incident had a huge impact on me. We were in process of applying for a top secret clearance so that we could move on to the next machine. Suddenly it was no longer a game of when I was going to stunt the army. Now I was concerned that the Army was going to stunt me. They were sending agents to talk to my friends and my enemy’s. Was someone going to tell that I was planning to get out soon? How much do they know?
At one interview they were very concerned that every job I ever had had gone out of business or moved to a different location. I had no idea that I was that hard to find. In trying to do background checks they couldn’t locate any of my supervisors. Even my high school had been torn down.
Then they asked if I had left the country at any of the times that I didn’t have an address. Didn’t have an address? Apparently they saw that I didn’t pay gas and electric for three months, every year for three years.
So, where was I and what was I doing? Hiking in the Rockies on a bum leg hat you are going to use as an excuse to get out of the Army. We know better, we know about “the Limp”, and we are going to nail you as soon as you try to use it. Dereliction of duty in time of war, is treason!
Okay, so maybe they didn’t think that yet. But it is entirely possible that it could be thought. I was terrified by what I didn’t know, and getting a little paranoid about things that I did know.