Military Stories #02

It took several days for the “head rub” feeling to wear off. Probably wore off faster for those who abused the experience.

The next morning (morning?) at 4:30 am we were brought awake by our drill sergeant beating a garbage can with a small bat. He had the look of a man that could easily shift his purpose to beating a sleepy soldier to attention. We fell out of our banks and tried to stand erect.

The first problem was that we were standing wherever we landed when we evacuated our warm beds. Some of use ended up standing in the wide center aisle of our barracks.

The barracks layout was basically a long rectangle with the common bathroom at one end, a flight of stairs leading to the second floor, then two rows of bunk beds along the side walls leaving a generous center aisle. There was a very small aisle between the bunk beds and the windowed wall but so narrow that you had to pass sideways if you encountered anyone standing in the way.

That first morning, in the dark, we learning that no one, unless they were operating a buffing machine, was allowed to walk, crawl, or lay upon the center aisle. The few soldiers that were found in the aisle that morning were soon crawling on their belly outside in the mist, going several times around our barracks in nothing but their long johns.

I should say that this was Washington state weather at the end of November. While it hadn’t snowed yet, it was very rainy and damp. Later that December it snowed more than it had in forty years. A record amount of snow.

After the lessened learned concerning the center aisle we were told that we were going to do PT before going to breakfast. PT was physical training while standing in formation in front of the barracks we ran through the complete menu of exercises that we hadn’t don’t since high school PE class, only we did them three times as long. In addition we discovered that the Army had designed a half dozen new exercises to torture our muscles even further. Finally finishing the formation exercises we started our morning run, three miles around the company area. After all we were just starting our training.

The very few people who actually followed the drill sergeant all the way to the dining hall, and hadn’t fallen in the mud, retching and foaming at the mouth, were stymied by yet another obstacle. In order to enter the hall, a soldier had to swing from rung to ring across a twelve foot muddy swamp directly in front of the door. The ladder-like device was ten feet off the ground with two or three steps leading up to the jumping off point.

With rubber legs from the three mile run, it was nearly impossible to keep standing erect should you slip off the rungs. We were doomed, maybe three people made it to the door without falling. Breakfast was a very muddy affair which required us to clean and mop as soon as we were done. Correction, as soon as the drill sergeants were done!
Later that day, I was given corporal stripes and told that I was first squad leader. I was the second oldest in the platoon. The oldest by a year or so was platoon leader. Leadership based upon age, not merit.

I was somewhat comforted that it was a simple arm band, not stripes that I had to actually sew on. A leadership change would simply be swapping an arm band, not standing in formation while the drill sergeant rips your rank in front of the platoon. Later, I would find out that indeed my “stripes” could be ripped from my arm and thrown in my face. Oh well.

A mid morning meeting was called to define the rolls of platoon guide and squad leaders. Should the platoon guide be killed, the first squad leader will take his place. That would be me! All duty assignments will be made by squad leaders. Shoulder anyone fail in their duties, it will be reported by squad leaders, and then squad leaders will complete the mission or delegate someone else to complete the mission. Yeah, like that would work. So, in essence, I had to do my personal work, then double check my squad and do any work that they had failed. The only benefit I could see is that I had a single bunk, not bunk beds, and I didn’t have to stand “cigarette watch”. Well, that was fair, I didn’t smoke, so why should I have to interrupt my sleep to stand fire watch?

I almost asked why did non-smokers had to stand butt patrol every morning because smokers tossed and crushed their butts on the road in front of our barracks. That would not have been a good question to ask our smoking drill sergeant.

Later that afternoon, after some grueling PT and the usual swinging like apes to get lunch, we marched to another large depot like building. We were joined by the other four platoons in our company, and perhaps at least four companies of the battalion. There were a lot of new soldiers milling about, all waiting to take their turn in this gymnasium sized building. A classic example of hurry up and wait.