Indoctrination

The United States Military is at its best when indoctrinating troops.  You’ll only make a mistake once.  I had more shit placed in my brain during nine weeks of basic training than in four years of high school.  Of course, if you look at a previous blog (I Went to School – Sometimes)  you’ll see that it shouldn’t be surprising, considering how little I attended.

You learn cadence.  “Hup, two, three, faw!”  Several recruits could not get that down.  So, we had a poem we recited as we marched along to accommodate those who couldn’t march without a beat.  The drill sergeant [DS} would recite the first line and we would repeat it, except for the last line:

DS: “A yellow bird,” PLATOON: “A yellow bird,”

DS: “With a yellow bill,” PLATOON: “With a yellow bill,”

DS: “Landed on” PLATOON: “Landed on”

DS: “My windowsill.” PLATOON: “My windowsill.”

DS: “I lured it in” PLATOON: “I lured it in”

DS: “With a piece of bread,” PLATOON: “With a piece of bread,”

PLATOON: “And then I smashed its FUCKING HEAD!”

Cruel, huh?  The Subliminal message is that killing can be fun.  Of course, they were teaching us to kill, not write poetry.

One day we were out in the woods, pretending we were in a war zone with lots of green and brown stuff – like Vietnam.  We were told to be on the lookout for snipers.  Suddenly, we heard what sounded like a machine gun firing at us.  “Take cover!” someone yelled.  The only cover near me was a giant ant hill.  This photo is the size of the ant hills in the forest.

Nope, I’m gonna die.  I told myself, ‘I am not going to jump behind or in that ant hill.’  If the machine gun bullets are real, the idiot responsible for my death will have to answer to my mom and her congressman.  I did know that Iowa’s former governor Harold E. Hughes was our U.S. Senator.  Everyone in Vail knew that he was a former drunk, and they all had a personal relationship with him at one time or another.  I hoped he would have been on my side.  I can’t remember what I did, but I do remember that I did not get near that ant hill.

What about smoking?  I entered the U.S. Army smoking cigarettes.  Throughout the first few weeks we came to a halt going somewhere and the DS would say, “Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.”  By the time you got a cigarette out of your pocket, lit it, and took a puff, you could hear the DS yell “put ‘em out.”  Let me tell you, you don’t toss the butt on the ground.  Do I have to tell you what humiliation you have to endure by being so stupid as to litter?  It never happened to me.  After a couple weeks I switched to chewing tobacco instead of cigarettes.  Red Man Chewing Tobacco was my preference.  I went back to cigarettes upon leaving camp.  I didn’t think it would be a good thing to spit on the plane.

Another day I was summoned to the captain’s office.  “What the hell did I do now?” was all I could think.  I had a telephone call.  My first thought, someone must have died.  Second thought: they’re going to free me!  No, as the captain handed me the phone, he said to be sure to say “sir”. 

It was a captain from another unit.  I knew him from when he lived across the street from us growing up in Vail.  The conversation was rather stiff, since the captain and two sergeants were listening in on our banter.  He invited me to have dinner with him and his wife in their quarters the following Saturday.  “Yes, sir!  I would like that.”  When I told my comrades in the barracks, after they incorrectly asked what trouble I caused, they devised a plan.  I can’t say that I approved, but I obviously had little choice.  When Saturday arrived, I was instructed to wear my khakis – brown suits, not dress blues.  Supposedly, Saturday was a dress down day.  I had a long list of shit to buy at the PX and a pocketful of cash.

I went outside at the appointed time and stood on the curb.  Lenny drove up and began to get into the car.  Oh, shit.  I was told I had to get back out and salute.  I should have known that.  Hindsight tells me that his instruction to me to salute was not his arrogance or ego, but that I was most likely being watched from the captain’s quarters.

We had grilled hamburgers at his house.  I was about as uncomfortable as you can get.  I’m not sure what caused my anxiety, but I was also told that my platoon was originally scheduled to be in his company.  It was an obvious explanation.  He was the captain in charge of Echo Company and I was in Charlie Company.  Our badges over the pocket opposite our name had sewn in E-2-1.  That would have been Lenny’s company.  We were actually in C-1-2.  It was confusing until I was told about the whole mess. 

The captain asked me if I wanted a ride home.  I declined and told him I would really like to take the bus.  I explained that I wanted to get a few things at the PX, and he understood.  You know, I needed to get some more Red Man Tobacco.  I got a lecture on chewing. 

I purchased so many items I was beginning to wonder if I might need a cab – or a deuce and a half (that’s slang for a 2 ½ ton Army truck – but actually, there are no trucks on the base except for the one on top of the flag pole.  Long story[1]).  I rode the bus with a huge plastic bag of items sitting in the seat in front of me.  I had to defend it with my life.  One guy wanted me to buy a radio, another wanted a camera.  Most of it was junk.

The last time I saw Lenny, I made a snide remark.  I need to lighten up.  It wasn’t his fault I had to salute him.  It was indoctrination. 


[1] ‘Truck’ is the term for the finial — or ball — on top of the base headquarters’ flagpole. It’s kind of a trick question because every other ‘truck‘ is either a militaryor privately-owned vehicle.

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