Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tales of a Cold Warrior - Meet the Sergeant


(To get the full story, you may want to go back and start from the beginning)

When I was growing up, the preacher in the church that I went to had various sermons which we all came to be familiar with, his most famous being his ‘Mustard Seed’ sermon, which I think I heard every year from about 6 until I left home at 18. That being said, there isn’t much that I can remember about that sermon, other than mustard seeds were really small, but make big trees. No, the one thing that I remember Dr. Hayes, a WWII veteran, talking about was his entry into basic training, and more specifically, something to this effect:

“You may forget the names of the kids you grew up with. You may forget the name of the preacher that baptized you. You may forget birthdays and anniversaries, but you will never, ever, forget the name of your drill sergeant”

My drill sergeant’s name was Sgt Martell. He was a large, imposing man with flaming red hair, and more than a touch of an Irish brawler. His assistant drill, whose name I actually don’t recall but will refer to as Sgt F, was the exact opposite: think of a Barney Fife and you will get the right impression. That is not to say that Sgt F was not a very important part of my basic training, it’s just that most of the direction, discipline, and guidance came from Sgt Martell.

In fact, upon arriving at the barracks of D-4-3, my training company, the sergeant to greet us was Sgt F. We arrived a couple of days early, so there was much time spent getting settled in and the environment was just a bit looser than it would be in just a couple of days. Sgt F got us settled in, and immediately begin working us on marching and drilling. Once he ascertained that I knew how to call a cadence and issue marching commands, I got stuck with drilling the rest of the recruits.

After a day or so, our company had grown to full strength, and Sgt Martell made his introductions. As I recall it was a fall out for morning exercises, and he showed up and introduced himself by talking us on a short run, which as I recall resulted in most of the platoon puking on the side of the road. From there, the first day was a haze of pushups, running, marching, yelling, resting, and eating. The first day ended with a particularly poignant speech by the company’s first sergeant.

It seems that in order to accommodate ‘integrated’ basic training, where women and men companies trained side by side, the Army had avoided building co-located barracks, and instead had merely split the existing barracks in half via a thin wall of sheetrock. Since this necessarily created a one exit floor in violation of accepted fire codes, the contractor had sidestepped the issue by painting that section of the wall with a prominent sign that noted, “IN CASE OF FIRE, BREAK THROUGH WALL”. This wall was the subject the first sergeant’s speech (made only to the male recruits), which went something like this:

“Gentleman, you may have noted that at the end of some of your barracks halls there is a firewall. Some of the more intelligent among you may have noted that on the other side of that wall are the female barracks. Now over time, some industrious individuals have managed to poke some holes through those walls. Now rumor has it those females will sit on the other side of that wall, and tell you all sorts of things to mess with your mind. But I tell you- the first recruit to go through that wall will spend the rest of their enlistment breaking large rocks into small ones. Do you understand?”
The next most memorable point in my basic training came in the following week when I was issued my M-16. I had been around guns all my life and had always been utilitarian objects. I hunted with them, I carried a rifle or shotgun on my grandfather’s farm while wondering the hills, both for protection from rattlesnakes and the opportunity for game, and I had spent many, many dark motionless hours on the range, honing my marksmanship skills. But until that point I had never held in my hands a rifle whose sole purpose was to kill.
It may have been that it was mostly made of plastic, but it had a very cold, deadly, and unreal feel to it. I should note here that I had never used a pistol, which in most cases, are only for death dealing. That experience was unique for me, and I only felt it again when I was issued a .45, and later when I went through the FBI’s weapon familiarization course at Quantico. An interesting tidbit about the M16’s of that era. Many of the ones issued had been in the inventory since Viet Nam. Thus, some of them were war manufactured by that well known defense and toy manufacturer Mattel. I can’t recall if mine was, but I do distinctly remember noting that several of my squad’s were proudly stamped “Made by Mattel” - but they were no toys...

Next: Hat Apology, Long Walks Down Dirt Roads and Grenades

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