Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Being Outsmarted

Basic training in the Army in the 1940s was more than just being taught which end of the rifle to point at the enemy. It was, for instance, a crash course in the fine art of cursing, but it also included how to push yourself to new physical and emotional limits. We learned to live on our own without parents to pamper us and how to take criticism without pouting. - and each day had more criticism in it than we had experienced in each year of our former life.

Near the end of our 13 weeks we came to the dreaded "20 mile March with full field" (back pack full of heavy stuff). I was a little taller than the average GI. My normal pace was longer than the average GI. Thus. it took intense concentration on my part to stay in step. This should not have been a problem, because normally on a hike we were allowed to walk at our own pace. But our sergeant was meaner than our corporal, who in turn was a certified sadist.

For the first several miles, the sergeant had us marching in step in tight parade formation. He soon noticed I was skipping a step or two occasionally to get back in step. He called me to his side and ordered me to run to the rear of the formation, past all those companies that weren't required to be marching in step, to the sergeant bringing up the rear and ask him for a cigarette. On this personal errand, I was to carry my rifle high over my head in two hands. On securing the cigarette, I was to return it to my sergeant, still running and still holding rifle over my head. He, of course, then sent me back, following the same procedure, to get a lighter for his cigarette. When I returned with that, he noted that it was not allowed to smoke during the march and told me to return the cigarette to the end of the formation. When that was done, of course, I had to return the lighter. He was having a good time. I was not.

When he was finished with me, he started on a number of other fellows in the company. His reasons were always silly and inappropriate but that didn't seem to bother him.

After 20 miles in the hot Georgia sun we were totally pooped when we staggered back to the company area. Nonetheless, when the word "dismissed" was heard, the entire company raised their rifles over their heads and ran as fast as they could back to the barracks. (Shouting obscenities in defiance of the sergeant all the way).

Several months later, I had an "aha" moment. It struck me, that SOB got exactly what he was after. He turned an unorganized bunch of kids into a tight, proud team of soldiers. We thought our final run trumped him. It was just what he wanted. He outsmarted us.


Archana said...

Man, that requires quite some discipline! I probably wouldn't survive two days into basic training if I ever do it!

east village idiot said...

I wouldn't have lasted two minutes in basic training. It must be a transformative experience.