Turning Blue

That was the Place. At Harmony Church, Ft. Benning GA. 1981

NOTE: EACH BRANCH OF THE US ARMY HAS IT’S OWN DESIGNATED COLOR AND INSIGNIA. THE INFANTRY BRANCH, WHICH IS THE OLDEST BRANCH OF THE ARMY, IS IDENTIFIED BY A LIGHT BLUE ROPE WORN ON THE RIGHT SHOULDER OF THE DRESS UNIFORM OF ANY SOLDER WHO IS A QUALIFIED, SCHOOL TRAINED INFANTRYMAN, WHILE SERVING IN AN INFANTRY UNIT. THE INFANTRYMAN ALSO WEARS AN INFANTRY BLUE DISK BACKING TO HIS COLLAR AND HAT BRASS WHICH IS REFERRED TO AS DISTINCTIVE INFANTRY INSIGNIA .THE ARMY WISHES TO IDENTIFY INFANTRYMEN FROM OTHER SOLDIERS DUE TO ITS MISSION, WHICH IS SIMPLY TO CLOSE WITH AND DESTROY THE ENEMY, AND THE UNIQUE HARDSHIPS AND HAZARDS THAT THE COMBAT INFANTRYMAN MUST ENDURE IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH ITS MISSION. THE INFANTRY IS CALLED THE QUEEN OF BATTLE, REFERRING TO THE PIECE OF THE CHESS SET, THE ONE PIECE THAT CAN MOVE OR STRIKE IN ANY DIRECTION, AT ANY DISTANCE, THEREFORE THE MOST LETHAL WEAPON ON THE CHESS BOARD. INFANTRYMEN OFTEN REFER TO THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER AS BROTHERS OF THE BLUE CORD, OR OFTEN, JUST SIMPLY BLUE, AS IN INFANTRY BLUE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS MY SHORT STORY ABOUT MY TIME   ATTENDING BASIC AND INFANTRY TRAINING AT FT. BENNING GA. IT IS TRUE, AND THE NAMES ARE REAL. Ft. Benning, Ga. Early August 1981. 

Hot, Hot, Hot. Tough week. Tougher than most weeks, all of which were tough for me. Very little sleep. Drills crawling all over and around us, around the clock. We are exhausted. When the hell do they sleep? Bravo Company is humping down the road from one training site to another. On the left, a river. Perhaps the Chattahoochee? Don’t know if we are in Georgia or Alabama. Doesn’t really matter. Miserable as an infantryman can be. No one could possibly know just how miserable and painful that can be unless you humped a full combat load from point A to point B without rest or sleep, in  searing humid temps, always around 100 degrees. It’s always either too hot or too cold, they say. Every part of my body that came in contact with a strap or piece of equipment was on fire, chaffed and / or bleeding. Drill Sergeants are like sharks  hovering all around us, pouncing upon the weak, and those who can’t keep up this blistering pace. To be fair, the Drills are also humping, carrying a load, running around us like crazy men but without rifles. Suddenly, the company is slowed on the road. We are ordered to get into step. Drill starts calling cadence. It’s an administrative march now, no longer tactical. 

Quick time, MARCH!

Left Flank, MARCH!

We execute. We do so sharply and without thinking about it. Automatically, as if we were robots. But robots don’t feel pain. As miserable as we were, we were coming together. The Drill Sergeants were our common enemies this week in particular. We were focused on showing them up. Or, at least showing them we could hang. We hated it, but we were going to show them we could take whatever they dished out. Fuck ‘em, one and all. We were past the point where the Drill Sergeants and their Campaign hats, which they wore with their brims tilted forward at a menacing angle, covering their foreheads, impressed us. 

No Sir. Those days were gone. We long ago reached the point to where our Drills had to earn our respect. However, what we did clearly understand is that the Drill Sergeants still had the ability to make our lives miserable, even painful. However, we were at a point where we almost didn’t care. Almost…  

Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left Right… the drill sergeant barks out, in a soulful kind of cadence.

BRAVO! “ we respond in unison. Each time the drill sings “right”  we scream BRAVO at the top of our lungs, as tired as we were. For not doing so would demonstrate a lack of motivation and we would be immediately stopped and motivational physical training would be administered to help “motivate” us to a proper level. We learned it was better to feign motivation and expend energy sounding off, than to be punished for not demonstrating it to the Drills’ satisfaction. 

Problem is we are only a few yards from the river. We continue to march off the road down into the river. Trying to stay in step while getting deeper into the river. What a foolish and strange sight it must have been. We may not be the toughest soldiers yet, but we are disciplined enough to know that we are to continue to march, and dare not question the fact that our Drill is marching us into the river. It would be no different if we were being marched off of a cliff. 

For a fleeting moment, I became somewhat alarmed with the fact that I do not know how to swim. I could not swim if I were naked, nor if my life depended on it, so I sure as hell couldn’t swim carrying a full combat load. My instincts told me that, no, they wouldn’t purposely drown any of us. But still, these guys have made me believe that their idea of sane and crazy, and the very thin line that separates the two, are somewhat different then how you and I may view the issue. 

Our Drill Sergeants never did instill in me the idea that, as hard core as they were, they were only interested in our well being and the ability to facilitate our transition from civilian to soldier. Something the Army calls the “soldierization process”. 

In all actuality, the message I got from them was that we, the trainees, were some disgusting life form that they were forced to contend with, sometimes toy with, but always make our lives as miserable as possible as we struggled to master the lifestyle and basic skills to transform us from civilians to soldiers. 

As we marched forward, well into the river, my past, my recent past, flashed through my mind. Kind of what a dying man is supposed to experience when he is about to die. Or so I’ve always heard. “No, no! I really can’t swim!” I silently protested as we marched forward. Always forward. Never back.  

The first days at our Company Area. New grass had been planted and we were instructed by our Drill Sergeants to talk to the grass each time we passed by, in either direction, coming or going. The directive was clear, our first mission as new members of the United States Army was to persuade the grass to grow. That, along with moving piles of rocks from one side of the company street to the other, for no apparent reason. Personally, I thought the rocks looked fine where they were. 

As a result, the first week or two one could see as many as 240 new soldiers stopping at the area which was newly seeded, and in sing song voices, imploring and with somewhat incredulous voices trying to convince the grass to grow: “come on grass” or “please grass, grow, please grow,” all under the stern watchful eyes of whichever Drill Sergeants happened to be present. Once satisfied, the Drill Sergeant would then order us to move on, or, if he wasn’t satisfied he would reward us with additional motivational physical training. This motivational “PT” could come in many variations. Pushups, Body Twists, the Lunger, or worse of all, the Low Crawl. Today, there are less than 140 or so of us left in Bravo company. Just like each of us individually, Bravo company has trimmed down quite a bit. Bravo-8-2, like those of us who remained was becoming lean and hard. 

So, back in the middle of the river, and after brief consideration, although I knew they were all crazy, I thought, no, even they wouldn’t drown any of us. I don’t think. At least not purposely…     

We advance to just about to the middle of the river. Not quite the middle. Thankfully, we are halted before we go any farther. Locked up, in formation, at attention, we wait further instructions. Cannot imagine what’s coming next. We’ve learned to expect anything, with a cynical and healthy fear of what may come next. What could this possibly be about? Certainly can’t be anything good. Surely they are about to mete out some tried and true method of punishing us which we have not experienced previously. As long as they can say whatever form of torture they decide to inflict on us has training value, it will conform to Army standards and regulations. This was especially true here at the Infantry School. For the life of me, I don’t know what we have done to deserve whatever is coming…

We halt. Streams of sweat roll down onto my face, down my neck and back, and into my eyes. Stinging, salty, and running like a faucet, it makes my eyes burn. I dare not blink, much less wipe the sweat away, for I am at the position of attention. The slightest movement will draw unwanted attention to me. So I suffer these little discomforts, which, as they fall upon me and accost me, make me indescribably miserable, which is actually the norm, more often than not.  

All is quiet. We are still. The river flows in a direction to our left. The cool, muddy water swirls around my knees and thighs. It is actually the only sound I can hear. On the opposite bank of the river, I see the red clay, which is indigenous to this part of the world. Have to watch out for Jake the Snake. Jake is aways around. Watch out for Jake the Snake we were told when we arrived a few months back. 

While standing in the river, sure enough, almost as if on cue, Jake swims by the formation, in front of us. All snakes are named Jake. It’s an Army thing. What if it’s a female snake?… I wonder, deep in intellectual meditation. Maybe the heat is getting to my brain. Is his name still Jake? If he’s a her? Jake moves in kind of a combination of floating and at the same time slithering through the water. If our presence is of any concern to Jake, he doesn’t show it. He just moves on by. Very leisurely. If we moved in such a relaxed fashion, there would be low crawls through the mud or red clay, preceded and followed by pushups on hot asphalt that would literally burn our hands. Could never walk in the company area. Always had to double time. No, we learned that painful lesson early on, even before we were instructed to talk to the grass. “Move like lightning, sound like thunder”. It wasn’t just a motto, it was a way of life, the only way to survive here. 

As I continue to watch Jake float by, I can see he’s decided that there is need to involve himself in some outrageous adventure with this collection of idiots. It’s too hot. Even in the river. Jake the Snake glides down river, out of sight, fortunately without showing even a hint of interest in the rest of us. 

Still waiting, in the middle of the river, for the other shoe to drop.  

As I await the next adventure, my mind slips back and recalls a hot night when we were bivouacked near a river. Possibly the same river. We were allowed to swim. Jake stopped by. Not the same Jake, as you will see, however when he appeared, we scattered. Seeing the privates scatter, one of our Drills investigates. He heads directly towards the snake, who didn’t have enough sense to leave the area. The Drill then grabs Jake, held him up for all to see, and then bites him in half. Our Drill Sergeants would never let an opportunity as fortuitous as this pass by. Another chance for them during which they would be able to demonstrate to us that there was no limits to their insanity. Regardless, adult swim was over that evening. At least it was for most of us northern city boys. 

I try to keep my eyes locked and focused on some point in front of me. But I can’t resist watching Jake the Snake pass by. I almost envy him. Thankfully, none of the Drills notice my eyes following him while at the position of attention. 

While I was awaiting our fate, I continued to obsess over the fact that nothing good could come of this situation. My mind wanders back to another time, after we first arrived at the Ft. Benning School for boys, in a rare moment of pity, one of my drills informed us that they could not kill us, and they could not eat us, so, we really don’t have anything to worry about.

What we learned since then, was that as encouraging as that assurance was at the time it was given, the boundaries in between killing and eating us were pretty wide. Our cadre were experts in making us miserable. They told us on arrival that we would shortly hate them, and they didn’t care that we did. They had a job to do, and we will be worthless trainees until after we depart Ft. Benning. They weren’t physically abusive, that is to say that they never laid a hand on us. But, at times, I would have preferred an occasional moderate beating to what passed as the norm for existence here. So, what was this? What’s next I wondered. Absolutely nothing could surprise me. 

As I stood in the river, I heard a soft splashing noise coming from up river, to our right. It got louder and louder as who ever was stomping though the river became closer. “Here it comes” I thought. Around the bend he came. Shit, it was the Company Commander. Bad news, I am sure. Actually marching though the river. Not walking, but marching. 

Marching perfectly, or as perfectly as he could in knee deep water. He wore his usual scowl on his face or at least on the part of his face that showed from beneath his helmet, which was always tilted forward. Definitely moving with a purpose, on he came, approaching our strange, waterborne formation, unlike Jake. Our Guidon Bearer is standing in front of our formation, with the Senior Drill in front. 

The company commander  and the rest of the cadre wore camouflaged covers over their steel pots. The helmet covers fit tightly, without a crease or wrinkle. Perfect. We were not allowed to wear helmet covers on our steel pots until later during basic training. Our helmets were Olive Drab (OD) green, with our roster numbers (not names) stenciled upon a piece of tape fixed to the back of our helmets. Roster number 143. I remember the day we made the tape and placed it on our helmets and helmet liners. Another simple project, made so bad in a way that only the US Army could turn a seeming simple task into a major exercise with a lot of motivational PT mixed in for good measure. “Attention to detail” we were told, time and time again. 

“What’s wrong with y’all” “It’s a simple enough task!” Instructions were simple. So many inches wide, numbers such and such a height. We thought we were done. But then the drills showed up, each with a ruler. They measured each piece of tape. Each numeral. Where it was located on each helmet. Top to bottom, left to right. 240 helmets until roster numbers were identical in appearance and placement. Each measured time and time again until they were satisfied that every piece of tape was placed correctly. 

FFSI they barked out time and time again as corrections were made. Failure to Follow Simple Instructions. FFSI. 

We were not allowed to place camouflage helmet covers on our helmets until we earned that privilege. Later I found out that the only way to achieve perfection placing the helmet cover on one’s steel pot was first soak the cover, then place it on the helmet, pulling it tight in all directions, as tight as humanly possible, and then placing the helmet with cover within a heated oven, and actually baking it. The only acceptable way to wear the helmet and required cover in a garrison environment. Only in the Army could these seemingly mundane tasks turn into major, labor and time consuming projects.

Here comes Good Old Captain Schroeder. We are never happy to see him. He is an Infantry Officer, Expert Infantry Badge, Airborne Wings, Ranger Patch, who knows what else. If we were a nuisance to our Drill Sergeants, we were a wretched group of subhumans to him, so he made us believe. 

I remembered his introduction to us shortly after we arrived. I had already questioned the wisdom, or lack of it that I displayed by joining the Army. But they really hadn’t done too much to us up until that point. Not compared with what was to come. Still though, I knew I was in a bad way. 

I thought back to my recruiter’s office, Quincy (Massachusetts) Square, 1980. Sergeant Matthews was my recruiter. He showed me films about different job opportunities (MOS) within the Army. 

Me: “I want to go Infantry.”

Him:“No, you don’t.”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

“Listen, Marty, there are some nice slots available. I can get you a slot as a Dental Assistant. Maybe after a few years you can go to school. Maybe even dental school, at the Army’s expense.”

“Hey-ell no. I’m going Infantry!”

“Listen to me.” Almost pleading.  

“You are smart. You can do almost anything. You Do not want to go Infantry! I can assure you.” 

“I want Infantry.” Well I got it. It didn’t take me long to begin to think SGT. Matthews may have been correct. 

My mind continues to wander. We are in a large WWII era classroom for our official Battalion Orientation. If it was 100 degrees outside, it was 120 inside. Bravo Company, 8th Battalion, Second Infantry Training Brigade. Sounds exciting. I am really here. Except I am 26 years old, out of shape, overweight and very homesick. I miss my family. Might as well have been on the moon. 

Senior Drill, SFC Bobo gets on stage. Starts to talk to us, then goes on and on about I don’t remember what. What I do remember is that whatever he was saying, it didn’t make me feel any better. As the training cycle went on, Drill Sergeant Bobo, was the most calm, collected and quiet Drill in the company. Didn’t often raise his voice. 

While the other drills screamed at us, cursed us and punished us, (low crawling our asses was the preferred motivational tool of the Bravo Company Cadre) Bobo never lost his cool. All of which made him the most dangerous member of the cadre. We made sure not to piss him off, at any cost. We failed often. 

Our Company Commander arrives. Bobo leaves. CPT. Schroeder is his name. Marches into the classroom. Jumps up on the stage, introduces himself. Then makes the following pronouncement:

‘Nobody asked you to come here. Nobody wanted you here. You volunteered to come here. You want to go home? The quickest way to go home is to keep your eyes open, your fucking mouth shut, do what your drill instructors tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. Then you can go home if and when you graduate’. I took that advice (or threat) to heart.

Next up, the Battalion Chaplain. He marches in. Down the aisle. As though it was a parade field. Boots like mirrors, Airborne Ranger insignia, etc. Jumps onto the stage. Tells us he doesn’t want any of us sons of bitches crying to him about going home or what the drills are doing to us. He then told the Drill Sergeants present to keep doing whatever it was that they were doing to us. Keep our mouths shut and learn. No sympathy from him. No words of encouragement. 

During the months that followed, the Chaplain, who I learned was a Southern Baptist Minister, not that it mattered, did provide some encouragement. However, it was encouragement of an unexpected kind. He would accompany us to the ranges. He would run around, demanding we knock down our targets. “Kill the Sons of Bitches” he would roar. This man of God was demanding we learn to kill, kill, kill. Everything in this world was twisted around. At least it appeared so to me. 

I knew then, at that exact moment, when the Chapalin made his appearance, I had made a serious mistake. Even before he opened his mouth. A mistake I could not get out of. As if to emphasize the point, we were then marched out of the classroom. As we exited the classroom, into the sun, we were all hosed down and soaked by Drills with firehoses. Everything inside of our pockets was ruined. Any letters, papers, booklets issued etc. All disintegrated from being soaked. 

The Captain gets closer, slogging through the river. My mind continues to wander. Six weeks after orientation. Standing in formation outside of our barracks. Saturday morning at Harmony Church. First inspection wearing our dress greens and with weapon. Very bare dress greens I might add. 

Except for our Platoon Guide. Sam Deviore was from San Fransisco. Served in Viet Nam. 1965. 1st Calvary Division. For some reason, he decided to rejoin the Army. This is the first time I have seen him in Greens. He was allowed to wear his awards during this inspection. Highly decorated. Wore the Combat Infantryman’s Badge among others. I was 26 at the time, Mack and Sam were older than me. 

Mack was the 1st Squad Leader. Don’t remember his first name. Also a Vietnam Vet. Served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, if I remember correctly. Also wore the Combat Infantry Badge and Jump Wings. He also decided to come back to the Army in 1981. The sad joke was, although Mack and Sam were more decorated than some of the Drills, Uncle Sam made them repeat basic, and infantry school. Both combat veterans, both seasoned infantrymen. Sam, as platoon guide, sure did a lot of pushups for my mistakes. All of our mistakes. For that, I always felt badly.

One thing though. We had all received or would receive bonuses for signing up. Don’t remember how much, I think it was a few thousand dollars disbursed to us in increments over the next six years. When Mack joined, his recruiter never told him he was eligible for this bonus. Mack spent much of our time at Ft. Benning swearing that the first thing he was going to do when he left was track down his recruiter and kill him. After a while, I began to believe him. I especially believed him on days like today. 

CPT. Schroeder is conducting the inspection. I was learning to dislike the captain. Misery seemed to follow him around. Misery he liberally issued out to us like so much equipment or chow. He always seemed to have a case of the ass for us, and always brought bad shit down onto us. 

Except, there was one thing. Everything we were required to do, he did. He led the way. Out in front of the Drill Sergeants even. And, the ultimate insult. Everything we were required to do, he did it better. Made us hate him even more. But then, as time went on, I grudgingly and slowly started to respect the man. As tough as he was on us, he never asked us to do anything he himself would not do. And, he would do it much better.  We learned to dislike him. But, the more we disliked him, the more we tried to perform to earn his respect. Same went for the Drill Sergeants. An early lesson in my career about leadership. Why had earning their respect become more important to us as time went by?      

The Senior Drill and Captain finish verbally eviscerating the soldier to my right. A moment before, he was standing tall and proud. After they got through inspecting him, he was turned into something that reminded me of a quivering slice of cranberry sauce at the dinner table, as it waits to be consumed. 

They execute a perfect column right, from the halt, as in marching. March to my front, halt, then execute a perfect left face. Lock step. Both of them. A beautiful thing to behold. What ever else they were, these were sharp, motivated and disciplined soldiers. For a moment, I was proud to be in their company. Of, course that moment was fleeting.

Inspection, ARMS!  

I conducted the movement as taught. The Captain (C.O.) grabbed my M-16. His arm came out of nowhere, from somewhere outside of my peripheral vision. He snatched the weapon away from me with surprising speed that caught me off guard. He then scrutinized the weapon. Spun it around. Pulled it close to his face. Examined every inch of it. His movements were precise, exaggerated and sharp. He then thrust the weapon back towards my face. I had to move quick to receive it without being knocked on my back and losing teeth. I had worked on and polished that rifle for hours that day. I swear the black color was coming off of it. Then he started on me. 

What was wrong with me? 

How could I have been here for six weeks and not learn anything?

I am actually regressing! 

How could I hand him this filthy, dirty thing for his inspection? 

Why am I still here? 

How could I ruin a piece of taxpayers property like this? 

He then told me he had something for me, not explaining what it was he had, but I knew it wasn’t good.  

He then inspected my person and uniform. Yelled out one deficiency after another in an annoyed manner, as the Senior Drill took copious notes of my shortcomings and failures. 

The CO was embarrassed for me. He was embarrassed for the Army.

What was left for me? 

What was left for him to do? 

He and the Cadre had done their best. 

How much more time could he waste on me? 

How much perfectly good food would he be forced to allow me to eat?

It was a waste of the taxpayers money.  

Who was my recruiter? 

What did the CO ever do to my recruiter that he would send someone like me to him?

I wanted to tell him ‘No shit. My recruiter did try to talk me out of it’. I didn’t. 

Is it possible that I was an agent of the Ayatollah Khomeini sent to disrupt the United States Army? 

Did the Iranians send me? 

During this time, while making notes on my many deficiencies, the Senior Drill glared at me from under his campaign hat, his eyes drilling into my face while I tried to swallow and keep my composure.  

Then he discovered it. One glaring, outrageous deficiency. He appeared genuinely offended and disgusted. 

Nasal Hair Protruding from the left nostril! “

Unbelievable! 

This brought the inspection to a complete halt. “In-FUCKING-credible”, so said the Commander.

The CO  was shocked. Drills seemed to wring their hands together with indecision and disbelief. How could this happen? Who is to blame for this abomination? What is wrong with Swirko? How could he have missed such a thing. The presence of this protruding nasal hair was treated as the ultimate insult towards the cadre, which had nurtured and cared for me as they tried to bring me into the fold these last several weeks, without success they added.  

I was ordered to double time to the latrine and remove it. Immediately. No scissors or tweezers. To provide motivation for me, as I broke ranks, the company was placed into the front leaning rest position, otherwise known as the push-up position. There they remained until my return, minus one offending nose hair. 

Inside the latrine. Nasal hair? Where? Oh, OK. I think I see something sticking out. Barely. Tried to grab it with thumb and forefinger. Several times. Fingernails cut short, immaculately groomed. Grabbing the tiny hair and pulling it out was almost impossible. Drill Sergeants cursing me outside, telling me to go ahead, take my time. Continue to waste their daylight, they advised me. I never heard my name being used in conjunction with such foul and obscene oaths and descriptions in my entire life. Not even at Quincy Point Junior High.   

I also knew that by then, my company was pretty pissed at me as they sweat it out waiting for my return in the hot Georgia sun.

Finally, after much frustration, with sweat pouring down my face, I got hold of it, no easy task with my recently clipped and cleaned fingernails. I yanked it out. It hurt. Back out to formation. My green dress shirt under my jacket was now soaked with sweat. 

We were now told how miserable we performed. Why do we not work together? Why are we so slovenly and undisciplined? How did they inherit such a group of scumbags, they lamented, clearly feeling sorry for themselves. OK Bravo Company. One hour. Correct all deficiencies and stand another inspection. Back to square one. Almost. 

Later that afternoon, they loaded us onto buses. The buses took us to a minor league baseball game in Downtown Columbus. Watching the game was actually enjoyable. We forgot our miseries for a short time. But, like all good things, the two hours or so it took to enjoy the game had slipped past quickly, almost unnoticed. Game over. “On your feet” one of the drills bellows. We react and execute. “Police Call,” orders the Drill. The entire stadium. Lined us up at the top, side to side, in back of the seats. 

“Move out!” 

“Pick up anything that isn’t growing”

As though something would be growing out of these concrete steps. Once the management of the stadium realized what a good deal this was they made sure we got trash bags to help us with our endeavor. Or was that the plan from the beginning? 

Worked our way down through all the rows of seats. Step by step, row by row, seat by seat. No wonder the team allowed us to come watch the game. Picked up all the trash. 

After that was complete, we are in formation in the parking lot. Buses waiting. Civilians nearby, watching, taking it all in.   

“Open Ranks, MARCH!

Half Right, FACE!

The Eight Count Pushup!”

In fucking credible I think, as the anger wells up, boiling to the surface.They just never quit. Don’t they ever tire of being pricks? 

We respond. 

The eight count push up! “

After a while, we get relief.

Position of Attention, MOVE!”

More PT Sergeant, more PT. We like it. We love it. We want more of it. Make it hurt drill sergeant make it hurt”  (clap hands twice) was the required response, then snap to attention.

Had to ask them to smoke us! If we did not, they’d punish us even more! 

The civilians who stopped to watch love it. They are eating it up. 

My mind snaps to. Back in the river. Water from the river continues to rush by. The Captain is getting closer. But, I continue, thinking back to the day we went to the baseball game. 

The Drill Sergeants finally seem to have had enough. Mercifully, they allow us to board the bus. On the bus heading back to the base. We all are pretty pissed off at this time and are not happy campers, no pun intended. Threats to harm specific Drill Sergeants abound and are uttered throughout the ride. 

We arrive at our barracks. Maybe about 11 PM. We find two shiny, new trash cans in front of the entrance to the barracks. Each packed with ice. One is filled with soda, the other filled with beer. The Senior Drill informs us we can each take and drink two cans, any combination of beer or soda we wish. Told us first call would not be until 0700 next morning. 0600 if we wanted to eat breakfast. But it was up to us. No PT in the morning and first formation, for church, was at 0900. If we wanted to attend. Unbelievable! Sleeping in! Is there a mistake? 

Sat on the bleachers and drank our beer / soda and the Drills went away.  It was the best beer I ever had. All is forgiven. For the moment, anyway. The Drills really aren’t that bad. That are trying to teach us. Mostly, they are trying to make us hard. Maybe we will make it through after all. Small gesture by the Drills. Huge morale lifter for the troops. The next morning, training did not begin until noon!  

The following Monday, CPT. Schroeder conducted and led PT. I thought I was going to die. Training got worse, and more difficult. The drills turned the screws tighter and the temperature up, which we would have though impossible. Back to business. No the Captain says, from here on out we were going to get serious about training. The previous six weeks were a cake walk. So he says. 

Back to the river. That weekend seems so long ago. So, here he comes. CPT Schroeder halts in front of the company. Faces it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he has in his possession an Infantry Blue streamer. He unceremoniously affixes it to our guidon. Then he announces, without fanfare or congratulations, that the members of Bravo company were now fully qualified Infantry soldiers. We had officially turned blue. Infantry Blue. The only shade of blue that mattered.

“About FACE!”

“Forward, MARCH!”

Out of the river, awkwardly we stepped, trying to remain in step, together, with our squishy boots filled with water, we pressed forward, up and out of the river, onto the road. 

“Left flank, MARCH!”

On dry land once again. We execute. We get into step. Once again, Captain Schroeder in the lead.  

“Double TIME, MARCH!”

Here we go again. Is there no end to this?  

Captain turns to face us, running backwards for the moment. He them pumps his fist up and down, into the air several times, the signal to increase speed. He faces front. We are off again. He then leads us on another hell run. But, the CO was in the lead, and, as usual, we had to struggle and work hard to keep up with him as the sun scorched us. 

Didn’t matter. The prick. “Go for it Captain” I thought as he increased the pace. I was feeling a mixture of bitterness and stubborn pride at the same time. You can’t shake us off anymore, I silently declared to myself. You can’t scare us anymore and we can hang despite your best efforts. We are not anything like the nervous, sweaty homesick youngsters that were in your classroom that day during the first week we arrived. I grudgingly came to conclude that perhaps this was due in no small part to Captain Schroeder, Sergeants Bobo, Morris, Lawrence and the rest. Like we were taught to say, “fuck it and drive on!” You can’t do anything to us anymore. Bring on your best. We are mentally and physically tough, and we are starting to realize it. We are becoming hardcore. We are soldiers. We are something beyond ordinary soldiers. We are ground pounders. We are blue now. INFANTRY BLUE.

2 thoughts on “Turning Blue

  1. Excellent writing, Marty! Probably the best yet! It put me in mind of Hemingway’s classic “Snows of Kilimanjaro” with the interweaving flashbacks. My cousin Duck went through Marine boot camp in the early 60’s. Back then, the DI could still hit you and did regularly! He made some mistake in formation one time and the DI came over and without warning punched him in stomach hard enough to double him over. “Did that hurt you, soldier?”. Duck said , “Yes, sarge” and he got hit again even harder. “Did that HURT you, soldier?” Dick barely gets out “No, Sarge”. Di says “Good answer!”

    Like

    1. Thanks. I wrote this a few years ago. Cleaned it up a (grammatically speaking) bit for this post. A bit long for a short story. Like Duck, It was always hard to figure out the right answer. After a while I stopped trying to figure it out and took it as it came. Even though I was overweight and struggling physically, my drills really singled me out, and less so as the cycle went on. I suffered with the rest of the platoon and company, but they knew I was giving it my best without complaining or whining, so they didn’t screw with me personally very often. As always, thank you for reading and commenting.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s