“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
The popular perception of the Army is the “Army Strong” commercial.
You might be led to believe it’s a non-stop adventure with explosions and tanks rolling over hills and a group of smiling people jumping out of air planes. To be honest, maybe three months of that sort of thing happen spread out over a standard twenty year army career. Some soldiers have more, some less.
I’m about nine years into the twenty year hitch, enlisting at age nineteen. I was a dumb kid. I had good parents who taught me how to be a man the best they could, but like a lot of kids who are dumb, I didn’t listen. However, there were several men at Basic Combat Training who went by Drill Sergeant who made sure I was paying attention. A war was on, after all.
Growing up takes time.
I didn’t learn everything at once. The threat of adventures in two war zones helped me to speed up the process. The drill sergeants helped me to build a framework for being a good man. Not all of them were good men.
My drill sergeant, in an effort to intimidate the trouble makers, decided to round up the six biggest guys in the platoon and have us meet them in the showers one at a time (this was illegal, and had been for decades, but we were too wet behind the ears to know any better.)
As men from the platoon went, a guy went up to me and said, “Oh man, we’re both on the list! What are we going to do?” I figured I was going to get my head handed to me, so I took off my dog tags, raised my hand, and said “ I’m next, let’s go.” So I went into the shower stalls, and I asked “ Who’s first?” Because I knew I could knock out one guy while the other five stomped me into the floor.
The response was unexpected. “We don’t want you. We called you in here because you raised your hand and said ‘I’m next. You’re not even on the list.”
So with that, I left the showers. Two friends of mine got beat up that day, and after that I saw signs saying “All chores will be done by assigned squads, or else.” The message was clear:
The beatings will continue until moral improves.
This didn’t last forever, but the lesson I learned did. Not everyone practices what they preach. Just because he’s in charge doesn’t mean he lives the army values.
A few years later, I was in combat medic training. I was put in with the prior service soldiers, men and women who had deployed. Most of the training unit was soldiers who had come from basic training, having only served for a few months. We had a 6am class the next day, and those tend to be rather terrible.
One of the prior service soldiers walked up to my platoon, full of new soldiers and a few prior service soldiers such as myself, and said, “Listen up. You all better not have any questions after this class, because you’re going to get a sock party tonight when you’re sleeping. And I don’t use soap, I use quarters.” (A sock party is when several people pull the blanket down over the soldier in question, and as he can’t escape two others beat him with a sock that has a bar of soap in it.)
All I could do was flash back to basic training, when that mentality was first introduced to me. I told myself then that I would leave whenever I saw it start. So, as the other prior service soldier walked away, I stepped in front of the platoon and said, “If he has a problem with any of you, you tell him to come talk to me. My bunk is three away from his.”
Nothing happened to any of the new kids. I figured this was an attempt to intimidate soldiers who didn’t know any better, and I wasn’t going to let it stand.
The other prior service soldier and I never fought, and to be honest, I was glad. I don’t like fighting, and think it should be used as a very last resort. But, in this instance, I knew what the right thing was, and had to do it.
When something is wrong, and it crosses a line, stand up and say NO.
I’m not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. I make mistakes quite often, like most of men. The point of manhood is to stand up for what is right and protect those around you.