Call me a softy, call me sentimental. I have a way of remembering momentous events in my life that played a significant role in shaping who I am. Today, I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, but at one time in my life, I was a soldier. It was at this time in my life over 30 years ago that I was locked into an initiation process, second only to the Marine course in rigor and intensity.
I had all Vietnam drill sergeants, each with a chest full of medals to show for it; none of them had any difficulty remembering to remind us, we had all volunteered for this program. I went in after about seven months of being eighteen, not long after the draft had been scrapped post-Nam. I was the first of the "All-Volunteer Army".
I did this willingly for both honorable and selfish reasons. Having been raised by an Air Force retiree that served in both Korea and Vietnam, I knew what could have happened had I turned eighteen a bit sooner. But I was instilled with a value that says a man serves his country. And if he does it honorably, his country will serve him.
Which brings me to the selfish reasons.
I got to see things that so many people will only see in pictures. I got to live and work in Europe. I was able to lay down on the ground one night many years ago in a piece of forestland outside Aschaffenburg and think about how knights had once passed through this stretch of territory, on their way to the palace that was still being restored from the war.
I stood where the John Paul II stood, a year after I was there.
I drank beer (and ate schnitzel) with the elite beer connoisseurs of the world. (And I did it at the Oktoberfest at Wiesns, not Garfield Park.)
To be in Spain immediately post-Franco and see the Spanish people awake from their slumber under fascism, was absolutely priceless.
To sleep in a farmer's barn, drink fresh-milked milk from a cow, sip homemade wine with him and his family was unforgettable.
But to get there, I had to go past this guy. No, it wasn't this particular guy (R. Lee Ermey from the movies, Full Metal Jacket and The Boys In Company C). He was a Marine and the only reason I wasn't one was simple: The Marines ran three miles a day and the Army ran two.
But, I had many just like him: hard, disciplined, and fair. We were all treated equally, we were all scumbags. There was no scumbag better than the other. But beyond all of the facades, they cared about us, they wanted to help us stay alive, if the balloon ever went up. They had to train us to become soldiers, and train they did.
The Drill Sergeant was a true friend to his/her trainees, much more than we would have ever believed at the time. We got three meals a day, free. We got housing, free. We got clothing, again, free. We were taken care of from reveille to taps. We were safe. And we were taught to pay attention to detail, something that I have always tried to do my entire life.
Sure, I have failed at times, but they also taught me that failure is only positive feedback. It tells us something is wrong and gives us the opportunity to adjust and correct. It can't get any more positive than that, can it?
Many may deem I am wrong, but I believe differently. These guys put me on a path to self-reliance and gave me skills that have lasted a lifetime. My Drill Sergeants were two men I will never forget. Drill Sergeants Lewis and Duncan. I can still see their faces. People have come and gone, some I cannot remember. But for eight long weeks these men were my world, they squared me away.
So please, take a look at what I signed a contract for, at least for the first eight weeks. If you went through this, take a stroll down memory lane with me. If you didn't, take a look at what you missed. Here is why I get so sentimental this time of year:
WARNING: VERY STRONG LANGUAGE. Not safe for work or around kids.
NOTE - The first half of FMJ was devoted to Basic Recruit Training. In my opinion, it was the movie, you can keep the rest. Keep in mind that this was Hollywood (and Kubrick, at that). Some of this is slightly embellished, but not overly so. I saw no one get hit or choked. They shook us once in a while. (They only shook me once, and I got the point he was making and for the rest of my life.)
I have to say, it's one of the more accurate depictions of Basic Training I have seen. In fact, Kubrick allowed Ermey (a former DI) to ad lib a lot of his lines in the movie, it's very realistic.