Shortly after the beginning of recorded history, I joined the Air Force and went off to basic training in San Antonio, Texas. Okay… maybe it was a bit more recent than the beginning of recorded history, but you get my point. When I landed in San Antonio in the spring of 1978 it was one of the first times I had ever left the state of Maine. And it was the very first time that I had been around the military.
Something you should know about joining the military is that the Recruiter is a salesman. Their job is to sell you a version of the military that will make you say, “Where do I sign?” They are full of crap and not to be trusted, but that is their job. Bait the hook and reel them in. The next thing that you need to know about the military is that the Drill Sergeant is not a salesman. You’ve already signed what was put in front of you, and now you’re going to get introduced to the rest of the team. By the time you land in basic training you’ve bought the full package deal and the Drill Sergeant is not an optional feature.
After all these years, I still remember the first five minutes of basic training. A handful of Drill Sergeants managed to get a hundred of us clueless, recently captured civilians, lined up into some sort of military-ish formation. Then, Sgt Garcia, who’s pants and sleeves were pressed sharp enough to use for a knife, started to enlighten us in a somewhat loud and unfriendly voice.
“My name is Sergeant Garcia and the first thing that you need to know is that there are three acceptable responses to questions while you are residing in the barracks of flight 3707. Those responses are, “Yes, Sergeant. No, Sergeant. And I do not know, Sergeant.” Those are all the words you need to know until we tell you otherwise. Do you understand me?” he asked, in a manner that was demanding an answer.
“Yes, Sir!” I yelled and immediately glanced around at the other ninety-nine people. What the hell? I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who answered. Have these morons never watched any war movies? Every modern war movie ever made has had platoons of men yelling, “Yes, Sir!” and staring straight ahead. Were Sergeant Garcia’s instructions too complicated for them to understand? There were only three options, and I kind of got the feeling that most of the time we were supposed to say, “Yes, Sir!” whether we understood or not. Did they think his instructions were just suggestions or perhaps did they think that we were supposed to ponder his questions before answering? Or worst of all, was I the moron who just screwed up? Maybe he didn’t really want us to respond. Maybe I missed something and I was supposed to just quietly stand there like everyone else. There was a momentary pause before he said spoke again, and I was sweating out the possibility of getting chewed out for answering when everyone else was smart enough to remain silent.
“DO… YOU… UNDER… STAND!” he screamed and looked like he was going to pop a vein or have an aneurism. His smokey the bear hat was tilted so low that you couldn’t see his eyes, but there was no doubt fire coming from them.
This time ninety-nine people yelled, “YES, SIR It would have been one-hundred, but I didn’t say shit. No way in hell was I going to be the only one hanging in the wind again.
“I CANNOT HEAR YOU. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“NOW, WE’RE GOING UPSTAIRS AND YOU ARE GOING TO BE ASSIGNED A COT AND A LOCKER. THEN YOU ARE GOING TO GO TO BED. TOMORROW MORNING REVILY IS GOING TO SOUND AT 0500. AT 0503 EVERYONE ONE OF YOU WILL BE DRESSED AND LINED UP EXACTLY AS YOU ARE LINED UP AT THIS MOMENT. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“Yes, Sir,” we yelled, but it was a half-hearted yell.
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
And that, my friends, set the tone for the next six weeks of our lives.