When I went through basic training (sometimes called boot camp by geezers), we had it fairly rough but the first signs of wimpiness were already on the horizon. The drill sergeants did the usual “get in your face, scream, and make you do pushups” routine, but they didn’t choke or slap us like in Full Metal Jacket. They did dole out the occasional open-handed blow to the chest, but for the most part they operated hands-off. Years before I joined, a regulation had been passed which ordered the drill sergeants not to strike a recruit and the resultant changes were still working their way into the system. But I don’t mourn the loss of physical contact in their torture repertoire. That just forced them to get creative.
For example, before a particularly long road march, one recruit threw his sleeping bag over a cliff to lighten his load. The drill sergeant picked a log out of the woods and strapped that to his pack in place of the sleeping bag, made him run up and down the length of the line of soldiers for the entire hike until he dropped from exhaustion, and then made the guy pay for the sleeping bag. Mind you, government equipment costs much more than the stuff you can buy in a sporting goods store. He’s probably still paying them $20 a week.
They had also just enacted a new rule which ordered the drill sergeants to refrain from swearing. That one had not taken hold at all, and nobody from the recruits to the officers seemed interested in enforcing it. I don’t think I could take them seriously if they went around shouting things like “Pick up the pace, you doo doo muffins.” Some things require proper profanity. My favorite – in Germany, the battalion Command Sergeant Major jumped on a first sergeant for parking in a restrictive area, finishing his complaint / threat with “I’ll kick you in the god damned balls!”
Years later in the Middle East, our unit had to move from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. Along the way, we encountered other military units from around the world. Every time we reached their established perimeters, our leader would meet with their leader and they would always invite us to (respectfully) pass through their lines. Except for the French. We came across a small unit of French soldiers, about thirty in all, who were occupying a large space in the dessert. Our officer met with theirs, and the French guy actually ordered us to divert the entire division and GO AROUND THEM.
Note to France – when you’re less useful to your supposed allies than, say, Syria (who waved us through without incident), it’s time to re-evaluate your attitude.
At times like that, it’s good that the military is not run by democracy. The officers were incensed, but they ordered us to go around. Every enlisted man I knew complained and said we should blast our way through, and they weren’t kidding. At that point we had been without sleep for days (four in my case), we were all angry because the whole column was only moving at five miles per hour so we wouldn’t leave any damaged vehicles behind, and we weren’t too fond of the French anyway since they only sent in a small amount of troops to gather intelligence which they weren’t sharing with us. I didn’t bitch because I don’t think that’s how a proper soldier conducts himself, but when the Captain relayed the information that the French weren’t allowing us through, I locked and loaded the .50 cal. It was my way of saying “If you’ll be kind enough to give the order, I’ll cut them in half.” He snapped at me and told me to stand down, but I think he was secretly pleased.
Sometime later, we encountered the French again. This time, they were tooling around in their armored vehicles, taking readings and looking for evidence of chemical weapons released in the area (and not telling us their findings) when they crossed into our perimeter without even bothering to ask. The officers saw them coming and ordered the guards not to shoot as they drove past without the courtesy of a wave or even eye contact, conducted their tests (some of which they did within thirty feet of the command tent), and the drove into the sunset. The officers had to stand around like nervous parents throwing a kiddie birthday party, deathly afraid that one of their pit bulls was going to bite. Again, all the enlisted guys walked around grumbling that they wished we would just do what you’re supposed to do when somebody breaches the perimeter and OPEN FIRE.
Note – I’m not prejudiced against the French people. The French government, yes. The French people I’ve met in America have been decent – lacking in manners in my opinion, but basically nice and hard working. Besides, I don’t judge an individual based on the decisions made by their leaders. (Hear that, rest of the world? I AM NOT BUSH!) That said, if somebody ever invades them again (yeah, I’m looking right at you, Germany) I vote we let them stand on their own.
Jump to last night – MB and I sat in my apartment drinking whiskey and watching The Wild Bunch (how’s that for macho). When the machine gun made its first appearance, we began to discuss military weapons and tactics. MB told me a relative in-law just joined the reserves of some branch of the military and, even though he’s wealthy and a tad spoiled, he thinks the standards are something of a joke.
For starters, they only run five miles a week. I had to run up to seven miles a day, seven days a week in basic training. I ran more than five miles a week when I got to my regular unit in Germany. In my time (yes, I’m getting old) the fitness test was a two mile run, and we never ran a shorter distance. I hope they’ve also relaxed their standards for obesity, because they’re going to need it.
But that’s nothing compared to the “Get Out of My Face” card. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not sure how the entire system works, but the recruits earn GOOMF cards that work kind of like the Get Out of Jail Free card in monopoly. Whenever a drill sergeant corrects their behavior (without touching them or using profanity), they have the option of trading in one of their GOOMF cards and the DS has to immediately drop the shouting and move on. To quote Confucius – d00d, wtf!
In my less than humble opinion, the military needs to be tough (and even a bit narrow-minded and redneck) to function properly. It’s been less than one generation since I left and we’ve gone from wanting to destroy the French army to practically becoming them. We might as well line our battle fatigues with lace and change the slogan to “The U.S. Army – We’re a load of sissy French people.” I think I’ll paint a sign on the ground large enough to read from the air that says “Your invasion here.”
Note to any sissy French people I may have inadvertently offended – feck off. I’m still mad at you for making us go around.