Apr 21st, 2005 - 21:10:55
American Friends Service Committee
Friends Committee on National Legislation
National Catholic Reporter
British Broadcasting Company
Christian Science Monitor
The Register Guard
Environmental News Network
Federation of American Scientists
Car Free Times
The Travels of our First Webmaster
Voices of the Northwest
|Mentoring Military Style
Now we have an economic draft. "When I was a private we still had the draft and I don't think that is such a bad thing."
By Norn Maxwell
Posted on Apr 7, 2003
Email this article
Printer friendly page
Once I was an Army Reserve drill sergeant at the Oregon National Guard's Camp Withycombe Recruit School near Portland in the late 80s. I had transferred from Southern Oregon University so I could waste the last of my GI Bill at the University of Oregon and had three years of contractual obligation to work off.
I didn't have to drive to Camp W to do my monthly weekend drill. I could have shammed around the drill hall on 13th & Chambers in Eugene and slept in my own bed at night. Many did. But for some reason, I made every drill at the recruit school for almost three years until my time was up. Our mission at the recruit school was to give young National Guard recruits off the street a two weekend taste of Real Army boot camp, as close to the real thing as we could make it, and weed out the non-hackers.
Anywhere from six to a dozen Army Reserve drill sergeants would show and we would divvy up to one hundred recruits who bused in from all over Oregon and Washington and even from Nevada, California and Idaho. The "maggots" would get off the white bus that arrived Friday night from Ashland, stopping many times along the I-5 corridor. They would receive a crash course in marching in formation in their civilian clothes up to the clothing issue warehouse where they would have brand new camouflage fatigues thrown at them by the people behind the counter. They bundled up their new clothes and I would march them back to the WW II tin huts that were their home to the cadence of "The Ants Go Marching." Everybody knows that one.
We assigned bunks. The 10 percent women would go in the end hut. Sometimes we didn't have a woman DI to make sure they got enough special high intensity training in their barracks. The second timers formed their own platoon. The recruits put on their uniforms and slapped stick on white labels over their right shirt pocket with their surname printed in magic marker. I taught them everything they needed to know in Basic Combat Training.
"How can you tell if your recruiter is lying to you?"
"BECAUSE HIS MOUTH IS MOVING, DRILL SERGEANT!'
"What is the Camp Withycombe motto?"
"PAIN IS GOOD, DRILL SERGEANT!"
"MORE FEELING! BEAT YOUR FACE ON THE CE-MENT! (do pushups)" And so on.
The majority of the teenagers were preparing to attend Basic Training during summer vacation so they could start their high school senior year when they got back. There were some older people who had signed up for a specific MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) at the price of six years. I would try to make everybody sound off with their MOS in formation at least once.
"Respiration Therapist? You have got to be kidding me! Your recruiter told you you're gunna be a respiration therapist? Was his mouth moving? Beat your face on the ce-ment! You disgust me."
I had no earthly idea that I would turn out to be the closest thing to a father figure that many of our "clients" had ever had. "Private White, we sent a letter of instruction to your unit telling all recruits to bring clean underwear, t-shirts, razor, towel etc to Camp W. Why do you smell like a goat barn in MY formation this fine Sunday morning BEFORE PT?"
"I WAS TOLD I WAS ONLY GOING TO BE HERE FOR A WEEKEND, DRILL SERGEANT!"
"Sigh." Looks like another counseling session on hygiene 101. I take dirty, scrawny Private White into my office and explain that while soldiers cheerfully eat garbage and sleep in the dirt while in the field, when they are in garrison, even the ancient tin huts of Camp Withycombe, they are expected to bathe on a daily basis and shave and wear clean clothes.
Nearly a year later I was cooling my heels in the hall after marching my platoon into a classroom so they could watch the recruiting/retention officer move her mouth. A muscular private first class came up to me.
"Do you remember me?"
My eyes moved to the embroidered name tag on his BDU shirt. WHITE. I'll be dipped in dog do. PFC White tells me that he became highly motivated in Basic Combat Training at Fort Benning and was selected as Distinguished Honor Graduate of the Cycle out of a thousand trainees and he owes it all to the leg up he got at Camp W Recruit School. He is now posted with the 1210 Transportation Company here at Camp Withycombe.
The recruiter is just getting warmed up so we walk the quarter mile to the 1210's area of operation and I get his commander's permission to have him speak to my platoon of second timers for half an hour on Fort Benning BCT at the end of my Land Navigation class. I turn to leave. I don't want to have my platoon milling aimlessly when the recruiter is done lying to them.
"Thank You. For everything."
"No problem. That's why we're here. See you at 1500. Be sharp."
I probably managed at least a thousand recruits in my platoon over the years. Some of the people did their time in the Guard and got out. Some of them went on to careers in the Real Army. I have no doubt that a few of them are now in the Iraq desert--senior NCOs now (an OFFICER!? Where did I go wrong?). I corresponded with several former "maggots" during the first gulf war but lost contact over the years.
I sure hope I taught them well and that they remember what seem like trivial things such as: Two people can make two bunks faster and better than an individual can make one. When you set up a claymore mine in the dark, hold it to your chest and if it rocks, it's pointed the wrong way. Aimed semi-automatic fire is much better than "spray and pray." Don't shoot just to be shooting. Wait until you see something. Let the enemy bring his bayonet to a gunfight. Rub your airborne wings to keep warm. Drink more water than you want when you have the chance--remember, you are drinking tomorrow's water today. Break your toothbrush handle in half. Don't forget how to plot a position down to a one meter grid square on a military map. Gobal Positioning Sysytem is great but it might break down on you. Never reveal your position if you don't have to. Whenever you are moving, think about where you would ambush your unit if you were the enemy. Always tap the back of a fresh magazine against your helmet before you load it in your weapon. Gain rank. The lowest ranking individual always gets to remove his mask first after the All Clear. Never take a chance you don't have to. Pain is Good. It means you are still alive. And of course, You can tell your recruiter is lying to you when his mouth is moving.
For some reason, youngsters from wealthy families don't join up. I guess they just don't realize all the fun that they are missing. When I was a private we still had the draft and I don't think that is such a bad thing. Everybody should spend some time in the merry military.
I sure hope our troops all come home alive and in one piece. In the meantime, I wish them that quiet 3 a.m. courage. Soldiers don't usually get to pick the battles they fight. They don't get overtime. They do what they do for their immediate "family" out in the dirt with them. Rush Limbaugh harps on about patriotism and God and Country and the American way of life, but that is just eyewash. The shortest book in the world is titled "The Combined Military Experience of Rush Limbaugh & Bill Clinton." If Sergeant First Class White is out there in the sands of Iraq, I wish him God speed. It is about time for him to fulfill his military karma and don the Smokey Bear hat and render counseling sessions on Hygiene 101.
former drill sergeant
I got to wondering if any of the maggots I trained were involved in Desert Storm II, the sequel, and if they ever think about their first drill sergeant. I served three years in the 82nd Airborne Division, four in the Oregon NG and four in the Army Reserve. I know a little bit about the military and there are times when it should be used. The current situation may be one of them. I think it entirely possible SH may not be a nice man. I admire Bush in that he appears to be keeping his nose out of it and allowing his generals to do their job. I think they are doing very well with rolling thunder demonstrations, negotiating wholesale surrenders, and sustaining minimum casualties for our troops.
I hope for minimum casualties for the Iraqis too. Franks & Co are giving the enemy every possible chance to surrender. I think as soon as the rank and file realizes that SH will not be able to resume power and punish them, there will be a rip tide of surrender. Even the Republican Guard may try to cash in on amnesty. If the meek shall ever inherit the earth, then the strong shall surely take it away from them. The US war machine isn't perfect but it is a far sight better than that of Hitler or Napoleon. -- NM
Writer Norm Maxwell is a Bureau of Land Management Fire Fighter, on the ground and with a BLM helicopter crew, and an union negotiator. He lives on Fire Road which he has successfully saved from development.
For more of Norm Maxwell's writing visit:
Three Dollar Hammer
Song of the Open Road
Remember Fire Road
The Fire of South Canyon: Remembering Storm King
Home, Home on Fire Road
© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By Northwest.org
Top of Page