Leave it to Beavers. Another Jersey Blogger (whom, as it turns out, I know personally, although only recently each of us learned of the other’s Blog) posted this priceless exchange of correspondence between the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and a landowner. I checked, and the letters are genuine.
January 30, 2003
January 29, 2003
Fort Dix, Basic Training, December, 1968. The surly mess sergeant used a piece of chalk to write the word “MOP” on my back. “You’re a mop, ” he grunted.
About 45 minutes earlier (somewhere around 4:15 a.m.) I, along with about ten other unfortunates, had been awakened to be marched to the Fort Dix Reception Center Mess Hall for K.P. (Kitchen Police) duty. Not knowing what K.P. was about, one of the poor souls in my group asked the sergeant marching us to Mess Hall how long we would be there. The sergeant, himself not terribly happy to be walking a bunch of “knuckleheads” around in the freezing cold in the wee hours of the morning, said, “The sooner you finish, the sooner you can leave.”
There it was – The Great Lie – “The sooner you finish, the sooner you can leave.” I didn’t know it was a lie then, but it would not take much time for me to see the light.
So, there I was – a “mop.” I looked around to see that other guys had also been “chalked.” There were two other “mops,” a couple “pots” and a few guys with “DRO” written on their backs. While I had a pretty good idea what the “mops” and “pots” would be doing, I learned only later that “DRO” meant “Dining Room Orderly.” A Dining Room Orderly, is Armyspeak for a combination, janitor, busboy, waiter, food line server, abuse taker, and all around slave. I was, however, a “mop.”
The Reception Center Mess hall was huge, and, unlike regular mess halls, which were open only at meal times, the Reception Center Mess hall, was open and ready to serve meals twenty-four hours per day. This was necessary in order to feed the waves of incoming enlistees and draftees that arrived at all hours of the day. It also served an equal number of guys processing through Fort Dix, either on their way out of the Army or on their way to another duty assignment. It was a big operation.
As a “mop,” I was not terribly surprised when the Mess Sergeant pointed me towards a mop and one of those buckets like janitors use, with the mop sqeeezy thing mounted on it. He pointed out a section of the ceramic tile floor that I was to mop. As I recall, it was quite a bit larger than most kitchen floors. I’m guessing that the square footage approximated the size of a half of a tennis court (for doubles play).
I filled my bucket and began mopping. In about a half hour, I had finished. Still believing at that point, The Great Lie, I leaned on my mop and thought, Hell, this wasn’t that bad. I can go back to the barracks and maybe even sleep for a half hour or so. Just then, one of the mess cooks saw me standing there and said, “Hey, KP. What the f*** do you think you’re doin’?”
I pointed down to my excellent work and said, “I’m finished.”
“You’re WHAT?” said the white-aproned cook through a couple missing front teeth.
Leaving no doubt about my pathetic naiveté, I answered, “The mess sergeant told me to mop this area, and I am finished.”
“Yeah, so what?” said the mess cook.
“Well, I’ve finished what I was told to do, and we were told that, once we finished, we could return to the barracks.”
“Are you out of your f****** mind? You’re finished when I say you’re finished.”
There it was – The Great Lie.
Embarrassed for having been so gullible, I asked the mess sergeant, “Well, the floor is mopped; what would you like me to do?”
“Mop it again!! Keep mopping the mother f***** until I tell you to stop.”
So, I mopped the same section of floor again…and again…and again…and again. As I swung the mop over the same tiles over and over again, my mind wandered back to the guys from my town who dropped out of high school, did drugs, had police records and, as such, were not considered fit to serve in the Army. I remembered how I saw them all hanging out in front of a local eatery the morning when those of us who were fit to serve in the Army hopped on the bus at the draft board for our ride to the Federal Building in Newark to be inducted. I wondered what they, the unfit, were doing at that very moment while I, the fit, was mopping and re-mopping, and re-mopping again the same patch of floor. This went on for about six hours.
After a short break for something to eat, I became a “pot.” I assumed, that the former “pot” became a “mop.” Job rotation – cool. After six hours of mopping the same piece of floor, I was ready to be a “pot.” I reasoned that being a “pot” might be better because I would not be washing the same already-clean pot over and over again, and, in addition, there was another “pot,” so I might get a chance to shoot the breeze with him to help pass the time. How hard could it be?
It was awful.
Stupidly, I thought that being a “pot” would be like washing dishes and pots at home. Wrong. The pots were large enough to cook a small person or large dog, and when they weren’t caked with sticky food, they were greasy as hell. Forget about dish detergent. We used yellow soap and steel wool. Not scouring pads like Brillo, but rather real, industrial-grade steel wool, some of which turned into steel splinters.
I began to chat with my fellow “pot.” I cannot remember what we were talking about, as we went about cleaning the shoulder-deep pots, but after a couple minutes, the Toothless Apron saw us talking and told us that we should “shut the f*** up” and concentrate on cleaning the pots. So much for camaraderie.
That went on for about another six or seven hours (with a short break – a very short break – for something to eat), when one of the other mess cooks looked at me, the other “pot,” and a nearby “mop” and shouted, “Any of you guys know how to roll dough?”
My dough rolling experience had been limited to a turn or two at the rolling pin to help my mother make a couple dozen Christmas cookies. I will never understand what ever possessed me to say, “I can roll dough.” I suppose I thought it would be better than continuing to be a “pot.” Maybe we all make stupid mistakes after six hours of mopping the same piece of floor and another six washing gloppy, greasy washtub-sized pots.
The mess cook led me to a table covered with flour and handed me a rolling “stick.” He said, I need you to roll dough for biscuits. Are you sure you can handle that?”
“Sure,” replied Mr. Stupid. It must have been the fatigue.
“O.K.,” the cook said. “I’ll get the dough.” He bent over into one those waist-deep pots and pulled out an armload of dough that was the size of a large beach ball and must have weighed 60 pounds. He waddled over to the flour-covered table and dropped the dough bomb on the table. He showed me how to rip off a wad of the stuff about the size of a half of a watermelon and roll it out with the stick until it was about an inch thick. Then he showed me how to use a old can to cut it into the dough circles that would become biscuits. He told me that when I was finished with the first dough bomb, there were several more in the mondo pot. Carrying and working the dough was like wrestling with the Michelin Man. Christmas cookies?? What the hell was I thinking??
A couple hours later, with a dough bomb or two still to go, the cook returned and raised hell because I had not yet finished. “You’re not finished yet? What the f*** is the matter with you?”
I bit my tongue and thought to myself, What the f*** is the matter with me? You miserable prick, I got about three hours of sleep last night. I have been mopping floors, cleaning pots, and rolling your bullshit dough for damned near sixteen hours. I feel like my feet are bleeding in these stupid boots; I’m physically and mentally exhausted beyond description, and I’m friggin’ tired of being hollered at by halfwits. Any more questions, Shit-for-brains? I said, “I’m sorry. I did the best I could.”
The cook said, “F*** it. Go see sergeant So and So over on the other side of the kitchen. He has a special job he needs to be done.” Sixteen hours, and now I get to do a “special job”? Great…Just friggin’ great.
When I got to the other side of the kitchen, I could not believe my eyes. There was sergeant So and So, along with two other KP’s (also into their seventeenth hour), standing in front of a pile of potatoes that had to be ten feet tall. I had never seen so many potatoes in one place. Potato Mountain.
Sergeant So and So explained, “The “f****** potato-peeling machine broke, and I need you guys to peel these.” Goddamned Potato Mountain.
He handed us each a butcher’s knife (yes, a butcher’s knife), and told us to get started. Each peeled potato was to be tossed into one of the mondo pots filled with water.
We sat next to Potato Mountain on overturned 5-gallon cans and began to “peel.” I actually tried to properly peel the first couple dozen, but it was impossible to effectively peel potatoes with a knife that could have been used to hack down shrubbery. So, after a while, each potato got four of five swipes with the knife, creating what amounted to potato cubes, with most of the potato going into the garbage. At that point, I didn’t much care. I honestly don’t think I had ever been so tired. It was a struggle to remain awake.
All I could think of was the Beetle Bailey comic strip, where, after screwing up one thing or another, Beetle would be shown in the final frame of the comic strip looking pitifully up at the mountain of potatoes he had to peel as punishment. OK, for the past 18 hours, I’ve been lied to and hollered at. I’ve been a “mop,” a “pot,” and “dough wrestler.” Now I’m Beetle friggin’ Bailey. Terrific…just friggin’ terrific.
After about two hours of “peeling,” the mountain was almost half gone. Sergeant So and So reappeared and told us we were “too gott-damned slow,” and that we had best hurry things up as it was almost time to cook the potatoes. As he walked away, he said over his shoulder, “Besides, the sooner you finish, the sooner you can leave.”
I laughed so hard I almost cried.
January 26, 2003
MASTER SGT. JOHN “JACK” STEELE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF LAW
Those of you who have been reading this Blog know that, for better of for worse, I have had first-hand experience with Army basic training and drill sergeants. However, many of you do not know that I also have had first-hand experience with law school and law school professors, having graduated from law school some 19 years ago. About a month or so ago, my cousin Jack, the guy we all can blame for suggesting I do a Blog, fondly referred to his law students as “raw-CROOTS” in the legal profession. That got me to imagining what it would be like to put the two worlds together – drill sergeants and law professors, basic training and law school.
The idea was banging around in my head for weeks, often causing me to chuckle to myself, something that has always served me well as a test of what others might find amusing. So, here it is – a work of pure fiction, but clearly inspired by having been a draftee in the sixties and a law student in the 80’s (I had a different career in between the Army and Law School, but that’s a story for another day).
I hope you enjoy reading it even half as much as I enjoyed letting my mind wander between the basic training and law school worlds and committing the strange proposition (or is it?) to the written word.
In parallel, I will continue to share some of the real Army stuff, which should be readily distinguishable from the story of Adjunct Law Professor John “Jack” Steele and his first-year legal raw-CROOTS.
First Installment: The Torts Class Meets Master Sergeant/Professor Steele
The first week of classes was just about over at the Blackacre University School of Law. By this time, the students had already met their professors for contracts, property, civil procedure and legal writing. They had the bloodshot eyes borne of trying to keep up with the murderous reading assignments each professor dished out without any regard for the volume of reading being assigned by the other professors.
Completing the reading had been difficult enough, because virtually none of it was a quick read. Quite the opposite; it was stilted, often barely intelligible, and sometimes it was downright opaque. Many of those sitting in the class were secretly hoping that they were not the only ones having trouble making sense of the material in their case books, and that they were not the only ones draining yellow highlighters at record speed, thinking it would all make more sense on the second pass.
Still, it was, after all, Friday, and there was only one more professor to meet. Despite their fatigue and jangled nerves, the 1L’s felt good about having survived the first week. They chatted about weekend plans and looked forward to the forty-eight hours of recovery time.
Some students were talking about Edward Carey, the professor who was scheduled to teach the torts class. They spoke of his reputation among the second and third year students as an easy professor who did not demand much from his students. The buzz was that he didn’t matter to him if his students attended his class, and he politely tolerated students who attended but who were unprepared. In fact, the word around the school was that all a student really had to do to pass Carney’s torts class was buy a Gilbert’s and check out Professor Carney’s prior exams – they hardly changed from year to year.
They figured this class to be a cakewalk.
Unfortunately for them, being students of the electronic age, they neglected to read the paper notice on the bulletin board posted in the hallway of the student lounge. It read:
“Professor Edward Carney has advised the Board of Trustees that, effective immediately, he will be retiring from his teaching position at Blackacre University School of Law. Professor Carney is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren. The Board of Trustees, the faculty and the students all wish Professor Carney a long and happy retirement. Professor Carney’s Torts 101 Class will be taught by John “Jack” Steele, MSG, Adjunct Professor of Law.”
The lecture hall, which seated approximately 100 students was just about full by 8:25 in anticipation of the class beginning somewhere around 8:30 a.m. The room had become increasingly noisy, as the students, who were now getting to know one another better, traded stories about the past week. Several students in the front two rows were arguing about what Pennoyer v. Neff really was all about. No one was concerned about the time, as Professor Carney was not a stickler for time. Hell, sometimes, he showed up ten minutes late.
They hadn’t read the bulletin board.
Precisely at 8:29 a.m. the door to the lecture hall opened. Some students glanced in that direction to see whether the professor had arrived. Those who glanced at the door suddenly stopped talking and stared at the man entering the lecture hall carrying the Torts casebook.
He looked to be about 6 feet three inches tall and weighed about 190 pounds. He was dressed in his “Class A” uniform, Army green with brass buttons, light tan shirt and black tie. His trousers were perfectly creased and meticulously bloused over his spit-shined jump boots.
On his left lapel, he wore a round brass badge on which were the crossed rifles, signifying him as an infantryman. On his right lapel was an identically shaped badge bearing the letters .”US.” Over his left pocket were four rows of multi-colored ribbons, and above the ribbons, partially hidden by his left lapel was the Combat Infantryman’s badge, a rectangular blue badge bearing a silver long rifle. The blue badge was over a silver oak wreath, the two ends of which met at a silver star, which signified that he had served as an infantryman in combat in two wars. He wore a different unit patch on each arm over the yellow stripes – three stripes up and three chevrons down, signifying the rank of Master Sergeant. Over his right pocket was a simple black nametag that read “Steele” in white letters. Most striking was the Army Drill Sergeant’s hat cocked frontward, with the leather strap around the back of his head.
The volume of conversation diminished with each step Steele took across the front of the lecture hall. By the time he reached the center of the room, very few people continued to speak. He turned towards the class and placed the casebook on the lectern. Now, everyone had stopped talking.
“Attennnn-HUTT!” he bellowed, as he stood erect in front of the class, feet spread shoulder width apart, with his hands on his hips.
The class collectively fidgeted, as they looked at one another in fear and amazement.
Virtually every one of them was thinking, What the hell ….?
Steele did not move a muscle, and after a half-minute passed (which seemed like an eternity to the students), he roared again, “Attennn-HUTT!” Confused looks and more fidgeting spread across the audience. Most students looked down at the desk; others looked around the room. No one wanted to make eye contact with what they perceived to be the madman in front of the class.
Another long, silent minute went by, and Steele said for the third time, “Attennn-HUTT!” When no one moved, he said, in a voice hardened by combat and years of calling cadence, “I thought I made my self clear. I’ll stand here every gott-damned day just like this until Christmas until you maggots figure out what to do.”
Seth Tompkins, a frail kid with wire-rimmed glasses in the front row, after a false start or two, slowly got out of his chair and stood up. He quickly looked back to see if anyone else was standing. They were not.
Steele looked at Tompkins and said, “Well, at least there is one man in this gott-damned class who is not dumber’n shit.”
Chairs scraped against the floor, as the students, one after another, rose to their feet.
“Well, that’s a little better. From now on, when I enter this room, I expect you all to get off your asses and on your feet, and I expect you to be standing at ATTENTION. That means that you WILL stand perfectly erect. Your eyes WILL remain straight ahead. You WILL pull your chin back; your chest WILL be out, and your gut WILL be sucked in. Your hands WILL be held to your sides, with your thumbs held along the seam of your trousers. Your heels WILL be together, and your feet WILL be at a forty-five degree angle. Are there any questions?”
No one spoke.
“Well gott-dammit, DO IT!!!”
The students shuffled around trying to do what they were just told to do, but it all came so fast. What did he say about thumbs? As they each readjusted his or her posture, Steele walked across the front of the lecture hall and then up the stairs, glaring at the students and shouting, “Chest out! Suck the gut in! Watch those thumbs!”
Tod Barringer, a student in the back row, audibly laughed and whispered something to the woman to his left.
Steele stopped talking and looked at Barringer, who was wearing a tee shirt that read “Phish – a Backyard Tradition.” Steele walked up the stairs, never taking his eyes off Barringer. When he reached the back row, where Barringer was standing, he put his face two inches from Barringer’s and said, “What’s your name, young man?”
Barringer, a smirk still on his face said, “Tod Barringer.”
“Well let me ask you something, Tod Barringer. Did I say something funny?”
Barringer did not speak, but shook his head from side to side.
“Gott-dammit, answer me! I asked you a question. DID I SAY SOMETHING FUNNY?”
“No. No you didn’t.”
“Well then, why were you laughing? Are you some kind of gott-damned idiot? Idiots and lunatics laugh at nothing. Maybe you’re a gott-damned lunatic, Barringer. Maybe all that beer you drank and grass you smoked at Phish concerts ruined whatever little brain you started out with. I wont tolerate idiots or lunatics in my class. You read me, Barringer?”
“Don’t you ever call me ‘sir.’ Officers are called ‘sir.’ You see these stripes on my arm? That means I’m an enlisted man. I work for a gott-damned living. This goes for all of you dumbshits. When I ask you a question that calls for a yes or no answer, the proper reply is ‘Yes Sergeant’ or “No, Sergeant. You think you can handle that Barringer, being a lunatic and all?”
“Yes sir…..I mean Sergeant.”
Steele strode back down the stairs in the lecture hall and resumed his position behind the lectern. The students all stood in various approximations of the position of “attention,” every one of them wondering if this was some kind of bizarre joke.
He damned sure had gotten their attention.
Next Installment – Master Sergeant/Professor Steele makes some introductory remarks.
January 25, 2003
Tony Soprano on Going to War. My cuz, Jack, managed to get Tony on the phone to get his thoughts on whether we should go to war with Iraq. Maybe we ought to just send a couple carloads of Jersey Wise Guys over there to kick Saddam’s ass.
January 23, 2003
Fort Dix, January 1969 – It started with a scratchy throat, and within 36 hours, I was having difficult time breathing; I could barely stand for more than 10 minutes, and I had a fever and chills. It was time to throw caution to the wind and go on sick call.
Every morning (and I mean pre-sunrise) at formation, the First Sgt. would announce “SICK CALL.” If you wished to see a medic or a doctor, you were to fall out to be taken to a special barracks that was set up to screen those who reported for sick call.
The Army had a tiered system for seeing that only sick people went on sick call. It started with the First Sergeant. After announcing sick call, he always made it very clear that feigning illness to avoid training would not be tolerated. “You report for sick call, you better gott-damn well be sick. Don’t LET me hear from the medic that there’s nothing wrong with you. I hear that shit and I guaran-gott-damn-tee you that when I’m done with you, you WILL need a doctor.”
So, if you felt sick enough to risk being accused of malingering and suffering the wrath of the Sergeant, you were taken to the next stage, where you got an opportunity to see a medic (an enlisted specialist – not a doctor), who would take your temperature and note your symptoms. For most of the guys, sick call ended there. The medic would dispense aspirins (“a couple whites”) and send you back to duty. If, on the other hand, the medic determined that you really might be sick, you would get to see a doctor.
Because my eyes were glassy, my breathing sounded like Darth Vader’s, and I had a 101 temperature, I got to see a doc. After the doctor examined me and pronounced me sick, I was taken to Walson Army Hospital, where I was to become a patient in the URI (upper respiratory infection) Ward.
By the time I finally got to the ward, I could barely stand up. The medic in charge of the ward ordered me to get into bed and not to get out except to use the latrine (bathroom). I could have hugged him. I thought, a real bed – not a bunk, real sheets, a nightstand, and even cotton pajamas? Hell, maybe I wasn’t sick, after all. Maybe I died and this was heaven.
My euphoria (no doubt partially fever-induced) was short-lived, because I soon learned that, in the Army, you even had to be sick by the numbers. The Army knew how to get you better in days, because, after all, patient compliance is not an issue. It went something like this:
“You WILL stay in bed, unless you have to use the latrine.”
“You WILL gargle with warm salt water every three hours for five minutes.”
“You WILL have your temperature taken every hour.”
“You WILL drink a quart of fluid [which tasted like vitamin fortified Kool-Aid] every two hours.”
“If your temperature rises to 101, you WILL be given an aspirin, and you WILL drink an quart of fluid, while the medic watches.”
“If your temperature rises to 102, you WILL be given two aspirins, and you WILL drink another quart of fluid, while the medic watches.”
“If your temperature rises to 103, you WILL be ‘packed’ in ice.”
I believe that I must have slept for almost 18 hours (except for the temperature, fluid drinking, and peeing interruptions).
Then my temperature hit 102. I thought, Oh Christ, one degree away from the ICE.
I was uncontrollably shivering from the fever. I don’t believe I ever felt so cold. The poor guy’s temperature in the next bed hit 103, and, as promised, the medics put ice packs under his neck, under his arms, on his abdomen and on his groin (my God!). I recall, at that moment, thinking, J-J-J-Jeeesus. If my temperature goes up to 103, I hope it immediately shoots right through 103 and soars to 105 and I friggin’ die. Dying has to be easier than having ice put all over you while you’re this cold.
Mercifully, I never hit the magic number. Maybe that’s because I drank (and peed) the gallons of mandatory mystery fluids, and gargled my ass off. When I wasn’t peeing or gargling, I stayed in bed. I would have done anything to avoid the ice.
The Army also capitalized on the importance of motivating you to want to recover quickly. This was done by telling you that if you were in the hospital longer than a certain time (I think a week), you would be RECYCLED. “Recycled” meant that you might well start basic training all over again, with a new unit. Believe me, the prospect of starting all over again was one helluva motivator.
So, in about four days, the Army’s cure by the numbers worked its magic. Once again, I found myself back in the ranks, humping a pack and rifle the 12 miles to the rifle range in single digit temperatures and then lying on the frozen ground while the march-induced sweat froze.
It was still better than being recycled.
January 22, 2003
Just got in about an hour ago. I’m too tired to write, but I see that Bill Mauldin, the Great WWII cartoonist, died. His cartoons of Willie and Joe captured the essense of being a soldier. Even though his Willie and Joe characters are WWII soldiers, I think that all soldiers since that time can relate. May he rest in peace.
Why, why, why do I persist in reading Maureen Dowd’s column when all it does is aggravate the hell out of me? It is not unlike picking at a painful scab..
January 20, 2003
Protests. Much has been written about the protests that took place this past weekend. Instapundit did a wonderful job of bringing it all together, but I cannot resist sharing a thought or two.
First, I am saddened to see that any American would liken the President of the United States to Adolph Hitler. There have been a few presidents I have not been fond of, the most recent being President Clinton. He is a man I would not invite to my home, but I would never, ever think of comparing him to Adolph Hitler. I would urge those who are quick to compare any President of the U.S. to Adolph Hitler to put the protest sign down long enough to do a bit of reading about Herr Hitler.
Second, if one insists on finding a 21st century parallel to Adolph Hitler, one needs look no further than Saddam Hussein.
After World War I, a defeated Germany signed a peace treaty that banned Germany’s production of virtually all armaments (armaments were the 1930’s equivalent of “weapons of mass destruction”). Only a bit more than a decade later, Mr. Hitler, an Austrian born, itinerant postcard painter, and political thug, took control of Germany.
The thug proceeded to brazenly violate the terms of the treaty that ended World War I by manufacturing tanks, ships, planes, and guns. He made his intentions with respect to his weapons quite clear. He even stated them in a book he authored while in prison.
Herr Hitler built up his arsenal over the next six years, while the world community, desperately wanting peace, appeased him time and time again. Laughing at his appeasers, in 1939, Hitler used his newly manufactured arsenal to launch a Blitzkrieg against Poland. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As for Iraq, after having been defeated in the Gulf War a decade or so ago, Saddam signed a treaty that forbade the development of weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that, between then and now, he has violated that agreement by fostering a program for the development of such weapons, the United Nations’ cat and mouse game, twice played, notwithstanding. His intentions with respect to such weapons are beyond conjecture, as he has actually used them in the past. Furthermore, his intentions with respect to the United States are just as clear. He hates this country and its leaders. He went so far as to attempt to have a former President of the U.S. assassinated.
If history teaches us anything, it is that, as much as we fervently wish for peace, sometimes appeasement of a thug is not the answer.
January 18, 2003
Even though the “vertical butt stroke” may sound like a groping technique or even a primer on personal hygiene, it is neither. It is one of a series of whacks, slashes and thrusts, collectively known as the “vertical butt stroke series.” Such was bayonet training in 1968 – 1969 in Army basic training at Fort Dix.
At this point in our training, we had spent a good deal of time on the rifle range learning how to shoot bad guys at long range. Now it was time to learn how to kill bad guys up close and personal. We were marched out to the bayonet training course, where the training was to be conducted by Sergeant Manzero (not his real name), who was the drill sergeant for one of the other platoons in the company. He was about 5 feet 9 inches tall, with a wiry, athletic build, and obligatory crew cut. He had recently completed his tour in Vietnam, and he was not to be trifled with.
I knew we were in for an interesting day when Sgt. Manzero began the training by announcing, “I am the best gott-damned bayonet fighter in the entire Unites States Army.” I cannot imagine that he thought that anyone would take issue with what I viewed as his dubious claim to fame; I certainly did not.
We learned the mandatory response to the question, which would be asked (yelled) by Sgt. Manzero on that day and by other sergeants thereafter. The question was, “What is the spirit of the bayonet?” The proper response was for everyone to shout in unison, “TO KILL, TO KILL WITHOUT MERCY, KILL, KILL KILL.!!!” The idea here, of course, was to whip one into an angry frenzy, because if it ever became necessary to actually engage in a bayonet fight, there was no substitute for killing the other guy. Sgt. Manzero also made it clear that there were two types of bayonet fighters — “the quick and the dead.” I don’t know how the other guys felt about all this, but it sure scared hell out of me.
So, we learned to “fix bayonets,” to “parry” and “thrust.” We then learned the horizontal and vertical butt stroke series. By way of example, here is how the vertical butt stroke series works – by the numbers:
1. You run up to the bad guy while screaming your ass off (presumably so the bad guy will think you are nuts) and carrying your rifle with, “fixed bayonet,” in front of you at a forty-five degree angle (the “on guard” position).
2. When you reach the bad guy, you swing your right foot towards him while simultaneously thrusting the butt of the rifle upward into the bottom of his chin (the goal being to knock his head off).
3. With the rifle now shoulder high (and if the bad guy is still standing), you cross your left leg in front of your right leg while thrusting the butt of the rifle horizontally and forward aiming at the bad guy’s face (this should definitely knock the bad guy down).
4. You now bring your right forward while slashing the bad guy with the bayonet aiming to cut a line from the right side of his throat to his left groin (by now, the bad guy had better be on his back).
5. You now bring your left leg forward while simultaneously thrusting the bayonet into the bad guy’s chest.
The above was repeated and repeated and repeated on dummies until we could do it in one seamless motion. Between repetitions, we would answer the “Spirit of the Bayonet” question. To me, the thought of finding myself in a situation of actually having to use the vertical butt stroke series on a bad guy, who also had a bayonet on his rifle was enough to loosen my bowels.
Even Sgt. Manzero conceded that bayonet fighting was a measure of last resort because it meant that you were out of ammunition and in “deep shit.” He reminded us of another harsh reality (as if I needed yet another one). “If the other guy has a bullet in the chamber of his rifle, you will probably lose the bayonet fight.”
The idea of shooting at bad guys at some distance (and having them shoot back) was terrifying enough, thank you. But the thought of a bayonet fight to the death kept me awake that night, despite the customary basic training exhaustion. Even knowing that I had been trained by the best gott-damned bayonet fighter in United States Army didn’t help much.
I was very sorry to see that Spoons has decided to take down his Blog. His reason is that keeping up with the Blog has been taking his time away from other more important things. I think many of us can relate. I will, however, miss reading his “The Spoons Experience.” It was one of my everyday reads. I hope he decides to cut back a bit rather than give it up all together.
January 15, 2003
It’s the acronym for being “absent without leave,” a subject that was stressed right from the start at Fort Dix, where in December 1968, thousands of draftees were being trained to be soldiers. On our first night in the Army, we learned what A.W.O.L. meant, and we were warned of its dire consequences. Anyone who is not “present or accounted for” is classified as A.W.O.L. So, if in the morning you are not “present or accounted for” you are technically A.W.O.L. Sleep late and no one knows where you are; you are A.W.O.L.
However, in 1968, the Army wasn’t terribly worried about late sleepers (although heaven help you if you did). Rather, the Army was concerned about maintaining control over thousands of draftees, who, by definition, did not choose to be there. The Army could ill-afford (and probably could not have effectively dealt with) having large numbers of draftees simply running away. To be sure, the Army did what it reasonably could do to make running away somewhat difficult. For example, someone was always awake patrolling the barracks as “fire watch” and, when outside, we were always in a formation being watched by the sergeants. Nevertheless, if one were determined to run away, it would have been relatively simple, particularly if one had a civilian accomplice. The accomplice could simply drive onto the base (Fort Dix was an open base back then), pick up the recruit, and drive him to “freedom.”
To deal with this relative lack of physical security, the Army constantly reminded us that going A.W.O.L. was futile because the military police (MPs) would track you down and bring you back. When you were returned, the consequences were directly proportional to the amount of time you had been A.W.O.L. In the worst case, being A.W.O.L. for more than thirty days got you classified as a “deserter.” We were told (and I believe accurately so) that deserters would end up in Leavenworth federal prison, serving the sentence for desertion in addition to the mandatory two-year hitch Army hitch. It was a grim picture, to say the least.
It wasn’t only the sergeants who preached about the evils of going A.W.O.L. On about the second or third night, the company attended a “Chaplain’s Orientation.” Even those of us who were not particularly religious were hoping that the Chaplain (presumably a non-Army, Army guy) would offer some measure of spiritual support, or possibly even some practical tips to cope with the craziness that had become our world.
The Chaplain began the orientation by saying in his soothing Chaplain’s voice, “Fellows, I know that many of you are confused (I was); many of you are anxious (I was), even frightened about what will happen to you (I was); many of you are homesick and do not want to be here (I was, and I didn’t), and maybe even some of you are depressed (I was that too). Well, fellows, I have some advice for you.”
I waited for some pearl of wisdom that would help me to effectively deal with my confusion, anxiety, fear, homesickness, and depression.
Here was the pearl of wisdom. The Chaplain stated, “Fellows, I know it’s hard, but don’t go A.W.O.L.” He then reiterated the same “you’ll get caught and really screwed” mantra we had heard from the sergeants. Inexplicably, he then told us to “be careful where you dip your wicks. You can catch some really nasty diseases.” I thought, “Don’t go A.W.O.L.? Be careful where you dip you wick? Yeah, there will surely be lots of wick dipping in Fort Dix. What planet is this guy from?” So much for spiritual guidance.
About three weeks later, we had about an hour of down time (which means you spent it spit shining boots and cleaning the barracks) before we were scheduled for another formation to march off to do one thing or another. All of a sudden, the sergeant burst into the barracks shouting, “I want a gott-damned formation in exactly five minutes! Move it. Move it. Gott-dammit. MOVE IT!!!”
We scrambled outside and saw that not just our platoon, but the entire company was forming up. The sergeants, who normally would be swaggering about, looked decidedly nervous. We knew that something was up. Then the Company Commander, a Captain, appeared, something that rarely ever happened. He looked angry, and he also looked nervous.
The Captain said, “I assume that many of you know Private Sanchez (not his real name). Well, I have some bad news about Private Sanchez.”
No one spoke. We waited for the bad news.
The Captain continued, “Gentlemen, Private Sanchez has just ENTERED THE WORLD OF SHIT. It seems that Private Sanchez has decided to go A.W.O.L.”
I immediately knew whom the Captain was referring to. Sanchez was the short, thin Puerto Rican guy who was in one of the other two platoons. He was a scrappy, tough, street guy. He was an excellent boxer who even had fought several professional flyweight bouts before being drafted. I specifically remembered him saying on a couple occasions, “I can’t take this shit, man. I gotta get the f*** outta here.” No one took him seriously. I certainly didn’t.
We again got the standard A.W.O.L. lecture, only this time it came directly from the Captain, and it was no longer theoretical. He told us, “The MP’s are looking for Sanchez now. And, gentlemen, he will be found, and, for his own good, he had better hope he is found in the next few days. But, in any event, gentlemen, you will not be seeing Private Sanchez again.” That meant to me that Sanchez would be spending time in the stockade (which I was told was one cut above a Turkish prison), or he would take basic training in Fort Reilly, Kansas at gunpoint, or he would wind up doing several years in federal prison. It was clear to me that this was not Army bluster; this was serious stuff.
My first, and extremely short-lived, reaction was one of admiration for Sanchez for having managed to rattle the sergeants and even the Captain, who doubtless would have to explain himself to the higher-ups in the chain of command. Surprisingly, however, that reaction was replaced with one of feeling sorry that Sanchez had done something that would screw up his life, and feeling that perhaps Sanchez wasn’t so tough after all. Hell, if I could “take this shit.” why couldn’t Sanchez?
Now that I look back on it, the Army may have failed with Sanchez, but it succeeded with me and others like me. Without even noticing our transformation, we were actually beginning to believe that perhaps we were tougher than we ever thought we could be.
Well, waddya know.