Wednesday, August 08, 2007


It is strange how those days crept along, like riding on the back of a turtle desperate to get somewhere but you can not get off and run. The evenings after returning to the confines of the barracks exhausted from marching drills, PT, or sitting in classrooms learning military discipline, the basics of disassembling and reassembling the M1 carbine, were themselves hell.

Hours are spent polishing the title floors by hand and dragging someone around on a G. I. blanket as a makeshift buffer. Constantly dusting and straightening everything in your area, or taking your turn on latrine duty and wiping down all the surfaces, including the floors are exhausting. All the while your legs shake and your arms hurt from the PT and constant marching. Of course, you just have to ignore the blisters on your feet from the new stiff brogans you were given the day you arrived.

In the first hours of working together doing the necessary barracks work, something strange happens. You start looking to others for leadership and for the little rewards you used to get from parents, friends, or employers. A leader emerges even though they wish they had never been given the respect.

Soon the DI picks up on those you look to when he is not around and assigns them the duties of being the Flight Leader, or Barracks Chief. The reward for this is a little red banner they wear on their right arm. Whenever the DI is going to be away, the Flight Leader is in charge and responsible for anything and everything that happens. It’s his ass that gets chewed if the Flight screws up or if he finds dust anywhere on “his” floor! Sometimes you go through a couple of Flight Leaders before a proper leader is found. Those that fail are forever targets of the DI’s rath.

The DI did not live in the barracks with us as you see in the movies. He went home to his cozy home and loving wife and family and left us from 5PM until “zero five thirty-five hours” the next morning.

During his absence we guarded the front door, swept, mopped, waxed, and buffed the entire barracks, cleaned the dayroom, the stairwell, and the latrine. After a few days of having to clean everything, you learn to clean up your own messes instead of having to do it on cleanup detail.

Therefore, this cleanliness stays with you the rest of you life. You get up, make up your bed, put everything either into the dirty clothes hamper, the closet, or wear it, but it does not lay around cluttering up your world. You shower, shave, and brush your teeth, then you wipe down the sink and shower as clean as before you started. It’s just what you learn and you never forget, or even think about – you just do it!

If you had guard duty, you stood by the front entrance wearing a web-belt, a white hardhat, had a whistle, and a flashlight. As you stood, you memorized your Air Force articles, your flight and Wing name and numbers, and military chain of command, and the barracks rules. You do it out of fear, because at any moment the DI, or one of his cronies, might began bashing on the door with their fists and demanding to be let inside. You know you can’t unless they respond with the proper badge and password, but some let them in from pure intimidation and they get their butts chewed on for what seems like hours!

All the while you cower in your corner and never look up from your work, or out from under your cover. The “boggy man” is chewing on someone besides you and you are so pleased. It’s like the herd mentality – as long as the lion is eating someone else, I’m fine.

Once inside, they drill you from the material you are supposed to have memorized, but, more often than not, you can’t remember because of the pure fear that envelops you as he is yelling, spit flying in your face, at you at the top of his lungs.

Then there are those midnight fire drills where you are rushed out of the barracks in just your shorts and t-shirts, while the DI’s wives sit in their cars smiling and giggling at all the half-dressed recruits.

However, this is just the routine you settle into for the next 6 weeks. After you have been yelled at, had your head shaved, air gun shots pressed into both arms, and double timed all over Lackland Air Force Base, you are happy to have a more familiar routine. It’s like being…home…where is home?

What used to be is now for dreaming about at night, but once the dreaded “the time now is…” shocks you awake, and you are back – awaken into the present nightmare!

This is your life…you have always been here…get used to it! Up until now, you have just been dreaming – this is the real world.


Les Becker said...

What a life to get used to - almost a brainwashing effect, I guess...? Routine, routine, routine - healthy routines, at least. At any rate, I'm considering sending my kid to boot camp now, just for the "make up the bed and put all the clothes in the dirty laundry" thing. And, ummm, I may have to sign up myself.

david mcmahon said...

Mushy, you poet of prose,

Really enjoyed this - and the previous post.

Funny how leaders crop up in life when you least expect them to ....

Great flashback, Mushy



BRUNO said...

Yep, "The Mush" is back from his computers' illness---and he's got a vengeance!

You STILL keep everything immaculate-clean? I salute you!

It worked the opposite effect on ME---I celebrate being able to remain a SLOB...!!!

Sarge Charlie said...

This sounds like Ft Jackson, July and August 1960.

Mushy said...

August 1964 Sarge!

Fathairybastard said...

Yep, he still keeps everything clean.

I can't imagine how I would have dealt with pressure like this, but I guess you find a strength within yourself that you probably didn't know was there, not ever having been tested before. Still worried about old Woody though.

Suldog said...

I suppose you can get used to anything, Mushy, but damned if I don't think I would have either killed someone or been killed if I was put into that situation. Good storytelling.

Jose said...

Love the story telling, I felt transported into the situations you described. You just gave me a glimse of what thousands of our young kids are going through now.