Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Preparing for MASH

Many years ago on this date I arrived at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri to begin my basic training. I got my ass into the reserves eleven minutes after the draft lottery (in which my number out of 366 was 4). I was maybe the worst private EVER. And I made a vow. At the time I thought, as the years go by and bad memories fade into the mist, you only remember the good times and think “it wasn’t that bad.” My vow was that no matter what I forgot it WAS that bad.

If I ever write a book, a large chapter will be devoted to the Army’s futile attempt to turn me into a feared fighting killing machine. What they did teach me was the insane military mindset that proved vital in writing MASH.

But here’s a typical incident. We were not allowed to go to the PX (Post Exchange: Army-speak for the base 7/11). I was always ravenous and would sneak out to the PX at night to buy bags of cookies. If we received homemade cookies in the mail they had to let us keep them (but we had to get rid of them that night).

One delightful evening we’re in the barracks putting sneeze sheets up on our bunks or some other idiotic thing when the Drill Sergeant and Company Commander enter and announce a snap inspection. A bayonet was missing – like one of us was going to steal it because there are so many practical uses for the M-9 Multipurpose bayonet.

We all stood at attention at our lockers. They approached mine, opened it, and an entire bag of Chips Ahoy cookies spilled out onto the Drill Sergeant’s boots. I was in big trouble.

He turned to me angrily and snarled, “Veen, (he could never pronounce Le-Vine) you fuckin’ dud! You know the rules. No cookies unless they’re from home!” Still at attention I responded, “My mother works for Nabisco, sir!”

I spent the next month cleaning latrines with a toothbrush…but it was worth it.


Mike Barer said...

Thank God it wasn't a jelly doughnut.
That seemed pretty mellow, considering what I had seen of drill sergents on the big screen.

Anonymous said...

I made a vow. At the time I thought, as the years go by and bad memories fade into the mist, you only remember the good times and think “it wasn’t that bad.” My vow was that no matter what I forgot it WAS that bad.

This was a little eerie for me to read, as it almost perfectly mirrors a vow I made to myself about 15 years ago. I've never forgotten it. I was on a two-week hiking/camping trip for this 1-credit class at college.

There is pretty intense pressure to place a misty sheen over memories of being out in nature, hiking the ancient trails, breathing the brisk mountain air ... yeah, it sucked. It was exhausting, shit was chafing all over the place, I just wanted to stay in one place for at least a couple of nights, maybe spark a joint around the campfire. But it was the Bataan fucking death march.

I told myself I would never lie to myself about it. As I get older, I wonder whether maybe some misty-sheened memories are so bad, but it's too late now. The vow is burned in my brain.

Anonymous said...

The mental image of a drill sarge barking out the word "cookies" will keep me giggling all morning.

Anonymous said...

I envy the ability to quip on your feet like that.

The Minstrel Boy said...

the quip that got me into huge trouble from a drill instructor was when (in the affected suthron accent they all used) he began an instruction with "Peepul. . ." i blurted "we've been promoted!"

push ups ensued.

knxdave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

We must have gone into the service around the same time, Ken. At basic training we had one of those surprise inspections and a guy in our unit had his locker spill, too...bennies, acid, weed, pipes, it all came tumbling out.

Typically, the drill sargeants were too stunned to do anything with the perp except march him to the brig for legal action. They did, however, beat the crap out of one guy for laughing.

Cap'n Bob said...

I did AIT at Ft. Leonard Wood, or Little Korea as they called it. It was winter and I was never so cold in my life. The movie on frostbite didn't help my morale, either.

As for basic, I have to admit I had a pretty good time. Worked my butt off, but all that Drill Sergeant malarkey was like a sitcom for me.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Same time. Different branch: Navy. (Advantage: No foxholes.)

Trade you a month of cleaning latrines with a toothbrush for the never-ending embarrassment I felt after introducing myself to the woman sitting with the Captain of our aircraft carrier in a Malta bar. I referred to her as his "wife."

She wasn't.

Fitz said...

I had the opposite problem. While I was in Navy boot camp I got the word that my birthday (July 2nd) was 350th. Born about sixty days too early, lol.