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When my blustery drill sergeant made a blunder

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Posted: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 12:23 pm, Wed Oct 3, 2012.

"You kids think you know it all, don't you!?"

Those were the words of my Army drill sergeant. It was 1966, and I was a junior in college. The Vietnam War was hot, and draft boards were looking for bodies — any bodies just as long as they were still breathing.

Although recruitment was officially closed, I was fortunate enough to get into the National Guard. I hoped this move would save me from what I believed to be an unwinnable war. Later, when President Johnson activated part of the reserves, my assumption would prove to be false. However, that's a story for another time.

In summer of '66, I found myself in basic training at Ft. Ord. There were a variety of experiences in this nine-week program, ranging from physical endurance to classroom instruction. One of the classes was called "Basic Health Care."

Most of the troops were tired and bored with the lecture. The instructor, a short and stocky middle-aged drill sergeant, obviously had a limited formal education. His improper grammar and thick Southern accent made his points difficult to understand.

At one point, the sergeant abruptly halted his lecture.

"You!" he yelled. "You two idiots in the back! Why are you talkin' durin' my class?"

"We're sorry," replied one of the two young men. "We'll be quiet."

But the sergeant wouldn't quit while he was ahead. "You two bozos think you' so smart, don't you! You come up front and teach this class!"

"Oh no, sergeant. We couldn't do that!" said the other.

"Oh yes, you will!" fired back the instructor. "That's an order!"

So, the two privates slowly slinked to the front of the room. One grabbed a pointer while the other latched onto a piece of chalk.

The next 45 minutes was a brilliant rendition of basic human health care, some brief anatomy, and a discussion of various pharmaceuticals that could help with minor disease and various muscular ailments.

After the lecture, the basic trainees filed out of the room. I heard the same impulsive sergeant whisper in a sheepish tone, "That was very good, boys."

It seems the drill instructor had made a serious error in judgment. In a power play to gain control of the class, he had only managed to embarrass himself further. It turned out that the two "chatty" young men were actually medical students who had signed up for the Guard and would return to their school in the fall.

I learned many things in the Army, but some of the best were not part of the official curriculum.

I always wondered if that same drill sergeant was later assigned to an infantry platoon in Vietnam. If so, did he lead his men blindly into a situation that had not been fully evaluated, as he did to himself on that day? Did his superiors make the same mistake? Were men killed and wounded as a result? Did he survive the war?

During my lifetime, I have made the same "shoot-from-the-hip" judgment calls. I'm sure we all have at one time or another without sizing up the opposition.

It's funny how sometimes the best lessons learned are simply overlooked and ignored when similar future challenges arise.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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1 comment:

  • John Lucas posted at 9:22 am on Tue, Sep 25, 2012.

    John Lucas Posts: 2726

    Yes it is amazing what one learns in basic training. We had a tin garbage can that was so polished and silvery that you could use it as a mirror. Sgt. Fernandez (it is amazing who 44 years later one remembers their names) on inspection looked into it and found that someone had committed the unpardonable sin of throwing a piece of paper in the can. This led to a 45 minute rant on what maggots (their favorite term) we were, comments about our ancestry, that the world would not survive us being it etc.

    To this day when someone asks how we could not win that war my stock answer is that our leaders did not know what a garbage can is used for.

     

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