There’s nothing nobler than volunteering to serve in our country’s armed forces. Back in May, Connie and I attended the Armed Forces Day celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We were the guests of our son Will’s father-in-law, Mike Kiefer, a retired Brigadier General in the Indiana National Guard. Mike is a lawyer in Indianapolis and a great guy.
Part of the celebration was an actual induction ceremony for about 50 young men and women into the various branches of the armed forces. While we were standing there waiting for them to be sworn in, I became momentarily acquainted with a guy who, obviously, had served in some branch of the service because as the ceremony was taking place, he learned over to me and whispered, “That’s the last time they’ll be ‘asked’ to do anything.” (Just before the actual swearing in, the officer in charge asked the group to stand and raise their right hands.) I was thrown back to the time I spent in Army basic training and smiled at the unalterable truth of his comment.
My mind went back to an August day in 1968 when we all arrived at Ft. Knox, Ky., in response to a letter that began, “You are hereby ordered to report…” We had already been sworn in and were simply waiting for the letter telling us when and where to report for BCT, (Basic Combat Training). You’ll notice the letter didn’t start by saying, “Please report…” or “If you don’t mind, we’d like you to report…” We were ordered to report, in no uncertain terms.
Keep in mind that the summer of 1968 was at the height of the Vietnam War and there was still a draft. Those of us who had just finished college knew that it was far better to join the National Guard or the Reserves then to be drafted. In those days we knew that because there was a draft, the likelihood of Guard or Reserve units being sent to Vietnam was pretty small, certainly unlike today when substantial numbers of our forces serving in combat roles in the Middle East are, in fact, National Guard and Reservists!
Back then, if you were drafted, the chances where pretty good that you’d end up doing a year in Southeast Asia. If you volunteered for the National Guard or Reserves you at least got to pick what sort of job you’d have after finishing Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training. If you were drafted you didn’t get to choose your occupational specialty and the chances were excellent that you’d end up in Vietnam slogging through the rice paddies carrying an M-14 or later, an M-16 rifle hoping you wouldn’t get shot or blown up!
But regardless of where you ended up, everybody went through the same Basic Training. After that, we were sent to Advanced Individual Training for whatever our Military Occupational Specialty was, usually referred to as an MOS. But no matter what that specialty was, everyone’s primary MOS was 11B20, which stood for “Light Weapons Infantry.” I’m amazed that I still remember all the jargon the military attaches to nearly everything it does! In the Army, for instance, the phrase was never as simple as “black ground pepper” but rather “pepper, ground, black.” That’s just the way the Army does things.
From the moment we arrived at the Reception Station, we were totally under the control of a crusty old buck sergeant who absolutely would not put up with any nonsense. There was no more asking; we were told what to do from dawn to dark. We spent the next few days getting haircuts, uniforms, equipment, and all the other impedimenta that new recruits are issued. We also were vaccinated for just about everything including Bubonic Plague. Seriously.
By the time we moved to the company area to which our group was assigned, each of us had a duffle bag stuffed so full that we could barely carry it! Our drill sergeant was Master Sergeant James T. Ferrelli, a name not to be forgotten. Our unit was E Company, 18th Battalion, 5th Training Brigade or, more commonly, Echo-18-5, Sir! I’m not going to bore you with all the unique experiences that are part of Basic Combat Training, except to note that I’m glad I had all those experiences, but I definitely would not want to do it again.
Given the state of the world, however, I’m not sure I don’t think we need some form of compulsory basic training for every kid once he or she graduates from high school or reaches the age of 18. It could be modified so that college-bound students wouldn’t get a late start, but intense enough to squeeze in the fundamentals. I don’t think weapons training is an absolute necessity, but I don’t think learning about discipline, doing what one is told to do, taking personal responsibility for one’s own actions, or many of the humbling lessons the army teaches would be a bad thing at all – particularly in this time when far too many kids know nothing about self-respect or respect for others or anything about being in a situation where one is required to do what one is told to do. The Army is very good at that sort of thing.
I think most would come through this modified Basic Training with a much better idea of what life is going to expect of them and, frankly, end up saying they were glad they had the experience, but wouldn’t want to do it again.
That’s -30- for this week.