September 6, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Anniversaries grow more important each passing year. The first goes by and who cares. A tenth anniversary comes and goes. As long as it’s not a birthday or wedding anniversary, if it’s only something you notice drifting across the calendar and don’t make a big deal of, it’s just another day. But it’s not.
A veteran from the Era spent his Army anniversary here:
“We were the new breed, the smartest, best educated force the Army has ever seen. It was a down economy in the mid-seventies, like now except for the credit crash and popped bubbles everywhere you look. We had college graduates in boot camp along with seventeen year olds who got in with their parent’s signature.”
Were they smart?
“Most guys have handled a rifle; few have held an M16 dialed up to rock and roll. The first time on the rifle range was an intelligence test. The Range Master addressed us all in the stands holding a machine gun over his head. “This is my rifle,” he said. He grabbed his crotch with his other hand. “This is my gun. This is for fighting. This is for fun. Any questions?” A couple of hands went up. Were they smart? Not that day.”
Were they educated?
“One of the college guys came in expecting to go to Air Traffic Controller School. He signed for an extra year to guarantee his seat in class. His recruiter promised him. He said those words out loud when the Drill Sergeant asked him why he was in the Army. After that the guys who’d never been to college started talking about going to medical school or law school.”
Where did you go to school?
“I’d finished my freshman year in college before signing up. After boot camp I was headed to Medic School in San Antonio. My dad said it was the best way to go. He wanted me to join the Marines, but the Army was next. He didn’t like the Navy or Air Force.”
Why didn’t you join the Marines?
“Four years versus two in the Army. I was there to find out a few things, to see how I matched up with the guys in my generation. I played football and wrestled. I was going to wrestle in the Army if I got a chance. First I wanted to max out the PT scores in boot camp.
“After the first day at the range I asked one of the guys if he thought it was creepy firing at silhouettes instead of bulls-eye targets. The guy didn’t get it. He didn’t register the view of two shoulders and a head standing in for a person. He was shocked to think so.”
Did that bother you?
“It was a target. We were shooting for grouping, not a head shot. Three bullet holes inside the size of a quarter upgraded your marksmanship badge. I got two in, but the third always strayed. I blamed the rifle and the guy pawing his package before we shot. It threw me off.”
You seem to remember it.
“It’s an exercise I do once a year. I ask if the Army made me all I could be. That was the slogan, Be All You Can Be. After two days, all I wanted to be was out of the Army. I didn’t need the Department of Communications at Villanova University telling me there was a gap between what the Army promised and what it delivered. We had a future Air Traffic Controller strutting around. He broke down when he learned he was going to Traffic School instead of Air Traffic Control School. He ended up driving a truck.”
Did you go to Medic School?
“Because I ran around at a steady clip and didn’t fall off any obstacles a couple of Drill Sergeants talked to me about going to Ranger School. We got painted up for an exercise one day and one of them got pretty emotional and said I looked like a Ranger. Turns out I looked just like one of his buddies from the war. No one’s ever looked at me like that since. I was a returning ghost.”
What did he say to you?
“Everyone heard him. He said I owed it to my country to take the Army as far as it would let me go. I owed to my father. My mother. My sister. My brother. He was pulling out all the stops, pushing every button he could find. I said, “Yes Drill Sergeant” to everything he said. The guy was on a roll. I wasn’t going to sign up for Ranger School, but the guys on either side of me did. They heard the Drill Sergeant and changed their school request. They also signed for more time.”
It’s always more time?
“That’s the trade. I signed today and got out two years later. Fair trade.”