September 15, 2009 by David Gillaspie
Joining the Army on the buddy plan is a way to cushion the harsh reality of military training. I joined with a buddy after freshman year. It was his idea, and a good one. We’d been buddies for years in junior high, high school, and college. Now we were buddies in the Army.
Our buddy plan lasted two days. In order to fill up the training companies the group I came into Receiving with got split in half. My buddy went to another company. I never saw him after that. Years later we got together to pick through our Army careers. We weren’t buddies anymore.
Half the group I was in got split into half again and filed into the second platoon in Company B-4-3. Then half went into the third platoon. Once person shifted down to the fourth platoon: me. I went from having a buddy, to having my new comrades, to not knowing anyone around me. No cushion for the harshness of military life, so I toughened up right then and there.
A Drill Sergeant walked the lines, talking to trainees, being nice. He got to me and asked my name. I figured it was a trick and didn’t say anything. Eyes forward. He asked guys on either side if I was always like this. They said they’d never seen me before and didn’t know what I was like. I snuck a quick look at them to remember their faces.
Drill Sergeant: “Gillaspie? That an Irish name? You Irish Catholic, Gillaspie?”
The last thing I needed was a holy war against Catholics, and I’m not Catholic. Turns out the man asking the questions was a Mormon who refused to swear at his troops. Instead, he called us ‘motherflippers’ so we understood his points more clearly.
The strain of this religious interrogation began to wear me down, but I wasn’t breaking. Finally the Drill Sergeant moved along, walked up the side of our formation, and talked to the senior Drill Sergeant at the front. The first guy pointed at me while he talked. The other one looked on, then walked the line to me.
Senior Drill Sergeant: “Gillaspie, if you can talk then you have permission to answer my question. Do you understand?”
“Yes Drill Sergeant.” I didn’t scream it, but said it louder than expected. It didn’t sound like my voice. I stood alone on a board and with the hammer looking for a nail to pound. He picked me. Why? I figured there would be some hazing and got ready. I was tough enough. I’d been in his platoon five minutes and I was nails.
Senior Drill Sergeant: “Gillaspie, I’m going to walk down this row and I want you to follow me. Understand?”
“Yes Drill Sergeant.” I understood fine. I was being led away from the group. Not a good sign. I didn’t know anyone so I wouldn’t be missed. I was just the guy who stood at attention, the only one. I didn’t hear the parade rest command, and wouldn’t have known what it meant if I did.
I followed a pigeon toed man in glistening jump boots wearing a Smokey The Bear hat. Was I supposed to be in step with him? I hopped to it and we walked as one. I was ready to be all I could be and steeled myself for the task.
The company stood in front of the barracks they’d call home for the next couple of months. Each platoon was combed through. I was lint on the comb. I followed the Senior Drill Sergeant up the yard to the flower beds. He started explaining how he planted the flowers so each would bloom at different times. He said his Army worked the same way.
Senior Drill Sergeant: “Every training cycle I choose the best man in the platoon before we get started. That man will be the top soldier. I open doors for that soldier they never knew existed. The Army is the home you never had. You trust the Army and the Army will trust you. These flowers will bloom, then the blossoms will die. No one will die here, but some will wilt. Understand?”
“Yes Drill Sergeant.”
Senior Drill Sergeant: “That’s good, now turn down your volume. I’m standing right here. You’ll be fine, Gillaspie, I can tell you’ll be fine. Look out at this group and tell me if you’re not going to be fine here. You will be my leader, Gillaspie, and I will teach you how to lead. You will go to leadership school and you will be a fine soldier. Just don’t think you’re anything special because you’re up here with me. That’s not how it works. You will be more because you will do more. Can you do more, Gillaspie?”
Do more? More what? Flower analysis? Yard patrol? There’s only one answer.
Senior Drill Sergeant: “Can you do more than the rest of this sorry excuses for trainees, Gillaspie?”
“YES DRILL SERGEANT.”
I was a barker.