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Bugs on the Windshield
J. D. Pendry
I was driving home from work, cruising on Interstate 64 with the windows down and singing along with the oldies - You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain - when there it was SPLAT! Ahh, the first sign of spring, a big yellow oozing glob of bug innards right in the center of my windshield. Too much love drives a man insane.
I've noticed some other signs of spring. The politicians are budding. Roscoe Bartlett, who was instrumental at protecting soldiers from taxpayer subsidized smut by removing Penthouse magazine and others from the PX is back. Roscoe is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) and thinks that we are surrogate parents to the 18 and 19-year-old soldiers on loan to us. Among other things, he believes the youngsters should be restricted to having only the exchange credit card and no other. I hope that wouldn't have anything to do with trying to push business into the exchange system, a cash cow for the MWR fund - would it Roscoe? He also wants assurances that the military will not promote booze, tobacco and slot machines. Next, I understand that he may be going after R rated movies in base theatres. Maybe we should change the name of the committee and replace morale with morals. While you're at it Roscoe, might I suggest that you not send our teenage soldiers to Europe where red light districts are common. Or Korea where the clubs on the strip in TDC, Itaewon and Uijongbu might be a tad beyond a G rating. In either place, or the many others we send soldiers to around the world, 18is old enough. Oops, hope I didn't spill the secrets to mom and dad. In fact, I'd insist that their commander's restrict them to the post if I were you. Have you ever taken a close look at what are just outside the gates of most military bases in the good old US of A? Booze, smut and pawnshops. Oh what a thrill, you broke my will.
The posies are a bloomin' in the enchanted kingdom too. In the Army Times, I read that LTC John Chin from Fort Benning is out to make Drill Sergeants more qualified to do their work. It's the season for folks who've never been one to try and make those who are one better at it. LTC Chin is a clinical psychologist whom I'm certain is well intentioned. His program, called "Drill Sergeants as Psychologists and Coaches", may lead to drill sergeant candidates receiving training in the behavioral sciences. He's discovered, he tells us, that today's youth tend to question authority more than past generations (Duh!), and his approach to training addresses that problem. LTC Douglas McCallum, a training battalion commander at Fort Benning, said the days of "smoking" privates with PT are over implying that Chin's approach is key to keeping soldiers in the Army who may not otherwise want to stay. Reading between the lines that means lighten up - again. LTC McCallum also threw in that the "Full Metal Jacket" type Drill Sergeant doesn't convince unsure soldiers to stay in the Army. I must ask. How smart is it for us to continue to train and try to retain recruits on their terms? That is a habit not so easily turned off later. So I suppose the Drill Sergeant's welcome speech may change somewhat. Come on in soldier relax over there on the sofa. Now tell me about your mamma. As some of my old Drill Sergeant partners might say, "Hey Doc, analyze this." At least I'm happy to see the Infantry school added a tough finish to training - that's what we need more of Doc. Goodness gracious, great balls o' fire!
They're a bloomin' in Wonderland too. I was reading in the paper where some school systems across America have banned such horrific games as dodge ball from physical education programs. It victimizes children and harms their self-esteem. When I went to school, we called it war ball. The coach would split the gym class in half and line up about five or six balls at half court. I always viewed it as my chance to clobber someone who needed clobberin. I could usually get the ball first, because I could get the jump on the coaches whistle and I could run pretty fast, then I'd hit the first upper classman I could catch not looking in my direction right in the head. Sorry coach, didn't mean to, bad aim. Worked wonders for my self-esteem, so I don't understand what the problem is. I also read where the same schools are not allowing competitive games during PE such as basketball where students choose sides, because the last ones to get picked are always the same kids - self-esteem again. Non-aggressive and non-competitive what a great combination that is. Do you think the recruits from the Nintendo generation were different? Just wait until the Nintendo generation has to train a group of these basket cases. Maybe Drill Sergeants will need to be shrinks. My friend the witch doctor he told me what to do. He said ooh ee ooh ah ah ting tang walla walla bing bang.
I'm starting to wonder about us as society and an Army. I'm not a doomsayer, but concerned just the same. Somewhere, right after the big group hug, we decided to soften life for our youth. We try hard to remove adversity from their existence while they're developing and growing. What we accomplish by doing that is bringing them up in a sterile way that is not reflective of the real world. Some of our experimentation with the basic indoctrination and training of soldiers follows the same approach. Question is when our youngsters and new soldiers face adversity later in their lives or military career will we have prepared them to deal with it? Being smacked in the kisser with a dodge ball gets your attention. It also teaches you that plenty of opportunities exist in life to legally clobber those who deserve and need it. A smoking by your Drill Sergeant because your performance is somewhere just above death on a ten-minute break gets your attention too. It's guaranteed that the next time you feel like sloughing off you'll remember the consequences, which are not nearly as tough as the consequences of sloughing off in real life.
Roscoe, we place enough firepower in the hands of teenagers to destroy towns. We place them in situations where they see things that are a lot more disturbing than Penthouse magazine and we expect them to make life and death decisions. We work hard at developing young men and women capable of making the right choices. Drinking, smoking, gambling, and credit habits are choices that young people must make for themselves. They are a part of growing. It's not a good idea to try to shelter young people from life's decisions. More often than not, they make the right choices.
Doc, a cardinal NCO rule is to know your soldiers. Most NCOs know theirs better than their parents know them. Soldiers must learn that questioning legitimate authority while performing in the Army's form of democracy is not acceptable. We teach them that and reinforce it when necessary with disciplinary actions. Let's not give our Drill Sergeants another "program" that adds little to their product and much to their work - work that detracts from what they really need to focus on - teaching basic soldier skills.
LTC McCallum, there has never been a Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant. He only exists in a movie. A stereotypical, over-exaggerated image conjured up by Hollywood trying to make an entertaining movie. More importantly, it's an image held to by those who simply have no concept of what a Drill Sergeant is or does, and it's an insult coming from a basic training battalion commander.
We cannot continue to try to make the world perfect for every child and every young soldier. We have to prepare them to make tough life decisions and arm them with the reality that the world is not a fair and easy place and most people they encounter are not going to give a rat's rear end about their self-esteem. We can't do that by bringing them up in an environment that's not representative of what they will face. If we continue, we are only creating more bugs to decorate the world's windshield.
Don't go around tonight, for it's bound to take your life, there's a bad moon on the rise...