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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal

The Rule of the Harvest

J. D. Pendry

My whine meter is finally pegged. It's becoming tiresome and annoying to hear noncommissioned officers almost constantly complain about the values, discipline, dedication and other positive attributes that they insist today's soldier lacks. If you are one of those complaining NCOs here's a question for you. What are YOU going to do about it Sergeant?

It's also becoming tiresome and annoying to hear some of the holier than thou attitudes expressed by so called leaders and trainers. Pick up and read a newspaper or magazine article about the state of today's Army. The discussion always winds it way around to how we conduct basic combat training. Somewhere in the article, a prim, proper and highly shined Drill Sergeant will be quoted as saying, "We don't have to cuss and beat soldiers like they did twenty years ago in order to train them." A few lines later some basic training brigade commander will chime in with the same sentiment. That's the point where I say, "wait a minute, wait just one damn minute!" I was a Drill Sergeant twenty years ago, and a fairly good one not to brag. I never made a practice of cussing out soldiers. Soldiers from the 14 platoons I trained will recall a frequent utterance of words like "shit, damn, hell or bonehead". And, they may even recall worse than that somewhere around the 15th hour of seventh straight day of performing a near impossible task. That task would be to correct 18 years of Twinkie eating, couch sitting, no discipline, zero self-discipline, and the affects of too many Rambo movies. After all, this was (still is I think) basic combat training, not seminary (no offense intended chaplain) or Camp Runnamuck. I also expect a good many of them to remember the brand of tobacco I chewed (Taylor's Pride if you're wondering) and how it smelled when it was necessary to practice a little "in your face" leadership. Some privates need to experience a significant emotional event before they grasp the seriousness of what it is they're doing. But beating? I'm afraid that's where I draw the line. I never struck a soldier during my time as a Drill Sergeant nor did I ever witness it happening. I didn't have to beat them when I could create all the discomfort necessary just by insisting that they meet standards. Have I grabbed one up by the suspenders and drug him along on a road march? Yep. Have I ever whacked one on the steel pot with a cleaning rod for pointing his M16 down the firing line? Yep. Would I do those things again? Yep. Is that abuse? Probably not as abusive as a POW camp, a 7.62 in the chest, or Saddam Hussein's chemicals. But, you decide. These soldiers (read kids) have been babied and pampered most of their lives. They come from a place where "ah mom, I don't want to get up now," or, "I'll do it later," is normal and accepted. NCOs have to bring them out of that environment to a soldier's reality and there's not much time along the way to massage their feelings with sensing sessions, pizza parties, and rock concerts on the parade field.

Now, did we have our problems twenty years ago? Oh yea, you bet we did. A Drill Sergeant court martial for fraternizing (having sex with, taking showers with, video taping said showers) with female trainees happened often enough to almost call it common. When I got to Fort McClellan, some of the Drill Sergeants (the males of course) would openly brag about their escapades during the times when only women were trained there. So just to bring you up to date, bonehead NCOs were trading in their careers for sex-capades with privates long before Aberdeen ever got on the map.

Do you want to hear some comparisons? Well, you're going to anyway. It was also common to have some well meaning officer question a Drill Sergeant in the presence of an entire unit about whether or not he'd left the troops in the front leaning rest position too long. We also had to answer to end-of-cycle witch-hunts called critiques. If you speckled Joe's face with Taylor's Pride juice you'd read about it in the critiques and likely have to respond. But you couldn't do your job if your mind was preoccupied with such things. We had officers and slick-pocket (non drill sergeant qualified) senior NCOs who would hide in the back of the reception station bus to try and catch the Drill Sergeants going overboard while "shocking" the cruits. We had a brigade commander who liked to hide behind a tree and pop up just as you marched your company on to the PT field. All the things I hear NCOs complaining about today were present then - minus CNN. The only difference is, it was rare to hear someone complain about the quality of the soldiers we produced from our basic training battalion. Why do you think that was? Let me tell you a couple of war stories.

One day, we were moving a week old company of trainees to the chow hall. They were moving, looking, and sounding like death on a ten-minute break. After being dropped for push-ups a few times they started to liven up. When we arrived at the chow hall we were greeted by our battalion command sergeant major (slick-pocket). He proceeded to collectively tell us (within ear shot of our troops) how poor our leadership was, how we were abusing soldiers and how he would personally "run us outta his battalion and the Army" if he ever witnessed such abusive practices again. He also told us that if we did the push-ups with the soldiers we would never have them do so many. This same CSM ran around wearing brown-rimmed, mirrored Ray Ban sunglasses making uniform corrections on Drill Sergeants - "you're supposed to wear your hat level on your head Drill Sergeant." The very next day while moving the company to chow, the Senior Drill Sergeant halted the company, told them what an unmotivated lot they were, gave them a half right face, commanded them into the front leaning rest position then got down with them. Every Drill Sergeant followed his lead because we were a team and we trusted him. Those trainees performed more push-ups on that trip to the chow hall than they did on the previous day - and as it went, they did more that cycle than any other cycle. As we sat in the chow hall one of the Drill Sergeants asked the Senior Drill Sergeant why he had dropped the company, since they really weren't doing so badly that day. "Had too", he said, "slick-pocket was watching." We never heard anymore from slick-pocket about trainee abuse in regards to doing push-ups.

One morning, at the chow hall again, a Drill Sergeant gave instructions to the trainees before they entered to have breakfast. They were the standard instructions we gave all new trainees. "You have two choices of eggs, scrambled or none. You have 10 minutes from the time you sit at a table to eat and get out of the mess hall, no socializing, no talking." Instructions that were absolutely necessary on training days in order to get the troops out of the mess hall and to training on time. At the end of the day, our brand new company commander was livid. What we were doing in regards to telling soldiers what they could or could not eat and how much time they had to eat it amounted to maltreatment and he just wasn't going to stand for it. "If my company wants eggs to order or to have a conversation while eating their meal they can!" Naturally, the next morning ever drill sergeant made a point of telling his troops they could have eggs to order - omelets, over easy, doesn't matter. Not even once did a Drill Sergeant remind the troops to eat quickly and get out of the mess hall. We normally pushed 200 troops through chow using two serving lines in about 30 or 40 minutes. This morning at 30 plus minutes we still had troops in the serving line. "I'll have a ham and cheese omelet." We also showed up late to our training range. Range Control tends to get a little upset when their schedule is broken. You see, it's a safety thing - there may be something else scheduled for the impact zone when the range was supposed to be closed and cleared. In other words - show up late and mess up everyone's schedule - bad thing on a training post. When Range Control is upset they call brigade headquarters. Stuff does roll down hill. When the battalion commander got his call regarding one of his units blowing the training schedule he went to the range to find out why. He pulled up in his jeep, got out, walked over to the commander and signaled the Senior Drill Sergeant to join them. After less than a minute the Senior Drill Sergeant walked back in our direction. What we could see going on between the two commanders was clearly a spit-flying, finger in the chest, one way conversation. You can guess which commander was in the receive mode. Of course we were all curious so we asked the Senior Drill Sergeant what happened. He explained that the battalion commander asked him why the unit was late to training this morning. His response was a three-word answer, "Eggs to order." Following that episode, the company commander relied a little more on our judgement. We told him that there was a good time to let the troops have eggs to order - on Sunday mornings.

I was on the duty roster to lead company physical training one morning. That just meant it was my turn to get on the PT stand. We had standard exercises we would do each day, and we'd grab the card with them listed on it from the Senior Drill Sergeant's office as we made our way to the PT stand to wait for the arrival of the company. This morning was routine as usual - I thought. I grabbed the card for that day and headed out. The Senior Drill Sergeant came jogging up to me and handed me another card, and said, "do these, 12 repetitions." Thinking nothing of it I moved out to the PT field to await the unit. After getting the unit into the proper formation for physical training and just before I started the first exercise, the brigade commander materialized from wherever it was he'd been hiding. He'd been showing up in other units, doing PT with the trainees, then ripping units apart because of the way they conducted PT - to much harassment and abuse and not enough good PT was his standard complaint. The first exercise on the list the senior drill sergeant gave me was the 8-count push-up. Not an easy exercise to perform for 12 repetitions unless you are in good condition. That was followed by and exercise called the body-twist (called other things by soldiers for years and known for causing large clumps of grass to be pulled up and a lot of gas being uncontrollably passed), then one of the all time favorites, the mountain climber (you youngsters call it the all fours run in place or something like that). I did these exercises with no breaks, because the Senior Drill Sergeant had written "no breaks" on the top of the list he handed me. By the time we were half way through with the mountain-climber, the brigade commander had exchanged salutes with the company commander and left. Later, the senior Drill Sergeant told us, "I saw his driver drop him off by the PT field." The company commander reported to us that the brigade commander liked our PT, but needed to visit another company that morning so he had to leave before we finished. He never turned up again.

The point I'm trying to make with my war stories is that nothing much has changed in twenty years when it comes to folks who always know better than Drill Sergeants. They've always been there and always will be - more concerned with catching a Drill Sergeant doing something wrong instead looking for what Drill Sergeants do right 16 plus hours a day. What I see, however, are too many NCOs willing to roll over and simply not train soldiers the way they know in their gut that they must. If there is an officer or slick pocket that suggests to you that you should compromise a standard to make it easier for Joe or Josephine to pass you'd better scream to high heaven. And you better not stop screaming until you're standing in the Post CSM's office demanding to be told why it is you should compromise a standard. If you compromise on discipline by such things as letting soldiers stand around with their hands in their pockets while addressing you instead of standing at Parade Rest (been there - seen it, a graduating basic training company Fort Jackson, October 1996) that's a conscious decision YOU made. Stop whining, start kicking butt and taking names. In other words, get back to the basics and start being NCOs again. Life is not easy when YOU insist that soldiers (and your peers) meet standards and it's even tougher when you settle for or tolerate nothing less. Finally write this down where you can see it every single day before you give Joe and Josephine their morning wake up call. "THE SOLDIER I'M TRAINING TODAY IS THE FUTURE OF THE ARMY. HE IS MY REPLACEMENT. HE WILL TRAIN AND CARE FOR MY SON OR DAUGHTER."

If you are a noncommissioned officer in a regular unit, stop whining about the quality of the soldiers you are getting and do something about it. If an undisciplined soldier gets half your unit destroyed are you going to blame it on his Drill Sergeant? Remember the rule of the harvest. If you expect a good crop (your future) there's much more to it than just sticking the seeds into the ground. Drill Sergeants only have time to prepare the ground and stick the seeds in it. Growth and cultivation comes much later. Deal with it or quit. Now I feel better.

© 1999 J. D. Pdnery