So I volunteered to go to the Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Ft. Knox again. This was going to be a six week class to become a Drill Sergeant Assistant or Drill Corporal. It would be exactly like the school the drill sergeants went to, except that we would live in a barracks at the academy.
This may not seem like a significant difference, but I can tell you that it was profound. It increased our workload, at least twofold. We were inspected personally every day by the tech NCOs, the guys who were our platoon sergeants.
The level of scrutiny was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Our uniforms had to be clean, starched and pressed every day, with sharp creases. There were to be no loose thread ends showing on name tags, insignia or buttons. Boots had to be spit shined so that you could see your face reflected in them. Everything had to be worn in a very exact manner. The line of your shirt had to align with the right edge of your belt buckle, which aligned perfectly with the line of the fly of your trousers. This was called the gig line. Gig was slang for demerit.
We started out with a certain number of demerits and you could only lose them. I think it was 100, but I'm not sure. Because we lived in the barracks, all of our belongings and living area were inspected daily. The linoleum floor of the barracks was made up of alternating black and white squares. The post of your bunk nearest the aisle down the barracks floor had to be aligned with the edges of one of those squares on two sides and spaced properly from the next bunk.
The pair of boots you were not wearing for the day had to be touching the post, with the front edge of the sole aligned with the edge of the same square on the floor. All other shoes, including your civilian shoes, had to be clean, aligned and touching in the same manner.
It is needless to say the bunk had to be made so that it was tight enough to bounce a coin on it. Your footlocker had to be open and everything in it in a prescribed position and clean, even your razor. The only place that was not inspected was the inside of your laundry bag. That is where you hid the razor that you actually used. The bag was to be tied to your bunk in a prescribed manner and position. There was a certain way your wall locker had to be arranged.
Hair cuts and shaves were areas where you could be gigged. It was very detail oriented and put tons of pressure on our time. Being late for a formation or class was a demerit. The reason for this was to emphasize attention to detail to the extreme and to assure that we would be very sharp and impressive in appearance when we first met our new basic trainees.
Other aspects of your behavior could get you lots of demerits, such as fighting. I learned that from personal experience. There was a guy in our class who had been in my AIT company. We had been friends at first, but a situation came up because of my status as a squad leader and we had some issues. This boiled over in the barracks at the NCO Academy and he took a swing at me, hitting me in the ear. He was considerably bigger, but I defended myself, until others broke up the fight.
We had to have a meeting with the tech NCOs and he was kicked out of the school for starting the fight. I was given a large number of demerits, but allowed to stay in the school.
As we drew near the end of the 6 weeks, I was getting very near to the limit in how many demerits I was allowed to have to avoid being kicked out. One of the techs called me into a meeting to discuss the issue. I consider this to be the best sales job of my life up to that point. He said he didn't see any way I could complete the school without going over the limit.
I pointed out that he had given me a ton of demerits for defending myself in a fight that I did not start. I pointed out that I was one of the top three in the class in all the things that we had to do. This was not just academic stuff, but it was also performance stuff, such as teaching classes before our classmates, in which they gloried in pointing out all the mistakes you made. I told him that he knew I could go down to the basic training company and do the job that they thought I could do when they invited me to attend. I said that I thought I had been subjected to extra scrutiny, more than my classmates, after the fight. I told him that I had never experienced anything like the level of perfection demanded by this school before, but that without the demerits for the fight, was doing as well as or better than anyone else in the class. I told him that if he gave me the break of normal scrutiny for the remainder of the time, I would be OK. He bought it.
Several days later, we were learning about how to conduct a class in Pugil sticks, in which trainees beat the hell out of each other with padded sticks that look like big Qtips and are about the length of a rifle. They are supposed to be used with the moves learned in bayonet training, thrusts, parries and rifle butt smashes. It mostly ends up looking more like a fist fight with sticks. We wore football helmets with cage face masks and hockey gloves.
I was probably at the lower end of the big, athletic dudes in the class. There were a few guys bigger, faster and stronger, but most were smaller and less athletic.
The rules were that you fought until you lost, then you went out. I fought 3 guys who were my size or smaller and beat them. It was a great opportunity for me to release my frustration from all the stuff I just told you about. I really beat a couple of those guys badly, but then, as I was tiring a guy got a lucky hit in on me and I was declared the loser.
The tech NCO who had talked to me about the demerits was running the class and he told me to stay in the ring and sent the biggest, baddest guy in the class in with me. He was fresh and eventually whooped me pretty good. Nothing much was hurt except my pride and even that was not so bad, because of the circumstances. I was a little angry about the way this went down, however.
I had a chance to walk near the NCO and I asked him why he kept me in the ring after I had lost and he said he wanted to see if I could move. I told him that the best way to find out how I could move was to get in the ring with me. You should have seen the look on his face. He was not expecting that. Neither was I. It just kind of flew out of me mouth. He did not get in there with me. I was no longer the quiet, reticent guy of years past.