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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bring It Up From Down Here

Other than my demerit issues, the Drill Sergeant Assistant school was a blast.  I thought all the instructors were excellent.  They kept our interest and made everything seem easy to learn.  I wish all my teachers in school had been that good.

They broke things down into what is called "by the numbers" in the military.  Everything is presented in a fundamental, step by step manner.  It is simple, but simple is good.  We learned how to create a class outline and research our subject.

We would be teaching subjects in classrooms and outdoors on drill fields.  We were the descendants of Baron Von Stueben, who helped shape a ragged group of former militia members into an efficient fighting organization during the Revolutionary War.  I even learned to use some of his colorful language.

We would be teaching the most fundamental element of a fighting force, dismounted drill.  This provides the method of moving a large body of soldiers into the positions that are required on the battlefield.  We learned how to teach a group of any size how to do what is necessary, together and in an organized manner.  We taught the manual of arms, how to handle the rifle to prepare to march.  One of the results of this training is to instill obedience and esprit de corp.

As the drill sergeants march their platoons, they count cadence and sing songs with the trainees to maintain the marching cadence and alert any other passing trainees that this is the best platoon in the army.  I'll talk more about this later.

Long story short, I graduated from the Drill Sergeant Assistant School and would have been in the top three graduates if I had not been in so much trouble in the demerit department.

My self confidence was soaring, but there was still so much that was unknown.  One thing that was known for sure, was that I would be frozen in my position at the basic training company I was assigned to at Ft. Knox for 12 months from my graduation.

So here I was, about a week at the reception station at Ft. Jackson SC, 8 weeks of basic training at Ft. Gordon GA, two weeks leave at Christmas time in the Burgh, two weeks of leadership school at Ft. Knox Ky, eight weeks AIT at Ft. Knox and six weeks of Drill Sergeant Assistant School at Ft. Knox and I was going to a training company to push trainees.  It was about 6 months since I first became a trainee myself.

I was assigned to Company D, 13th Battalion, Fifth Training Brigade.  Delta 13, 5.  Our company commander was a captain, whose name I cannot remember, but I liked him and had great respect for him.  Not long after I arrived, he received orders to go to Viet Nam.  We had two new, inexperienced second lieutenants in the company, one of whom would be our new company commander.

I was assigned to work as the assistant platoon sergeant of a guy whose name I cannot remember, except that it was a Polish name.  He was a staff sergeant and kind of a gruff guy.  The first time I joined him and the platoon, he told me to march the platoon.  I called them to attention, with my squeaky, inexperienced voice.  "Platoon, Atten-SHUN!"  He shouted, "NO, NO GODAMIT, BRING IT UP FROM DOWN HERE!", chopping me in the gut with the edge of his hand.

I was embarrassed, but got over it quickly.  I still had much to learn.  This is a something everyone must realize, when they move from the classroom environment to the real world.  This was a truly heady time for a young man.  I hadn't had this much fun since I learned how to ride a bike.

I bounced around among several different platoon sergeant bosses for the next 6 months.  Several of my bosses were black guys.  You may remember my discussion of the flight on TWA from Pittsburgh to Louisville in the previous January.  One of the concepts that had been buzzing around in my head that night was that I needed to open my mind with regard to the racial issues that were bubbling up in our country at that time.

I had seen in basic training that the army was well integrated.  That had been initiated during the Truman administration.  There were two NCOs in charge of my basic training platoon, a white staff sergeant and a black corporal.  It became obvious very quickly that the sharper of the two was the black guy.  The rumor was that he had been court marshaled and busted to corporal from a higher enlisted rank. Because of his competence and the fact that he was wearing the drill sergeant shield, I believed he was the actual platoon sergeant.

It was clear to me, that if I was going to be successful in the army, I was going to have to treat everyone I encountered based on their rank and competence.  With that resolution, made that stormy night on an airplane, I was well prepared to move on with my advancement at Delta 13, 5.

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