One son is on active duty with the Army (68W – “Medic”) and the contrast between his Army and the one I was in fifty years ago amazes me. The standards, physical fitness, and the skill sets are miles and miles higher than my era.
In my youth, the one common denominator all men faced was THE DRAFT. Conventional wisdom was the Army was the worst place to be. The Air Force, Navy, Marines, and National Guard were able to recruit enough volunteers that they didn’t need draftees. Hence, their recruits were probably better motivated, and, perhaps, more intelligent overall.
Digging through some boxes, came across my basic training “year book”. Below are the pictures of the “kindly and gentle” NCO’s that introduced me to the Army.
These men faced many challenges. The facilities, equipment, training aids, and barracks were leftovers from WWII and Korea. More than likely funding for anything was a problem. Then there were the raw recruits they were tasked with training.
Recruits fell into three groups, draftees (US), volunteers (RA), and National Guard (NG). The draftees had a few college men and high school graduates but had a high number of men dumber than a box of rocks. They were not highly motivated. The National Guard recruits had, in my opinion, a draft dodger mentality. They seemed to regard themselves as much higher in status and smarts than the rest of us. Volunteers had a few men that saw the Army as a career, many who saw the Army as three hots and a cot, and men like me. I never doubted I would serve. By enlisting, I was in a small way controlling my destiny and where I would go. Others joined to learn various skills. Draftees were in for two years active duty, volunteers for three years active duty, and the National Guard for six months of active duty. All of us had a six year obligation.
In a tradition that dates back centuries, these NCOs started grinding us into soldiers. They were not allowed to hit any trainee. Their method was induced fatigue. By working in shifts, they got us up at 0400 and kept us in motion until lights out at 2200. For those few of us who were in great physical condition, we were drained of most of our piss and vinegar. For those who came in out of condition, it must have been hell. Few dropped out. The rumors of the conditions in the “retraining companies” were extra motivation. Also, we were told often by the cadre that the way out of the Army was a lot harder than getting through basic. This was reinforced when we passed the occasional work parties that closely resembled chain gangs. These men were “retrainees”.
My biggest challenge, which has been my life’s biggest challenge, was controlling my temper. Those kindly NCOs soon spotted my problem and came up with various ways of helping me learn “anger management”. What I could do was shoot. I’d spent years in the NRA Junior Rifleman program, and grew up in a hunting culture. That ability was spotted, and made me stand out from the “herd”, which brought certain perks. The cadre hoped we few “shooters” could raise the overall average of the company. Very selfish of them, don’t you agree?
What a challenge these men faced. There was no “drill sergeant” ethos at that time. Little effort was spent to build “esprit”. No learning the “Army Song”, which didn’t exist at the time. Their job was turning a mob into soldiers. The end result.
My advanced individual training (AIT) was at the same post (Fort Lost in The Woods in the State of Misery). A large package for me arrived in the mail at my basic training company. Rather than it being forwarded, I was allowed to leave early and take a cab to pick it up (cab fare was 25 cents). The cadre spotted me and invited me to eat with them in the mess hall. What a revelation! Friendly, laughing, and teasing me about my mishaps, these were not the same men who I feared for eight weeks. There I learned the Battalion had scored a new FLW low with our training cycle. How frustrating it must have been for those cadre members!
They did a good job of teaching me soldier skills. Rarely, standing Guard Mount, did I fail to make Supernumary. All guard details have one extra man in case someone gets sick or otherwise needs to be replaced. This person doesn’t walk guard and is often rewarded with perks.
When I see my son and his fellow soldiers, I realize most from my era wouldn’t make a pimple on their asses. As a nation, we are fortunate to have them.
I will always be in favor of universal, compulsory, military service for both sexes, if only for a few months. Nothing else comes close to building a sense of national identification and unity.