Monday, February 9, 2009

H is for Head

As in Head Games.

(I know, it's a stretch but I'm trying to keep the titles to one word per letter and I'm also trying, today, to incorporate Military Monday!)

One of the best pieces of advice I got going into Basic Training (BT) was that it was all just a big head game. If you don't play along, you'll be fine.

Truer words were never spoken! From that first Shock Treatment when you get off the bus at BT proper (after the week long vacation that was Reception), until they hand you your training diploma after 8 weeks - it's one. Big. Head.... alright, we'll stick with Game.

There's 3 Drill Sgt.'s (DS) per squad and 4 squads per platoon. My squad had the only female DS in the platoon. DS McCoy. She was this tiny, dark-skinned, wiry, hardcore chick who didn't take shit from anyone. She was the lead DS in my squad. The other 2 DS's were DS Beaufort (tall, skinny, dark-skinned, gold tooth, hip-hop walkin', talkin' F'er) and DS Brown (medium height, dark-skinned, quiet-spoken, very intelligent man).

DS Beaufort started our 8 weeks with a fun game. I think it was called "How much can I fuck with these recruits' heads?". One of the many rules we had to follow regarded our headgear (cap). If you're inside, headgear off; outside, headgear on. DS Beaufort told us that if we were within 5 feet of the door coming in, we had to take our headgear off, to prepare for coming inside. If we were within 5 feet of going outside, headgear on. He was constantly yelling at us for getting it wrong and finally, he even measured it out for us around the barracks door.

We didn't understand why the other Drill's were always yelling at us about our hats being on/off in the wrong place. When I got yelled at for about the fifth time by a DS from another squad about having my hat wrong, I told him what DS Beaufort said. Beaufort was walking up right about that time and DS Ski (the one who yelled at me) was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to not bust a gut laughing while he had me recount what Beaufort had told us. Of course, Beaufort denied the whole thing and they laughed their asses off while I did push ups for calling Beaufort a liar. I remember looking at Beaufort incredulously while he denied ever saying that. I sputtered, "What are you talking about, Drill??? You measured it out for us with this very door!" Beaufort looked at Ski and said, "She's clearly lost her mind. Must've dreamed this whole thing up to stay out of trouble", all the while grinning from ear to ear. I looked at Beaufort and had to laugh at the whole stupid nonsense myself while I said, "Ooooh, DS Beaufort, you are a liiiiaaaarr!" Then I had to do a bamilliondy push-ups. (I also remember while I was pushing concrete, Ski whispering to Beaufort, "That was a good one, I'll have to remember that for the next cycle [of soldiers].")

DS Ski's favorite game was to berate the women in our platoon, saying that women had no place in the Army and shouldn't be allowed in. In fact, this country started going downhill when women were given the right to vote. When he said that last line to me, I told him he must be really old to have been around since women were given the right to vote. More push ups for me!

My friend Amy and I figured out very early that if you made the DS's laugh, they'd leave you alone. If you got mad or, Dog forbid, cried, they were all over you all the time. But if you made them laugh! Then they saw they couldn't get in your head and they'd leave you be. Mostly. Whenever the DS's would drop Amy or I, we'd say, "Awwww, Drill serrrrrgeannnnnt!" in this silly, whiny way that'd always make them laugh.

Then there's the nonsense trips they send you on. They tell a recruit to go find a box of widgets or something else that doesn't exist and the poor soldier goes searching all over hell and back trying to find it. Asking every other DS or outranking personnel they find if they know where it is. The other personnel takes up the joke and sends them to someone else and the game goes all damn day. I used to love that joke! For real! My friend told me all about the fake treasure hunts and I'd use these hunts to have some "me" time. I'd find a nice shady spot or a closet and catch a few winks or just be nice and alone for awhile, all the time "looking" for my widget. Not so stupid after all!

Some people couldn't handle these head games. There were so very many of these games and if you didn't find a sense of self or a sense of humor about it, it could really work on you. There was a night when my friend Krissa and I were on duty along with DS McCoy. McCoy got the call that a soldier in the next barracks needed transport to the hospital. She was wondering why the DS on duty over there couldn't do it, but they asked her to come and do it anyway as the DS over there needed to counsel the others in that platoon. McCoy sat back and finished her sandwich. Krissa and I asked, "Shouldn't we be getting him? He needs to go to the hospital, right?" She said there was no rush, if it was a real emergency, they would've called an ambulance.

We got in the truck with her and drove down to the barracks in question. (I can't remember why she took us along, we were just happy she did. We really liked her and it was something different then the mind-numbing boredom of sitting at the desk duty.) She went into the building to get the guy. While she was gone, we changed the radio to a station we liked and when we saw her coming with the guy, we quickly switched it back. The soldier we picked up was holding a towel around his neck and she had him get in the back of the truck.

"You can change it back to the other station," she said, as she climbed into the driver's seat.
"What do you mean?" we asked, all innocence and light.
"Don't be stupid," she said, "I saw you two bobbing to the music from the front door!" We sheepishly changed the channel back to the music.

So this boy we picked up... He'd tried to commit suicide. I wondered if maybe putting him in the back of a moving truck was such a great idea, but DS McCoy said she'd zipped him in and we knew he'd really have to work to get the tarp that covers the back of the truck unzipped from the inside. (It was a big truck, used to transport soldiers - there were benches to sit on and slatted sides and a canvas like structure that covers the whole shebang.) Seems this stupid boy couldn't handle life in BT and had tied the long cord of the floor-buffer around his neck and then thrown the buffer out the third story window. Only the cord was too long. Instead of hanging from the window and choking the boy to death, the buffer hit the ground, breaking into a million pieces and making a hell of a racket. It was short enough, though that it slammed the boy against the wall on it's way down. And, yes, I know there's a whole psychology surrounding suicide attempts that makes this boy more sad then stupid, but, seriously, what a stupid way to try and kill yourself! Plus, if BT is really that bad for you, there's ways to get out that don't involve death. Or floor-buffers.

Don't get me wrong. There were many days when I had to restrain myself from going rabid and launching myself at these DS's - most of which were 3 times my size. Whenever I'd feel myself gettin' all bunched up over something, I'd remind myself "8 weeks, it's only 8 weeks. High school was 4 years and 3,000 times harder. You can do this."

There was one DS in particular who used to get under my skin. He wasn't even in my squad! (Huge Army lesson, right there. The thing I always hated most about the Army was that any fucker who had a slightly heavier collar then you (i.e. more rank) would mess with you. Just because they could.) He was a 1st squad DS. In 1st squad, there was a girl that could've been my twin. Our DS's were constantly mixing us up. We had the same body type, same eyes, same hair. The DS's used to tease us, saying our parents must have been messing around. This particular DS (Logan) was usually the one making most of the parental infidelity jokes. Those didn't bother me so much, but the guy was just an asshole in general and would always be on my case about something. Used to piss me off so much, mostly because wasn't my squad DS, wasn't in charge of me, and, really, shouldn't have any dealings with me at all. He was just a tool. But... I had my secret weapon.

I had the stupidest joke in the world in my head. Whenever this DS Logan, or any of them really, would get to me, I'd think of this joke and just start laughing. Logan would always ask me, "Riggs! What's so damn funny?" I'd say, "DS! Why'd the bird go to the doctor?" He tell me to shut up and make me do push-ups or something. Finally, on graduation day, after the ceremonies were all over, he asked me, "All right, Riggs. Why'd the damn bird go to the damn doctor?" I said, very matter-of-factly, very simply, "He needed tweetment." DS Logan got real quiet... just stared at me. Then he shook his head, chuckled, told me I was sumpin' and said to get out of his face. That dumb ass joke got me through Basic Training.

Heh, heh, "tweetment", Ruth!


Nell said...

After all that I'd need tweet-ment too!

Yvette said...

Awesome story! You write really well.

Darcys Knotty Knitter said...

You have won the sterling silver heart bracelet from the Dylan Raffle Incentive Giveaway on my blog:)Hugs Darcy