I was “On The Trail” from ’94 through ’96. It was rewarding and challenging, two years was as much as I could bear. It wears on you, the rewards don’t balance against the challenges. But they do say that every so often the sun shines, even on a black dog’s ass.
We were training Infantrymen in Charlie, 1/38 Infantry, that was our job, our job included a bit of “weeding out the non-hackers” as R Lee Ermey so aptly put it. The majority of the cadre were Light-Fighters, Airborne or Rangers, even the mechanized guys we had were remarkably hard-core. We placed a great importance on road marching. If Joe couldn’t do anything else he would be able to carry his fair share to the fight and he would understand the importance of completing the mission. The first rule we implemented was that all formal periods of road march instruction were “required.” If Joe fell out or failed to finish for whatever reason he would make it up. That meant doing it again around the quarter mile PT track. That’s some long, soul-killing laps if you have to make up the ten miler before you go on your Family Day Pass.
I always enjoyed supervising the make-up ten miler. Joe would graduate from basic in his Class A uniform Friday morning, then go on pass till Sunday evening. Unless his weak-dick ass fell out of the ten miler, then he was in full battle rattle at 0200 Saturday mornin’ staring down the barrel of three plus hours of walking around the PT track with Mom and Dad patiently waiting while I counted his progress and provided purpose, motivation and direction. I shared coffee, cookies and small talk with his parents. Every so often I’d walk a lap and whisper words of encouragement to Joe, “roster number 415, you’re mother was just telling me how disappointed she was that they had to come here at zero-f*cking two and watch your sorry ass walk around the PT track. She did like the cookies though Private, would you like a f*ckin’ cookie Private? If you’d have finished the damn road march the first time you could be butt-naked on satin f*ckin’ sheets rolling in cookie crumbs right f*ckin’ now!” I was a Drill Sergeant not a life-coach, most of my purpose, motivation and direction was dependent upon Joe wanting the least amount of purpose, motivation and direction possible.
After Joe’s “graduation” we just picked up where we left off and picked up the pace. We road marched to training, we used every opportunity to build up to completing a fifteen mile march before graduation. I knew fifteen miles wouldn’t kill me, I knew the difference between pain and discomfort. Joe wasn’t sure he’d survive it, pain and discomfort were one and the same, failure lingered there. The icing on the cake was the “Turning Blue” Ceremony. When Joe finished the fifteen miler, while he was still sweat drenched and stank nasty, as an Infantryman should be, we would read some official sounding shit and slip a blue infantryman’s cord over his right arm and formally recognize him into the brotherhood. They earned it.
So there I am, closing on mile twelve of the fifteen miler. I’m carrying everything Joe is carrying, walking up and down the center of the formation keeping everyone moving and this tall skinny kid calls out from the front of the formation, “Drill Sergeant I gotta take a shit!” I replied, “Goddamnit Turbo, we’re gonna take a break up there at the curve, see it?” We kept moving. I was a third from the front as we started around the curve suddenly the same tall skinny kid shouts “Well damnit, that’s it!” Before I could ask what the hell he was talkin’ about I walked around the curve and into the wind. The stench that slapped me in the face explained everything. I got the pickup truck from the support vehicles and told the tall skinny kid to get in. He grabbed the passenger door I said “Oh Hell No, Get your ass in the back, you must be smokin’ crack.” I drove him back to the company area and told him to go upstairs, clean up, change uniforms and get back down stairs, ASAP. He was back in a few minutes lookin’ like his dog just died. “What’s up your ass turbo?” I asked in my caring, concerned Drill Sergeant voice. The tall skinny kid snirked back a tear and said “I’m not gonna Turn Blue!”
I was flabbergasted. Utterly bef*ckled. “Turbo, you’re hard enough to shit yourself ‘cuz I asked you to wait till the break, you earned your blue cord there, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the last three miles.” That tall skinny kid made some squad leader damn proud, somewhere down the line and that reward helped me get through the rest of my career.