After dinner, Sarge, Gunny and I spent the rest of the evening and well into the night hashing out the plans for my enlistment in the army. We came up with, and rejected, at least half a dozen plans that evening.
All of the planning was contingent on my parent’s approval of course. Although I didn’t think they would say no, I wasn’t sure how my mother was going to react. She was not at all happy about all the training I was doing, even though she knew exactly why. I think she was maybe afraid I would get to like it too much, and it would change me in ways that she wasn’t prepared for. In the end, it did that of course, but in ways neither she nor I could ever have expected.
With my parent’s approval, I would make my application to join the army immediately out of high school. The gunny and the Sarge would provide letters along with the two officers they had talked about earlier; and we would make a trip to Chicago to see a recruiting sergeant that Sgt. Joyce knew.
As he put it: “I don’t want some pencil pushing REMF to sideline your path. If you test out as good as I think you will, that would be a distinct possibility. By going through Bud Richardson, we can be assured that this will go the way it’s supposed to. Bud served with Bill Woolridge who is the current SMA. One word in his ear and no one will fuck with your duty assignments.”
“What’s the SMA, Sarge?”
“The SMA is the Sergeant Major of the Army – the senior enlisted man in the entire army. They just created this position recently, and Bud tells me that Bill looks after the interests of all enlisted men. He reports directly to JCS, and spends a fair bit of time observing training and the like. No one short of JCS have the right to order him around, and if he were to find out someone was screwing with a friend’s friend…”
“Ah, I get the picture. Ummm… Sarge, Gunny? I’ve never asked, but why are you two doing all this for me. Sarge I know you’re a friend of my dad, and you kind of know him too Gunny; but… why?”
“Well” started the Sarge “your dad, Joe and I all went to high school together. We were close friends. Your dad and I enlisted in the army and Joe went into the Marines.
You got to remember that this was during the 30’s when there weren’t any jobs to speak of. We were all mid-way into our first hitch when the war broke out in Europe. Word came down that all hitches were being extended and that getting out wasn’t gonna be an option any time soon. Joe was with the 4th Marines in Shanghai, and your dad and I were here in the States volunteering for any bit of training we could get. We were in the Big Red One, 2/26 to be exact. We had been sent to Benning to go through the Infantry School, and had done well enough that we got sent to Advanced Infantry Training. If we passed, it was extra money each month, so we jumped at the chance.”
Sarge sighed, “Your dad will have to decide if he wants to talk about it, but we ended up together right through the end of WW II. Kasserine, where we got royally fucked and where American troops ran for the first time in over a hundred years; Sicily, Aachen….we saw things that no man should ever see, and we survived. Your old man was in the same attack where I got that damn medal. Not that I’m denigrating the Medal, Lyon. Far from it. But I lost too many friends that day. So did your dad. They were guys we trained with, fought with, and grew to be brothers with.
He got out after WW II. Went to school on the GI Bill, married your mother and had you. Joe and I stayed in. We all kept in touch though, from wherever Joe or I happened to be in the world, we all managed to stay friends. After I retired, I came home. When your dad came to me knowing that you would probably be drafted and likely to go to Nam, I just had to help.”
Gunny chimed in with his part of the story.
“I’ve kinda owed your dad since high school. He actually helped me make it all the way through. When Marv came to me and said he wanted some help getting you ready for the Army, I was in.
Marv, your dad, and I were kinda like the Three Musketeers in high school. Where you found one of us, you found all of us. And while we went mostly our separate ways after high school, we have always kept in touch through letters, or mutual friends. Marv and I married the Army and the Marines, we never had any kids of our own. So helping you get ready is like getting one of our own ready.”
Wow. I was learning a lot more about my family than I ever knew before. I knew my Dad had been in the Army, but he really never talked about it. He always just said, “that was a different time and place”. I had read about most of the campaigns of the Big Red One and knew from my reading they had seen some very tough and bloody fighting. My Dad never struck me as a man who would be in that. He was just my Dad, you know?
“Ummm – Sarge, was my Dad ever decorated?”
“Lyon, I’ll let you ask your Dad about that. Those are his stories to tell.”
Obviously my Dad had seen some pretty wild things, considering he never talked about his time in the war. It made me wonder if he was trying to prepare me for the crap that I might see in Vietnam. In addition to talking with him, I think I should talk to my mother about his experience in the war from her perspective. I remember she said they had been going out before the war. It could be part of the reason she is so worried about me going into the Army.
“Well, I think I need to sit down and have a long talk with Dad. And Mother, too. But for now, let’s talk about what happens if we assume I get into the Army prior to being drafted, and that my enlistment goes the way you guys hope it will.”
“Well then, let’s go through Basic to start with, Lyon.”
“Week zero is the Reception Battalion. Normally when recruits arrive, it’s the haircut, physical, inoculations, issuing of uniforms and kit, physical, intelligence and psych testing. It’s also where the recruits are separated into platoons.”
“Now, when we do the early enlistment, we are going to accompany it with a complete physical and inoculations. You will, of course, have a regulation haircut; there will be a complete set of testing protocols run on you. Since all of that will be done in advance, once we get the results back, we will sit down with Bud and work out getting your MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) set up before you report. If your MOS is locked in by Command, the DI’s, your Company Commander, usually a Captain, and even the Training Battalion Commander can’t fuck with it.
This may cause a bit of resentment on their part if they are aware of it in advance, and it might cost you some shit and abuse, but it means you would get to where you want and need to be.
You’re already in better shape than pretty much any recruit that will enter Basic and you’ve had training. The physical conditioning that you’ve been doing, combined with what the Gunny and I have been teaching you is going to put you miles ahead of the curve. Again, there are some potential problems in Basic with that. This is crap you are going to have to live with. The DI’s will be picking on you first because of the way you look; and second because as you continue to prove yourself they will look for ways to try and make you fail so that they can humiliate you in front of the platoon.”
Turning his head, he said as an aside to Joe, “I never thought I’d say this Joe, but I think when he’s doing unarmed combat training he is going to have to ‘kill’ the DI in charge. It will probably be the only way to prove himself. Have you been teaching him all of the back alley tricks and DI tricks you know?”
“Marv, he knows everything I know, and actually ‘killed’ me three times today. On that score he’ll be fine.”
“Lyon,” Joe turned toward me, “Marv is absolutely right. Much and all as I would never normally suggest it, because it will initially seriously piss off the DI’s, you will have to go for the whole nine yards. Generally, during unarmed combat training we pick someone and say to them ‘C’mon – try and kill me’, so we can put them down fast and easy and show the squad or platoon that we’re trained and they don’t know nothing. Don’t kill the guy or seriously hurt him, but when the time comes, if you can put him down and put him down hard, you need to do it. Like I said, while it will piss them off mightily, and you will likely end up doing a shitload of corrective training, it will serve another purpose.”
“Okay, guys... How does marking myself to all the DI’s serve a purpose Gunny? I would have thought that I would be better staying ahead of the curve, by not making a target of myself.”
“It’s like this, Lyon. To some degree you will already be marked by having an MOS assignment that none of them can fuck with, if they decide to investigate that far. That would be a simple matter of checking out Battalion's file on you rather than the one they have at the company level. You will be showing up the other recruits in terms of physical conditioning and knowledge. More precisely, in the way the Army works. The Battalion Commander and possibly the DI’s will have your 201 file, and access to your testing scores, the letters of recommendation and all. This will present an enigma and problem for them. You will have 2 letters from former and current Army personnel and 2 from former Marine personnel. That alone will have them scratching their heads. This will also make them wonder if you have a ‘rabbi’ somewhere that doesn’t show in the file. That will then cause a lot of back channel commo to happen.”
“A ‘rabbi,’ Gunny? What’s that?”
“A ‘rabbi’ Lyon is much like a protector. That would be a person who is watching out for you. The Battalion Commander will wonder if there’s a more senior officer keeping an eye on you, given that 2 of the letters will be from 3 and 4 star Generals. The DI’s will wonder if it’s a senior non-com given the letters from me and Marv. Heaven forbid you might have one of each tracking your progress. If it were me in their place, I would call in a favor or two and get the poop on the two non-coms. I’d probably go off the reservation and call the most senior Marine non-com I know – in my case a Master Gunner on the Commandant’s staff – and find out what the guy that gave the letter is really all about. And then I’d find a doggie that I knew and do the same in regard to the Army. Getting the skinny on the two non-com letters would give me a lot of clues as to the kind of person you are. Especially if the people I called knew the writers personally and could vouch for them. It wouldn’t tell me if you had a rabbi, but it would help me understand how you know what you know.”
“Again, from my point of view, it would cause me to do one of two things. If after learning everything I could, and I thought you weren’t fucking with the system, and if you were a really promising recruit, I would start challenging you by making things tougher but directing your training in such a way as to make you a better soldier. If I decided you were a worthless piece of shit then I would do my damnedest to bust your ass out.”
“It will depend on which way they decide as to how Basic will go for you, kid. Worst case, ‘cause they won’t flunk you out of Basic is that they try to ship you to ‘Nam as a grunt right after Basic. Best case, you get AIT and Special Forces.”
“Marv, you wanna keep filling him in on Basic? I need to get another cup of coffee.”
“Okay Lyon, so in week zero you will wow them to a certain point, but it will also make them suspicious and it may set you apart from your squad and platoon mates as well. It’s just something you’re going to have to deal with. But you still need to be a team player. That is a hugely important thing – no one man is an army, you need your platoon mates to work with you like a well-oiled machine.”
“So, now week one. A bunch more really basic crap to be honest Lyon. We’ve being teaching you how to march properly and the basic rank structures and some of the other basics. Over the next few weeks, we will get into uniform care and maintenance, how to stay ahead of the game and everything else to make you a real strac’ trooper that your DI’s will be proud of and so will we.
Week two starts to get into hand to hand combat, some teamwork challenges and the basics of map reading, terrain navigation and the like. They get more serious in the physical training with the Victory Tower and obstacle courses. And they’ll start with the first aid training. Now I know you’ve done basic and advanced first aid training, but it would help if you had more.
Week three starts bayonet and weapons training. Stuff we’ve already done, and you know you should come out expert to high expert there. Those three components make up phase 1 of Basic.
Phase 2 of Basic gets you to firing weapons, introduces you to heavier weapons like grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons, continued PT, introduction to the confidence course and pairing with another recruit who will become your ‘battle buddy’. This happens over a period of another 3 weeks.
Phase 3 of Basic is made up of the PT final, bivouac and combat exercises plus a final Field Training Exercise where the recruit platoon and squad leaders are in charge of their units. Only those that pass this will be moved on to AIT. That’s the basics of Basic, if you will. Throughout all of this, the DI’s and the officers will be looking at the recruits. They will be looking for leaders, specialists and what I call ‘naturals’. The naturals are the hardest to define. It is really only from years of experience can they pick out these people. A natural just doesn’t come along all that often. Maybe once in every 10 recruit rotations do you find one. God knows both Joe and I have seen our fair share of recruits and I think I have only seen a dozen or so true naturals.”
It was at this point that Gunny rejoined the conversation.
“Marv’s right. A natural born warrior is a precious commodity. Like him, in all my years I have not seen very many at all. No more than a dozen, that’s for sure. And unfortunately, unless they have a group of men around them that recognize them for what they are, they end up getting killed way too quickly.”
“The problem is that they try to do too much without adequate back up. Well, that’s not entirely true either. Because the officers in charge recognize what they have, they tend to ask for more than can be accomplished without the aid of a well trained and accomplished squad or platoon around him. And when that happens, the natural tries to make it work anyway and too many times ends up getting killed. That’s one of the reasons I support the concept of SEALS and Special Forces. It gives the naturals the place where they can be developed with the proper support squad around them. And they actually make the men around them better, too. The team that ends up working with these guys tends to become better soldiers merely to keep up. And from pride of course.
Now I don’t know for sure if you’re a natural or not kid, but you ARE damned good. We’re going to keep trying to polish you so we can get you a couple of other things. If, and remember that word – if, you are testing out really well, and you do real well at the beginning of basic, they can essentially declare you ready for AIT and send you through. What they would likely do is put you with a rotation that is about to graduate and have you do the Standard Army Annual PT Examination and the FTX – the Field Training Exercise. If you pass those, it’s straight to AIT.
So for the next few weeks until you join up, Marv and I are going to run you through every aspect of basic. By the time we’re done, you will know more than any average recruit. The reason for us doing this is simple – we want to make it so you can do OSUT (One Station Unit Training) if possible and then move right into Special Forces Training.”
“Your MOS and your Special Forces training designation are going to depend a lot on your pre-entry testing, so you do want to make sure you do well on those. They have a lot of impact on your future career.”
Wow! No pressure guys! Well to be honest I already knew that my test scores were going to be a big thing, so that wasn’t really all that much of a surprise. But it’s not like a guy wants to be reminded of it, or anything. All I can do is my best, anyway. But they think I am “damned good”. High praise indeed from those two. They have worked me hard, and it sounds like they plan to continue that. But wow, they really do care about me. Not just because of dad, but because they truly care for me. All of a sudden it’s like I had 3 dads or something.
“So, if I ace the testing, we can pretty much dictate the MOS from there, correct?”
I got a couple of affirmative nods, so I went on.
“And, depending on how I do physically and with intake testing I might get ‘rushed’ through Basic and sent to AIT, but remain at the same duty station for all of it.”
Again, I got a couple of nods albeit less enthusiastic this time.
“There’s no guarantee of that, but if they have AIT training available there then it’s likely.” Sarge informed me.
“And you two are going to keep teaching me everything I need to know for basic so I can try to make this happen?”
“Of course we are, Lyon.”
“All right then, I would guess we have a plan then. I think we need to speak to my parents now. I want to have a couple of chats with both mother, and dad about different things in the meantime, but what do you guys say to coming over to dinner at our house next weekend so we can talk to them and outline the plan?”
“Sounds good, Lyon.”
“Works for me too, kid.”
“Gunny, it’s probably time I was getting home. Could you drop me off?”
“Sure thing kid, I have to get going anyway.”
The ride home was pretty much done in silence, both Gunny and I lost in our thoughts. It had been a busy day and a thoughtful evening. I was mentally and physically tuckered out.
As Gunny dropped me off, he said “Get some rest, ‘cause we’ll be working out at the same times this week for training. Just ‘cause you killed me don’t mean we’re done working.”
After I got home, I said good night to my mother and dad, said I would talk to them tomorrow and headed for bed. I don’t think my head even hit the pillow before I was asleep.
The next day I was up and out early. I knew Mom would want to know things I wasn’t ready to talk about yet, so I figured I’d best be out and about before she cornered me and made me say something I’d regret. She knew she would be losing me to the draft but that didn’t make it any easier for her. As that fateful moment was looming ever larger she was becoming more... ‘motherly’ toward me. I think a part of it was her not understanding the mindset of the whole thing.
Dad, well, he was resigned to it. He had served in his time and he knew others who had spent even more time after those hellish years. As a result he had an idea about what was coming and had made some sort of peace with it... if ‘peace’ was the right word here. I decided I would tell him about it all as soon as possible. He might be able to give me some sort of advance idea about how to bring it up with Mom when Sarge and Gunny came over for supper. He could also help Mom by adding his support to her when I did break the silence.
Even with all that, it hit Mom really hard to be suddenly face to face with the certainty of it all. At least the four of us were able to convince her that everything I had done up to this point offered me the greatest chance of surviving it all. Even so, she still came close to catatonia from the shock of facing it. I think she felt she was losing both a son and a daughter all at once since there were times she seemed to consider me to be one and the same. I know that sounds really weird, it wasn’t like she thought of me wearing dresses or anything but she had taught me to cook and care for the house much as she would for her daughter. It took a couple of days before she came out of her self- imposed, robot like, anxiety attack. When she did, she had a number of questions which, once answered, seemed to placate her a bit. The next week, Sarge and Gunny took me up to see their buddy
L. J. STEVENS, Vol. One
T D Aldoennetti
with contributing authors
Kate Hart & Denise Trask
All characters in this work have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relationship whatsoever to anyone or anything bearing the same name or names. The characters contained herein are not even distantly inspired by any specific individuals known or unknown to the author. All incidents described or alluded to within this work are pure invention. No affiliations, involvements or gender assignations due to the use of any images contained within this work are to be implied, intended or inferred.
Cover image copyright Maps.com and shown for clarification of area in which the story begins it’s evolution.
DUTY CALLS, L.J. Stevens Vol. One Copyright © 2012 USA, Earth by R. A. Dumas.
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