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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Basic Training Revisited

There is a point in every class that I teach where it comes necessary to show the video of myself on the rope swing in Basic Training. This is because I didn't believe that I would make it, so I don't. As I hit the water, the video editors censor out "F*****G Glass" for GLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASS. 

If you know what you're listening for, it's obvious.

The lesson does elicit laughter, but it also is a good point. If we didn't learn from our failings, we would never succeed. Most roads aren't straight. That said, if roads can be seen comically in hindsight and we learn from them, then we win.

Here are a few more stories from Basic.

I exited the bus, and I knew the abuse that was coming. I predicted it, and it came to me, but it took longer than I thought. I looked across the tarmac and saw a black guy in a King Tut jacket, wondering if he was going to take abuse for that, and I was shocked when it didn’t come. I was dressed as inconspicuously as possible, and here he was looking completely odd by my suburban white boy definition of odd.
How was I to know that the back to Africa movement was off limits for all training instructors not named R. Lee Ermey?

We went upstairs to the dorm after we had been marched around on the drill pad long enough. We were given keys for our lockers, and these keys were on chains. We were then told that we wear them tucked into our shirts, and I quickly placed mine beneath my shirt in an effort to keep the wolves that be away.
Almost expectedly, a short while later, I was yelled at for having my key exposed. I put it away for a second time; at least I thought that I did. Within a few minutes, I was being yelled at again. Somehow, I instinctively and stupidly responded that, “I ALREADY DID THAT.
And it came out like that: loud and smart ass and just the opposite of everything that the, “yes sir – I’m doing that as we speak” would have been.
And so it was that these were words that would haunt me for the better part of the next two months:
I’m going to make your next weeks a living hell.
The response was calm and exact. It wasn’t a threat or a prediction. It was a promise, and to be honest, Sgt. Honig succeeded in that.
Sgt. Honig was a big man. He stood over 6 feet tall and was packed head to toe in solid muscle. I was 120 pounds of skinny, goofy gimp, who had only recently started getting in some semblance of out of shape as compared to the lazy scrawny whatever that I had been.
In short, I was dead meat.
The next morning I woke up to hear my name called in loud commanding tones by the other training instructor, Sergeant Rouse.
Glass? Glass? Where’s Airman Glass?
I sprang to attention as soon as my feet hit the floor in front of him.
“Sir, Airman Glass reports as ordered.”
Loud and sarcastic were gone.
I was given my first duty, which was to be the chow runner. It was my job to ask permission for the group to be seated, eat, and leave. In the course of going to do this, I would have to face 1-5 training instructors and all of the wrath and insults that they could dredge up in an attempt to make a fool out of me.
To be honest, it wasn’t very hard to trip that version of me up.
A person who was a chow runner would stand in front of these dudes, and he would have to remember the words line by line, word for word, and when he was given a card day one, it was impossible to get all of the words down pat.
My first time up there, I was so nervous and forgetful to my lines that I was told to tell my flight that they could not eat because I was so inept or stupid or worthless or something that implied that I was less than dog shit.
Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to what would happen when I told 47 other guys that my stupidity, mouth, and lack of ability to make my mouth function properly was going to cause them to go hungry. All the same, I told them, and after a pause that lasted longer than the Hundred Years War, I was told to retry. They got to eat, and I had about a minute or so to eat after those 116 years of standing there feeling like a complete dumbass.
Nevertheless, over time, I got used to eating quickly. I didn’t notice the taste of the food; I just inhaled it. We do what we have to do in those days of Basic Training, and after a while, your body doesn’t even notice; it just responds.
Eventually, I got good enough at my task, so they replaced me with someone else who was messing up too regularly to let it be ignored and he was made to suffer until he got it right.
All the same, it took a while to get good at facing confrontation and pressure. Now, I can honestly say that I’m not afraid to stand in front of a class and run the show from Day 1.
To think that I owe all of this to talking out of my ass the first night of Basic Training!

When I look back on Basic Training, there was only one thing that I did right: I never fell behind on a run. I actually got in better shape than I had been in my life, and to be honest, I might have only been sort of out of shape. In fact, I ran with a speed that I have never matched, and at this point in my life, I most likely never will either. On my final run, I ran 2½ miles in 20 minutes, and felt like I could keep going forever. Unfortunately, after that, we were allowed to eat junk food, and I redeveloped my really bad addiction for caffeine, sugar, and lack of exercise. It is true; an object at rest remains at rest. Such was the end of the physical specimen that I had become. The only difference was that now I was 130 pounds, and I was actually getting solid (as opposed to the scrawny guy that I was coming in). At college, they call it the Freshman Fifteen, but in the Air Force, it was a new and better you.


The most amusing anecdote in Basic Training was the story of the first locker inspection that Sgt. Honig would perform. I was caught leaning against a locker early on. My elbow was against the locker when we were allowed to be at rest, rather than me having to stand at “attention”, which we had to be at when he came to inspect us. Until then, it was a state of “at rest.” Being that my last name begins with a G, the torment would last forever as we had to get through to Z, and I was forced to stay leaning against the locker, and every time that my name was called, I would have to yell, “GQ,” which was changed to “GQ Daddy” when he got tired of just “GQ,” and finally it became, “Yo, what’s up GQ Daddy.” It seemed like this went on for longer than it takes Kuiper Belt objects to go around the sun, and when Honig finally got to the other side of the dormitory, I wasn’t excused. Instead, I had to follow him into the other bay so that the other side could watch me suffer.
At one point, one guy started to snicker, and Honig got in his face.
“Do you think this is funny?!!!!”
“Yes Sir.”
“You’re right it is, but if you laugh one more time, you’ll be up there with him.”
There were no more laughs, and nobody else came to join me. Finally, I was released and left to humbly plod across to my bunk. At least I still had the ability to laugh at myself, which shows that I could own my mistakes.

For a short time, I even had the words GQ Daddy placed on a squadron t-shirt to remind myself of what not to do.