Ain’t Released Me Yet
Memoirs of a REMF
Copyright© 2016 by Robert B. Martin, IV
All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the copyright owner, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal. I have attempted to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them.
Leaders and Rules
“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.” ..........Dalai Lama, XIV
It turned out that we were relatively lucky to have SGT Ledbetter as our platoon sergeant. We could have done a lot worse. He was a little older, more mature, and more experienced than the other DI’s. I don’t believe he felt that he had as much to prove, as did the other DI’s. Don’t get me wrong. He was tough, but fair. He wasn’t mean like Platoon Sergeant Robert C. Lever was. SGT Lever was slight of build and of average height but he strutted around like a bantam rooster with his chest stuck out, his shoulders and arms pushed slightly back, acting as though he was king of the roost. He was just pure mean. On the nights he had “the duty” he would wait until everyone was asleep before making his bed check. He would stomp loudly through the front door, turn on all of the lights, and then continue stomping down the length of the barracks while rapping on each bunk with his riding crop. When he reached the back door he would turn the lights off and, just to make sure no one had been able to sleep through the bed check, he slammed the door as he exited.
The Company Commander was Captain Frank J. Spacek, III. This was his first BCT company command. We rarely saw him, as he seemed to stay in his office all the time. I remember him as a squirrelly little guy with glasses. I would find him not to be a man of his word and I would come to detest him because of his double-crossing us shortly before BCT graduation.
There seemed to be hundreds of rules to remember. There was no way anyone could remember all of them, especially under the tremendous pressure created by a DI who is bracing you at attention and screaming in your face. Still, forgetting one of the rules was no excuse and it gave the DI a good reason to give you additional grief. They constantly rained physical and verbal abuse upon trainees. I understand that today’s Army doesn’t allow trainees to be treated in this manner. If it did, I don’t believe anyone would join the All Volunteer Army.
This abuse from the DI’s was intended to break our spirit and it eventually would. I don’t know if this is part of today’s Army training or not. It may not be necessary with an all-volunteer force. You must remember that many of us did not want to be in the Army and tended to be somewhat rebellious. The Army couldn’t have that. The goal was to tear us down to the lowest common denominator so that we were all on the same level. No rich, no poor, no black, or white. Everyone was the same, just a little lower on the totem pole than a bag of shit. Then, and only then, was the DI able work his magic. He forced you into a mold and brainwashed you for the entire eight weeks of training. The end product was the Army’s idea of a soldier.
One of the rules introduced to us during our first couple of days in BCT was one regarding incoming mail. Our mailing address included our name, rank, serial number, company, battalion, brigade, post name, state, and zip code. About the only piece of information not included in the address was our platoon number. There were four platoons in the company and I was in the 3rd platoon. We were told that our incoming mail must include our platoon number written within a circle in the lower right-hand corner of the envelope in order to make the mail sorting easier. Our platoon was given one week to inform all potential correspondents that any mail sent to us required the number “3” within a circle on the envelope. At the end of the week, anyone receiving mail without this circled “3” would have his ass run-off before receiving his mail. Looking through the letters that I wrote home it is easy to see that I was very concerned about this. I put reminders in the closing of many letters stating, “Don’t’ forget about adding the 3!”
There was another dumb rule about the mail. We were not allowed to save our mail once we finished reading it. We were supposed to throw it away because there was no allocated space for mail in our wall or footlockers. I assume that this rule was supposed to help keep all personal areas looking the same. However, I only three away the envelopes and saved all of Carol Ann’s letters, hiding them in various places in my area.
There was also a rule requiring lights in the barracks to remain turned off between the hours of 2100 hours (9:00 PM) and 0500 hours (5:00 AM) the next morning. This was supposed to allow for eight hours of sleep. Except that never happened. Army regulations only required instructors to give trainees a minimum of three hours of sleep a night. Work was often completed after the lights were turned off. We learned to do certain tasks in the dark, usually under a blanket with a flashlight or in the latrine where the lights were on all night. Some of these late night chores included spit shining boots, cleaning weapons, polishing brass, practicing the manual of arms, studying field manuals, memorizing rules and general orders, and sometimes even mopping the floor. It was beneficial to practice breaking down and reassembling your weapon in the dark, because we would be required to do so while blindfolded and timed. We were usually awakened around 0400 hours (4:00 AM) every morning to give us time to clean and straighten our personal areas and to shower and shave before the lights were turned on at 0500 hours (5:00 AM). When the lights came on we were to be standing at attention in formation in front of the barracks, ready for the pre-breakfast physical training, or “PT”.
The “Uniform of the Day” was posted on the barracks bulletin board each evening and trainees were expected to be dressed accordingly at the next morning’s formation. Anyone not conforming to the Uniform of the Day was “out of uniform” and was punished, usually in the form of additional PT such as running or push-ups. One cold morning a DI noticed that PVT Thomas Lett was missing his left glove. In addition to the punishment that would be levied upon PVT Lett, everyone else in the platoon was made to remove his left glove for the sake of uniformity.
A broken rule always resulted in some type of punishment. Positive reinforcement was rare. I had to find ways to boost my own morale because the DI’s certainly weren’t going to help. The best method I found was to chalk up little “personal victories” over the DI’s. They probably didn’t even realize they had been bested but I knew it and that made me feel better. One such example occurred on a weekend we had been promised movie privileges at the post theater. Unfortunately, someone broke a rule during the week and our weekend theater privilege was revoked. As punishment we were made to take a first aid test that afternoon. I scored 100% on it and probably knew more than the instructor. One would think that the instructor would have been pleased. However, since the test was intended as punishment, it pissed him off that I had “beaten him.” The fact that it pissed him off pleased me greatly and I gladly accepted his being pissed off as a personal victory. I always looked forward to First Aid classes for three reasons. I already knew most of it, it wasn’t difficult, and best of all, it was not strenuous because we sat through most of this training. The goal wasn’t to turn us into medics but to teach us how to keep a buddy alive before medical help arrived.
The part of first aid training I remember most vividly was how to recognize and treat a “sucking chest wound.” Sounds awful, doesn’t it? A bullet wound to the chest will usually result in a punctured lung and when the lung is punctured air will move in and out of the lung through the bullet hole. If the hole is not sealed, the lung will collapse and be useless until it is re-inflated. The diagnosis is easy to make. In addition to the obvious hole in the chest, blood and air will mix together forming a pink foam at the wound’s entry point. The treatment was to seal the hole with something “non-permeable” such as a cellophane wrapper from a cigarette pack or foil from a stick of chewing gum. Placing this “seal” over the hole and securing it with a tight bandage would prevent air from passing in or out of the hole, keeping the wounded soldier’s lung from collapsing.
We were also taught CPR, how to make splints and slings for broken bones, use a tourniquet to stop bleeding, recognize and treat shock, and how to apply field dressings.
Continued in Chapter 8, Chow Time….