The first time I had ever been in an airplane was my United flight to Ft. Jackson to process into the Army. I remember looking out the window as we took off, alarmed at how impossibly fast we were going. I had never been at that speed, so my mind had nothing to compare it to and it freaked me out! From Jackson, it was a long bus ride to Ft. Benning, GA… a long ride that, by design, put us there in the wee hours of the morning. They wanted us there off-balance and vulnerable to the scream-fest welcome we were about to endure.
I sat on the bus with my head against the window and tried to reason with myself over what was to come next:
“Self, there’s no avoiding it; we are going to get our bags smoked. As soon as we just accept that we will be able to move forward.”
“Oh, were going to move forward alright, self… We’re going to move forward with or without a combat boot up our a$$es.”
“I have to say there, self… you’ve got a good point.”
“My pleasure, self.”
I was easy to reason with and I was always right. It was indeed a scream-fest by the Drill Instructors who were there waiting for us. But you know, that’s all it was — just a scream fest. Heck, I could endure the hell out of some screaming because I was already married for almost a year back then. I took it all in like a champ; the Sergeants screamed their lungs out in my face as I hummed away in my head:
“You’re in the Army now, you’re not behind a plow….
“You son-of-a-bitch, you’ll never get rich, you’re in the Army noooowww!”
With our introduction over we, were finally taken to our barracks and assigned beds and lockers. We learned about Fire Watch — one man had to stay awake for a one hour shift and “make sure the building wasn’t on fire.”
That was almost foolish, and then I was shown the real reason for Fire Watch. I was no-kidding picked for the first shift of the night… and presented with a floor buffer.
A floor buffer has a big circular brush that spins around on an electric motor. As with my first jet flight, operating a floor buffer was another thanks-to-the-Army first for me. If you’ve never operated one of those things, there is a learning curve with a nose-bleed high spike at the very beginning. It takes your whole body to steer that thing and balance it right so it glides across the floor.
With all my mates snoozing away in their racks and the lights out except for the firelight, I squeezed the trigger on the handle. The buffer sailed off to my left, violently impacting the bed of a sleeping mate with such force as to displace the rack several inches to the left! I shifted my weight sending the buffer colliding spiritedly into a bunk on the other side of the aisle, displacing it as well.
“Hey a$$hole, knock it off man!” the poor guy lamented.
“Yeah, yeah… like I’m doing it on purpose — you’ll get your turn on this thing, pal.”
And so I proceeded to progress down the aisle slamming the bunks on the left, followed by the bunks on the right, all the way down the aisle to the latrines. Funny thing, by the time I turned around, I had the hang of the machine and had a peaceful run back down the other way.
It was great to experience all the strange fellows from all across the country there. One soldier’s last name was Rico, and damned if his parents didn’t go ahead and name him Porter. There was an episode where a half dozen of us were put in a moving van and driven for about about 30 minutes. The truck was dark inside and we couldn’t really see; we just chatted and cut up.
At one point Porter Rico declared:
“Hey man… someone or something just touched me on my face!”
The man next to him replied: “Psshhh, naw, ain’t nobody touched your ugly mug, Porter!”
Some minutes later Porter again declared:
“Awwww damn — it just happened again, I swear to God something just touched me on my face!”
Again the same man poo-pooed him with dismissive doubt.
Within just a few minutes Porter Rico, who, of course, had been joshing all along about stuff touching his face, reached up slowly and with his finger and touched the man who doubted him on the cheek.
The startled man launched in the air and with great urgency declaring loudly:
“OHHHH MY LORD… LORD IT JUST HAPPENED TO ME — SOMETHING TOUCHED ME ON MY FACE TOO!!”
That was followed by the hearty laughter of Porter Rico and the rest of the men in the van. Then someone touched my face with their finger:
“Really, dude… really you don’t think it’s a bit too soon for that prank already?”
Boys will be boys. For the most part, the pranks and punishments were all self-induced, but I’m painfully reminded of how my perceived innovative nature set up a heck of an unintended “prank.” It happened while I performed duty on Kitchen Patrol (KP). At every mealtime, several of us were assigned to help get the meal out to the large groups of soldiers.
I was put at the milk station. All that meant was that I filled up glasses of milk and set them on the narrow shelf there so that the men could just grab milk and go to avoid creating a bottleneck at the milk dispenser. The shelf wasn’t very big, and the milk was going faster than I could fill it. With one large group of soldiers finally fed, I engaged in a milk-dispensing solution.
I noticed a rather large panel leaning against the wall nearby, and there were saw horses there in the kitchen as well. I positioned the sawhorses and laid the panel on top, giving me space to load up ten times as many glasses of milk, and immediately started filling and racking up the milk glasses. I was a king — a king, I tells ya!
My kingdom came to an end in the form of a 100-lb sack of potatoes riding into the kitchen on the shoulder of a somewhat feeble looking cook of a man. From the look on his face, he was trying to make it all the way to his destination to lay down his sack of potatoes… but his physique was to have nothing of it. He saw the empty expanse of my sawhorse-lifted panel and dumped the sack there.
I freely admit that it was my fault, all my fault. During the design phase of my milk table, I failed to look at it from the perspective of a 100-lb sack of potatoes coming down hard, and then again, during the build phase, I completely neglected to load test it for the same. The sack didn’t even slow down when it hit the panel; it drove that side straight to the ground sharply, tipping the opposite side up and over, catapulting ~ 50 glasses of moo-juice into a swarm.
I have to say it looked almost like snowing in there, all those glasses of milk flurrying about. I know those glasses would have to come down soon, and when they did there would be noise and mess galore. My mind took me back to my youth — I think it may have been my kindergarten year — when I spilled half a glass (if even that much) of milk at the breakfast table. Oh, how my mother did scold at me. Such a face she bore in that moment. Why, you might have thought the world had just come to an end — her world; mine was only starting.
Now I was here, a man… a man and a Soldier watching nearly 50 glasses of milk plunge to the floor. I could only just imagine the look on my mom’s face if she had been there. Oh, I expect she would have fainted from a sudden bursting aneurism. They met the floor, the 50 did, in a raucous roar and tide of white. I felt in that moment that my world had truly just come to an end.
It was good to be king nonetheless, if only for just a minute, in a kitchen… in Fort Benning.
By Almighty God and with honor,