The Road Less Traveled #4
The infamous boot story.
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Note to new readers: The Road Less Traveled was a journal I started at 17 (2009) to document my experiences at West Point. I wanted to remember as much as possible. On occasion, I’ll share these journal entries here on Euphoric Recall—no edits or changes or additions or anything like that. If interested, you can read the first one here.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Today my company TAC officer, Sargent Craven, had us gather around him on the GAP at around 7:30 A.M. for a "safety briefing". It was so funny I made sure to write what he said down during my first class. It was pretty close to this (warning, explicit language):
"I know you all think you're going to the beach this weekend. Well, have fun. Because even if they do let you swim, the tide currents coming in from the hurricane are strong as fuck, and you'll die. And that would make me sad. For those of you who didn't catch the sarcasm in that last statement, you're all fucking idiots. I would love it if one of you died because then there would be one less moron to keep track of. So please, by all means, go swimming at the beach this weekend. In addition, for those of you who are lucky enough to have sex with something, make sure you practice safety first. O, and the next person that tells me good morning isn't going on Labor Day leave. I know it's the fucking morning. Shut up."
One thing I've really noticed on post over the past couple of weeks is the insane amount of gophers that call this place home. They're everywhere. If I walked to the weight room right now I guarantee you that I would see at least two grazing. And every time I do see one I always think of the movie "Caddyshack" and Bill Murray.
When my old roommate kyle resigned a couple of weeks ago, he had to go through what's called "outprocessing", meaning every piece of information he had signed off on throughout BT had to be erased. He was also asked to fill out some forms, one of which asked him a variety of questions pertaining to changes he thought could be made to improve things around here. When he came to the question regarding the feature that required the most immediate attention, Kyle wrote the following: "The gopher infestation here needs to be drastically reduced. Find Carl the greens keeper."
One of the hardest things I had to learn here, especially early on, was the rank structure. During BT every time you saw one of the cadre, or any other individual who outranked you, you were required to address them properly. The problem was, however, that if you'd never been in the military before you had absolutely no idea how to properly address someone. When I first came here I had no clue who outranked who, and on Rday I was under the impression (like everyone else) that a man was addressed as "sir" and a woman as "ma'am". I had no idea that it was 100 times more complicated than that. For one thing, only certain people were supposed to be addressed as sir or ma'am. The majority of the others were Sargents, but that meant they could be a staff Sargent, Sargent first class, master Sargent, etc. etc. And the thing that made addressing superiors the hardest was the fact that the rank worn on ACUs is about an inch wide and an inch long, making it virtually impossible to see unless you're 2 feet away from the designated individual. It was therefore necessary to become familiar with the faces of your superiors, a daunting task when there were like hundreds at times.
But that's not all. Whenever I approached or addressed someone within my company (Bravo) I was required to say "Strike Fast" before addressing them by their rank, and if they weren't in my company (which meant they were in Alpha or Charlie) I was required to say "Release the Beast" before their rank. Also, whenever you were speaking with someone who outranked you, you had to end every sentence/response with their rank (i.e. "No excuse, Sargent")By the time BT ended, I still didn't have the rank structure down correctly; I continued to struggle to identify those who were in my company and those who were not because I saw so many familiar faces on a day to day basis. The point I'm trying to make is that incorrectly addressing superiors was the main reason we were smoked. Luckily, I managed to stay out of the majority of smoke sessions because I usually tried to avoid my superiors in any way possible, and I tried to talk to them as little as I could.
In the end, however, it was virtually impossible not to get smoked for addressing someone incorrectly. Everyone did it. I hated, and continue to hate, the rank structure because it is taken so seriously here. It's not that I don't understand its importance, it's just that whenever you screw up, especially now that we've been here for a while, you get destroyed.
Towards the end of our time at Fort Dix, a guy in my platoon accidentally addressed our platoon leader as Sargent, rather than sir. Our PL didn't even seem phased; all he did was turn around for a while and look around. Right when we were all beginning to think he might let us off this one time, that we might be able to get lucky and not be punished as a group like usual, he turned back around, pointed at a tree that looked like it was a mile away, and told us to bear crawl there and back. Up until that point I was under the impression that the bear crawling we were forced to do for football was hard.
I miss my mohawk.
One day at Fort Dix, me and Mcguire were cleaning our rifles in our barracks room when we decided to make a drink from one of our MRE's. We were starving, but because we didn't have any food left we had to resort to what we did have: one spiced apple cider drink mix and 2 packets of sugar. So we poured the powder into one of our beverage bags from an MRE, added the 2 packets of sugar, sealed the bag shut, and shook it up to create the cider. After about 30 mouth-watering seconds of mixing, we both took a small swig as we tried to savor the precious liquid for as long as possible, but just as Mcguire put the bag to his lips for a second drink, our platoon leader walked in.
Now, remember that what we were doing couldn't be seen from where we were because of the premium bunks we had chosen in the back right corner of the room; we were completely concealed by our foot lockers. But regardless of how hidden we were, we still nearly crapped our pants when everyone else called the room to attention.
Our PL was in a bad mood that day; one guy in my platoon had had a boot lace (under no circumstances should your boot laces ever be showing) hanging out that morning, and as a punishment he had to bear-crawl to a tree 200 yards away and crab-walk back. We weren't about to find out what kind of smoke session we would receive for making a drink when we were supposed to be cleaning our rifles. Anyway, whenever a room is called to attention, everyone within the room is required to stop what they're doing and move to where he can be seen. So Mcguire put the bag of apple cider on my bed so that it leaned against my Kevlar, and we both scrambled to our feet and made ourselves visible, praying that the PL wouldn't venture near our bunks and find out what we were doing.
Miraculously, the PL left after a short 30 seconds or so (it turned out he just wanted to make sure everything was squared away), and in relief Mcguire absentmindedly sat down on my bed. What happened next seemed to transpire in slow motion: the bag of cider tipped (we hadn't been able to close the bag), rolled over on my bed, and spilled all over my boots and the floor.
We were so distraught. The fact that we had succeeded in creating 24 oz. of liquid gold while simultaneously avoiding detection from the PL only to spill the entire bag of cider as soon as he left was devastating. I cannot begin to tell you how heartbroken I was. You'd be amazed at how much something as simple as spiced apple cider with extra sugar could really lift your spirits. It was simply the fact that one minute we had had the opportunity to slowly cherish and devour the apple cider, only to have it disappear the next. It was terrible.
Prepare yourself for this. I'm still unsure as to whether I should be ashamed of having done this, or whether this should be a great source of pride. I've been siding with the latter lately.
After we finally finished mopping up the floor and making sure that it was virtually impossible for anyone to smell the delicious aroma of the cider, me and Mcguire noticed something: one of my boots had a little puddle (of cider) inside of it since most spilled there.
At first we both said hell no to the idea (you know what I'm talking about). For one thing, I had been running around in those boots for the past two weeks, and that day alone I probably spent a good ten hours in them. But the longer we sat on my bed and stared down at the precious cider that still remained in my boot, the more we began to think, "Hey, what the hell, why not? Why shouldn't we drink this? What do we have to lose?". I mean, think about it. Getting sick didn't seem like such a bad idea then. I'd overheard one kid bragging about how he was able to spend one entire day inside an air conditioned room because he had gone to sick call. Mcguire and I were torn between whether to drink what remained, or to just let it go and pray to God that the MRE feast came fast. Finally, after agreeing that my boot was perfectly positioned so that it caught some of the cider as it spilled because fate decided to have mercy on us even though we were morons, Mcguire and I each took turns tilting the boot back and letting the exquisite cider slowly go down our throats.