Saturday, July 25, 2015


I guess I knew there were such things as the phonetic alphabet and tear gas, but in 1970 I became intimately acquainted.

Anyone who has known me has heard all these stories, and Rooney and Tear Gas will post later. Let’s talk about learning the phonetic alphabet, which we were supposed to know when we arrived in the class.

The drill instructor was…sharp. Creases in the uniform, proper tilt to the Smokey Bear hat, direct stare that was difficult to take, impossible to return. Tall, impossibly thin, black and apparently from Boston because some words were pronounced funny…”alpher,” “Indier” and Lima sounded like a primate from Madagascar. And he carried a big stick.

The stick was his attention-getter. When we made a mistake, the stick was whacked against the side of the podium with the result something like a rifle shot. We were already a little bit spooked, so this was effective. Plus, he would boom out, "KOOOOO REC SHUN!!"

The class was about 50 and when we came in, we counted off. Not knowing why, you promptly forgot your number, so when DI yelled, “Birdblue three niner, this is Birdblue one, over!” the guy who counted off to 39 usually just sat there. Silence. Gunshot slap of the stick…repeat the call. Pushups all around.

Now, notice, it is not “bluebird.” You had to pop up at attention, say “Birdblue one, this is Birdblue three niner, over.” And it is not “thirty-nine,” it is “three niner.” And so on. He changed up the call signs all the time, and they were always ripe for mispronunciation. And that damned stick. And yelling "Correction."

Reflecting, however, we considered our MOS—Armor Scout. We were supposed to go in front of the tanks, find something to shoot at and, before they killed us (which in Viet Nam was pretty quick), call in some coordinates. NOT YOUR OWN, SOLDIER!! The enemy’s location. When doing this, it would not be in the calm comfort of your arm chair, most likely calling in close air support, under fire in the mud, so you needed to be able to perform radio protocol second nature. Without thinking about it. Just like Staff Sergeant Rifle Stick taught you.

Wonder if they can get away with this kind of training these days—after all, it was harassment. The millennials who have always gotten a ribbon, win or lose, will surely be offended.

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