As I think everyone reading here knows, my aborted Army career was brief and altogether unspectacular, but as three month stretches of time go basic training left a large impression on me.
One of those moments from basic goes like this:
We had a Drill Sergeant, a particularly intense and hardcore infantryman like many of the best Drill Sergeants are, who used to read us Medal of Honor citations over the intercom at lights out about once per week. They ran the gamut from MSG Roy Benavidez and 2LT Audie Murphy to some lesser known men. They also included MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart, whose stories are known to anyone who’s seen or read Black Hawk Down.
Always, he would end reading those citations with some variation on “Privates, be like these men.”
Now, that’s pretty inspiring stuff, albeit somewhat usual for basic training. What pushes it over the top is this: On Veteran’s Day of 2015, we as a company sat down in the classroom, in our uniforms, and watched among other things Black Hawk Down, in which Gordon and Shughart feature prominently. I’ve seen it many times since the movie came out, but never like this.
Now, as I said, I wasn’t much of a soldier as soldiers go. I washed out pretty early on. Had I made it out of AIT I would have been in the rear with the gear pretty much always. But I made choices to get there, I stood up and raised my hand and swore an oath. And sitting there in that classroom in uniform with a flag on my shoulder, with 140+ people who raised their hands and took the same oath, you ask yourself: AM I like these men? Could I get off of a helicopter in the middle of a crowd of armed hostiles in a probably vain attempt to save a man, knowing that it would probably result in my death?
I dunno. And I’ll probably never be in a position to find out. But hearing the words of their deeds and seeing even a fictionalized representation on screen makes you think. I’ve got to live up to this uniform and this flag and these people next to me who have carried me as I have tried to carry them at times. I’ve at least got to try. Maybe I did, a little, in my way.
Privates, be like these men.
I think about that a lot.
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