From January through the second week in June of 1967 I served, in limbo, as a recruit to Company A of the 103rd Medical Battalion of the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard. My orders to report for basic training were delayed until mid-June. I attended monthly meetings in civilian clothes until then. I signed up in order to satisfy my military obligation. At that time there were three ways that you could do so: (1) Enlist for three years in any branch of the military, (2) be drafted for two years into the Army, or (3) enlist for six years with a reserve/guard unit. The military requirement was for six years total. If you took either option one or two, you then were required to remain subject to recall for the remaining years. The Pennsylvania National Guard requirement entailed six months of active duty (basic training and advanced training), one weekend per month in drills, and two weeks every summer in training and drills. Thus, in total, you were committed to six years in the Guard.
It was hot on the day that I left from Lancaster airport to fly to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic. We flew to Pittsburgh, and from there to Little Rock, and finally from Little Rock to Fort Polk. The final leg of this trip was with Trans Texas Airlines (TTA), known not so affectionately as “Tree Top Airlines”. This was because the final leg of the trip was in a DC-3 aircraft. The plane was tiny with two wing wheels and a tail wheel. There was a single oscillating fan in the front of the plane, and no sound system for the lone stewardess who shouted to be heard above the roar of the engines.
When we landed at Fort Polk it was after midnight, however, it was still over 100 degrees in temperature. We did not sleep that night. After a short briefing we were inducted/sworn into the U.S. Army. Shortly after that the sun came up, we were given physicals, issued clothing, given shots, and given haircuts (i.e., made into bald young men). I still have my shot card from that night, and it does indicate that I was given a shot for the bubonic plague. The first full day we learned to stand at attention, and at parade rest, and we were expected to do so in silence for what seemed like forever. We eventually were introduced to Sgt. (“Do not call me, Sir. I work for a living) Brown, and moved to a barracks.
For most of my basic training, the daytime temperature was at or above 100 degrees, and torrential downpours punctuated the afternoons. The streets were made up of large (1-3 inch) gravel, and doing pushups on them was no fun. It was said that basic training would make you lose or gain 25 pounds – whichever you needed. We ran everywhere we went, and that was while wearing rather heavy leather boots and wool stockings. In addition to our drill instructor (Sgt. Brown) there was also a sadistic Corporal who led the daily calisthenics.
There were daily inspections of us and our footlockers and beds. They actually did require that a quarter dropped on your properly made bed bounce an inch. We were expected to polish the inside lids of our shoe polish can. The floors of the barracks were this horrible red color that we would buff and then not be able to walk on for fear that we would scratch it. Everything in your footlocker was to be properly folded and displayed. Sgt. Brown once made a Private drop for pushups because an ant was walking across his open and displayed footlocker tray. They got him for “keeping an unauthorized pet”.
There was a strange and cruel world of discipline in basic training at Fort Polk. A Private who avoided showers (and smelled a bit ripe) was given a “lobster shower” – forcefully scrubbed with a stiff brush and cleansing powder. A Private who was a slacker was given a “blanket party” – where, in the middle of the night, two people held a blanket over his head, while several others beat him. We had to run a mile every day. There was a substantially overweight Private who was always slow and last. The DI had him start half a lap ahead of the others, and told the group to run him down. He fell, and we were then told to drag him the rest of the way. At the end of the mile he was dead. It was reported as heat stroke, and from then on, when the heat and humidity reached a certain point we were allowed to untuck our shirts.Week six we had the firing range. You had to qualify as at least a “marksman” to continue on in basic training. If you did not qualify (It was called a bolo), you were recycled back in basic to start over. This was a problem for me. I had horrible eyesight, and probably would not have passed the regular army physical. When I got there they took away my glasses, and gave me Army issued glasses (for example no bifocal). They were not strong enough, and I could not clearly see the targets. In the morning we fired at stationary targets. In the afternoon it was moving/popup targets. By lunch it was obvious to me that I was going to be recycled. As I took my place at the firing station the scorekeeper asked me how it was going. I told him about the glasses, and that I was pretty sure I was about to get recycled. He told me to just keep firing; I was hitting them just fine. I qualified as a marksman.
While at Fort Polk I learned the origin of a term that I would later use as I taught using the case analysis methodology. I taught my students, when first coming to grips with an assignment to solve a case, to prepare a list of alternative solutions to the case. They would then establish criteria for evaluation of these alternatives. Finally, they would offer a recommended course of action from among these alternatives (solution). There is, however, a temptation to put forth nonviable alternatives in order to then merely knock them down. These are called “straw men”. At Fort Polk I was trained in the effective use of a bayonet. This was done using life size mannequins made of straw. I was trained in the “Spirit of the Bayonet” using “straw men”. I was also trained that the “Spirit of the Bayonet” which was to KILL WITHOUT MERCY!
I was happy to get through basic, and board the bus to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Basic training was all about violence. AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Sam would be about becoming a medical corpsman.