Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Army Stories: The M & Ms incident

For those of you who don't know, I served four years in the U.S. Army. If you paid taxes between 1982 and 1986, you helped me buy a lot of beer, go to Europe and gather evidence as to why legalized prostitution is a good idea. Yay, freedom! Also during that time, I had some experiences that resulted in some pretty good stories. After some popular demand, I am going to post them here, in chronological order.

I did my basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in the fall of of 1982. I don't think they do basic training there anymore, but at the time we thought it was pretty cool because they had shot a lot of the film "Stripes" there, including the reception station, the place we got our first haircuts, the obstacle course, the uniform issue facility and the parade ground:

We didn't get to experience a whole lot of Bill Murray-esque hijinks though. It was an intense period with a lot of material to learn packed into a mere 8 weeks. During that time, there were two things we concentrated on more than anything else: exercise (especially push-ups) and the
M 16 assault rifle. The logic being that if you got into combat, freaked out and forgot almost everything else, you should still be physically fit and able to shoot people. We went everywhere with our M 16s and learned everything there was to know about them. We learned how to fire them (of course), how to clean them, how to take them apart and put them back together again and even how to salute with them. One of the things we learned that was not in the official curriculum is that if you open the little storage compartment in the stock and take out the cleaning kit, you could put a whole bunch of M & Ms in there instead, the presence of which made what few breaks we got during the day much, much better.

You don't have to be familiar with army training guidelines to know that this was not an approved use of this equipment, not to mention we weren't supposed to be snacking in the first place. And as trainees, we were not allowed to do anything whatsoever on our own. So-called "free time" at the end of the day consisted of studying, cleaning footwear, reading and writing mail and maybe, if you were really feeling self-indulgent, having a bowel movement. There was no throwing on a pair of jeans and unwinding at the club or kicking back and watching tv or going shopping at the
PX. Unfortunately, that's where the M & Ms were, which meant the only way to get the candy we weren't even supposed to have was to violate a basic order. Hey, you can't have omelets without breaking eggs and if you're in basic training at Ft. Knox, you can't have candy without breaking rules. We handled this in a very democratic fashion. Almost everybody in the platoon (approximately 40 guys) wanted them so we all took our turn sneaking out of the barracks and up to the PX in three man teams at night.

On the night it was my turn, we had made our purchase and were on our way back, feeling pretty good about ourselves, when a truck pulled into the parking lot. One of us (not me) said, "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if that was the duty sergeant, coming to check if any of us had snuck out?". It turned out to be surprisingly unfunny, considering that's exactly who it was, busting the three of us with seven and a half pounds of M & Ms. He yelled at us right there, made us do copious amounts of push-ups, took us to brigade headquarters which we had to clean until 2:00 in the morning and, of course, confiscated the M & Ms. When we got up three hours later, we stood in line outside the mess hall waiting for breakfast and wondered what would happen when our platoon sergeants heard about it. For a few minutes, we thought maybe we'd get away with the previous night's punishment. That illusion was shattered when we heard Staff Sergeant Basil (who could have been an opera singer, seriously) bellow "They did WHAT?!?" from inside the mess hall. We looked at each other and silently communicated the message, "Yep, that's for us." He came out, screaming at us, made us do still more push-ups and the three of us missed breakfast. We took the rap for the rest of the platoon, telling him we bought them just for us. I'm sure he didn't believe us but I honestly think that helped because all things considered, the punishment really wasn't that bad.

We were, however, treated to watching drill sergeants eat our M & Ms in front of us all day long.

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