FORT ORD CHANGED LIVES IN THE ARMY AND OUT
The year, 1974. The place, Fort Ord, California.
Young Boomers-In-Training swarmed the place.
They were the first wave of the All-Volunteer Army ready to Be All They Could Be.
Safe to say none of them were in training to be fifty-six or older, which is their age today, but they were learning important Baby Boomer lessons.
None would go to Vietnam, but would be classified as Vietnam-era veterans since Saigon hadn’t fallen yet.
The phrase “Thank you for your service” wasn’t popular. No one thanked anyone for their service. It was a touchy subject.
Vietnam Vets ruled the Army, determined to un-make it from the chaos it had become during an un-popular war.
If you were there, you were part of events that repeated later. You gained experience in these areas:
The Army had a special deal for young soldiers trading service time now for a college degree later.
You could fill out papers to send a percentage of your monthly pay home so you’d have a nest-egg when you got out.
They called it an allotment.
Since it was the Army, things didn’t always go as planned. If it worked you got a few bucks each month with the rest going to your hometown bank account.
If it didn’t work, you got nothing each month and nothing in your hometown bank. Instead, you got a lump sum once the paperwork cleared.
The same people who complained about their Army money then got shorted on their retirement accounts now. The difference is the lump.
The Army was once called The Big Green Machine. Why? Everyone wore green fatigues for everyday duty.
No camo, no beret, just green pants and green long sleeve shirts under a green ball cap.
Different situations required different uniforms, but green was the color of the day every day.
Disco came and green dressed soldiers Hustled and Bumped in the EM clubs. No bell bottoms or shirts unbuttoned to the sternum. No platform shoes.
Green was the standard, a uniform supporting the of dress soldiers wore before and after service. Jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes were just another uniform though no one said it.
Change happens slowly, institutional change even slower.
When you say you respect someone because you can’t say you like them, at least you’re making an effort.
That idea worked for young soldiers saluting officers they knew to be clueless.
Keep in mind, to an E-1 Trainee, everyone else was a god, but still suspect. The hardassed corporal in the mess hall was a king. Drill Sergeants were deities from another world.
Officers? They were human beings worthy of worship.
Later you learned they were ROTC wimps who couldn’t run their college dorm floor as an Resident Advisor, let alone a platoon of go-getters.
Or you learned they were ninety day wonders out of Officer Candidate School as wet behind the ears as you.
Young soldiers received instruction to salute the uniform, not the man, in boomer bootcamp.
The same idea works later in life, too.
Baby Boomer has kids who sound off on the old man because he agrees with his wife when they know he doesn’t want to.
The kids question their dad about his decision making, about not taking a hard stand, about going along to get along.
Boomer dad doesn’t whip the kids, shun them, or verbally abuse them. Why?
If institutions like the Army changes slowly, family culture goes even slower. Once a break happens, it stays broken a long, long time.
Caution is the word.
If appearance was all important, everyone would look the same like China under Mao. When Boomer’s wife wants to change his look, listen to her. It’s okay to wear a button shirt and pants with a crease. Shined shoes won’t kill you, either.
Finally, learn to respect the things you like instead what you don’t like. Family, friends, and community are what you have. Love them, respect them, and like them as much as you can.
They might even return the sentiment, given the chance.
That’s something worth saluting every day.