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BOOMER ARMY RACE RELATIONS, 1974

army race relations

image via therecruiterjournal.com

The time Army race relations got it right.

In the early stages of the All-Volunteer Army, recruiters filled the ranks with whoever showed up.

The draft ended, so most of the smart guys stayed out of the way of The New Army.

The people who did show up had their own agendas.

Some wanted college money, some wanted sports opportunity, some wanted to show their peers how bad assed they were.

Army race relations favored the the color green, not black or white, not brown or yellow.

And not everyone get on board that idea right away.

This is about the bad ass.

The first couple of weeks of boot camp sort people out.

Followers followed, leaders led. Aggressive, masculine, thumpers did their part beyond the following and leading roles.

You won’t find one of the most important jobs in Army race relations in a book.

It happens in real time between equals. Unless one person feels superior.

Just so happens aggressive, hyper-masculine, thumpers always feel superior.

That attitude doesn’t help Army race relations.

Pull people together from all around America and you end up with a stew of small towners from Alabama, North Dakota, Alaska, Pennsylvania.

You also get the urban city slickers who figure they know the game better than the rest.

MB was a black guy from St. Louis. A memorable young man even from the distance of four decades.

I can see him still. He was a cool customer who knew authority and how to bend it his way.

He was large and in charge. His duty station in the barracks were the bathroom cleaning supplies stored in a hallway closet.

Every morning a different squad met at the closet for gear to clean the bathroom after forty guys used it the day before.

Not a pretty job, I’ll tell you that much, but not one you want to screw up. Do it wrong and you do it again. Once was enough for one day.

This is where you find more than one use for a toothbrush.

MB had been the platoon guide, a leader of men. He was the leader after I lost the job by not lying about fire watch.

He lost the same job for another reason. Where I rolled with the boot camp demotion, he was angry.

The anger showed up one morning at the bathroom closet. He decided no one would get cleaning supplies.

Forty guys knew what that meant. If the bathroom didn’t pass muster they would all be punished.

“Nope, not this morning. I don’t care what happens. You’re not getting shit out of here,” MB said.

Since it wasn’t my turn, I wasn’t in the hall. Because so many of the guys needed guidance, and didn’t care who their squad leader was, they found me and told me.

This former platoon guide faced off with MB in the hallway.

“Got to get the bathroom cleaned up. They need the stuff in the closet,” I said.

“Not today. Ain’t gonna happen. This is my closet and I’m in charge.”

“Come on, man. Let ’em get this done. No one wants to do it, but the Drill Sergeants want it done. Move over.”

“I’ll move when I feel like moving, and I don’t feel like it. Go polish your brass.”

The bathroom squad all stood around. I had to do something.

“Okay, lets get going.”

I reached for the door. He pushed me away.

“We need this stuff,” I said, blocking him out like a basketball rebounder.

He hipped me hard and I fell into the crowd.

When I turned around I saw one of the guys grab him, another punch him in the face.

Not a good move for Army race relations.

It was on.

“I’m going downstairs and bring my brothers up here to kick you m-fer’s asses. You did it to yourself.”

He sounded a little hysterical. Okay, more than a little.

The bathroom platoon got their stuff and went to work. Everyone else stood in the hallway waiting for MB’s return.

“What’s gonna happen,” they asked me. Like I knew?

“We’re going to clean the bathroom.”

“I mean when MB comes back with his brothers.”

A few minutes passed and MB showed up downtrodden. He looked beat down.

No one got near him, so I checked him out.

“How’d it go down there. You talk to the brothers?” I asked.

“I told them what happened. They threw me off the floor, told my to run my whiny ass back where it belongs.”

“Second platoon, right?”

“Yes.”

“See, this is why we’re the top platoon in the company, MB. The rest of these losers hate us because we march at the front of the column. We’re the best of the bunch, they’re sucking hind tit. They eat our dust and they don’t like it.”

“But we’re brothers, man. We need to stand up for each other.”

Now you know who your brothers are. We’re right here. We’re the only ones you need. The rest blow.”

“What? What am I supposed to do now?”

“Let’s start with cleaning the bathroom after this.”

I found the guys that grabbed him and punched him in the hallway.

Three white guys and MB stood together in the hall.

They all eyed each other.

“Do this right now. Apologize, all of you. This is the new family, the group that kicks ass on the second platoon. We’ll do the same with the first and third. Better scores in PT, the confidence course, the classroom. These are the guys you ask to help. You all listening?”

“We hear you.”

“Who made you boss.”

“Okay, coach.”

“Now apologize. Like this: MB, I’m sorry,” I said.

“You didn’t do anything.”

“I probably will, so this is my apology in advance.”

“Sorry, man.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Your turn, MB.”

“For what?”

“Join the party, man. Apologize, then we’ll all get in the bathroom and help.”

“It’s not our turn in the shitter.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s it. Now let’s go.”

About David Gillaspie

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