It’s never pretty.
No one expects to be bullied.
Even the bully finds their act a shock on reflection. Or ought to.
If they don’t, they need some adjusting.
My interest in bully-world grows with each new report.
Now the NFL reveals they have bullies in their ranks?
Richie Incognito is the only one, or just the first to carry the bully banner?
What’s next, MMA fighters complaining about bullies in the octagon?
While sports show how skilled bullies can win games, there’s an even greater stage for bullies: the U.S. Army.
Army boot camp is all about the bully from the moment you step off the bus, to the line for uniforms, to the bunks in the barracks. The baby boomer Army of 1974 had an extra bully attitude.
The Vietnam War was six months away from its end and everyone in charge of new recruits made a point of acting tough.
Except they weren’t acting.
The chief Bully-In-Residence is called Drill Sergeant. They know the drill and how to apply it. They are trained professionals.
The bullying starts right away when Drill Sergeants tell new recruits to drop all their drugs and weapons into a box before leaving their first meeting.
“Especially all of you from Southern California. This isn’t your old neighborhood. You won’t need your weapons and weed here. You’ll get new weapons. C-rations come with cigarettes. Unload at the door. If you keep anything, we’ll find it and punish you. Is that clear?”
What he didn’t say: “If we find anything we’ll punish everyone in the platoon, then the platoon can punish the offender as they see fit.”
That lesson came later.
Army trainees get a round of shots before they stand in the uniform line. The last part of the uniform line was the hat.
You stand there with everything you’ll need in your arms while a man tries hats on your head. Once he finds the right fit he looks you straight in the eye and smacks your shoulder, the one with the most painful shot.
Then he laughs. It’s meant to toughen new guys up. It’s a bully move.
Once you’ve got your gear you head up the hill to your new home and stand in formation before the barracks.
That’s where I met my new roommates. I was the last guy assigned to the last platoon. Everyone I knew was either in another company or one of the first platoons.
Since I was new guy I kept quiet. One Drill Sergeant walked the rows asking questions. When he talked to me I didn’t say anything. He asked those around me if I understood English. They said they didn’t know, they’d never seen me before. But they knew each other.
On a Drill Sergeant’s whistle we all ran for the barracks to find a bunk. A big room held about thirty six people, rooms down the hall each had four bunks. One group of buddies claimed a room of their own.
After I tossed my gear on a bottom bunk in the big room another trainee tossed his on the top. The guy from the next bunk down told me, “You’ve got Franklin up top. He wet the bed every night we’ve been here.”
While that sunk in a Drill Sergeant walked toward me with his finger pointing out.
“You. No you. I’m talking to you. Grab your gear and come with me.”
Like a good soldier I saddled up and left the eventually swampy bunk behind.
“You’re assigned to one of the four man rooms, first door on the left,” he said.
The door was open. I walked in to find the four buddies settling in and talking. Four guys in a four man room? I added it up. Someone either sleeps on the floor, or two guys bunk together.
Another bully move?
There might be more possibilities, but I didn’t see them from the doorway.
“Hello, roommates,” I said.
“We’ve already got four in here,” one of them said. “There’s probably a mistake we’ll need to figure out. This is our room.”
They’d all chosen their bunks. I looked at the biggest, meanest, man of the bunch and asked where his gear was.
He pointed to a top bunk then ignored me. I walked across the room, swept all his gear to the floor, and put mine there instead.
All four roommates moved to one side.
“Nothing personal,” I said, “But if it’s sleep on the floor or buddy up, you decide. I’m not doing either one.”
Since you only have one chance to make a good first impression, I tossed the big man’s gear because if there’s a fight you’ll eventually get to him. None of them were friendly with my act.
“What’s the matter with you, man? You can’t just walk in and throw our stuff around,” one of them said.
I leaned against the wall waiting for their next move.
“Nothing personal, but I’m not sleeping on the floor or sharing a bunk. You guys get it figured out and we’ll all get along. Or we won’t,” I said eyeing the big guy.
Any fight would’ve started right there. I could see he was trying to decide which way to go when the Drill Sergeant popped his head in the door and told me to get my gear and follow him. He’d been watching events unfold to see what happened. I got the feeling he did the same thing with each new group.
In the hallway he said, “I don’t know where you learned how to make friends, but that’s not it.”
He walked down the hall, me following, and opened another room door. Instead of bunk beds with the mattresses folded in half and blankets on top, this room had a made bed in the middle, a rug on the floor, curtains, and a desk.
“Do you know what this room is?” he asked.
“No Drill Sergeant.”
“Do you want to know?”
“No Drill Sergeant.”
“And why is that?”
“If I was supposed to know, the Drill Sergeant would tell me.”
He smiled a little.
And that’s how I became the Platoon Guide, the trainee leader of men. The four guys in my first room all became squad leaders. And friends.
The bed wetter lasted two weeks. Besides soaking the mattress every night, he couldn’t hang from a bar without his shoulders popping out of socket. Turns out hanging from bars is a big part of boot camp. He said he was discharged for his shoulders. No one argued.
Army boot camp is a bully school run on the idea of making big men out of little men, or little men out of big. Drill Sergeants are experts at it.
Everyone else catches on fast.
Would the Army experience change someone like Richie Incognito? If his actions brought Drill Sergeant punishment to his platoon it would have been party time.
You’ve heard of the blanket party?