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Fort Ord

The all volunteer Army was still new in the mid-70’s. No one opened a draft notice anymore, no life changingĀ letters came in the mail.

At least not that letter.

In those days the Army was run by baby boomers straight out of Vietnam. Every Drill Sergeant had a story to make your toes curl and your hair stand on end.

Some or the recruits had their own life and death stories before joining the Army, stories from their neighborhoods.

The difference between then and now was the absence of regular mass shootings.

Kent State was a school shooting, but not at the hands of a student. My Lai was a mass killing, but but it didn’t happen in a mall or theater.

Recruits in the first waves of the all volunteer Army were the same as any others. They were new to the military and the military way of life.

Did they worry about a gunman running around opening fire? After being around them in hotels, on the plane, and on the bus to the Receiving Station, some did.

These men would go through a training cycle together. They’d do live fire drills and throw grenades while they got to know one another. Some were friendlier than others. The smart guys were friendly from the get go.

One trooper shared the bottom of a bunk bed set in the barracks. The trainee on top was a mean guy from Washington, D.C. He didn’t like white people, or else pretended he didn’t when he said, “I’ve cut throats in the night. Might do you, too. You got to sleep sometime.”

He took the drama out of it by saying, “You report me and I will cut you.”

The man on the bottom didn’t sleep for three nights.

They eventually learned to get along. You don’t get the learning curve with a shooter aiming at the first opportunity.

Another man said he didn’t like anyone at all and decided to hold cleaning supplies hostage so the whole platoon would get punished. It didn’t work. Other troopers grabbed him and pushed him out of the way. One got carried away and punched him in the face.

The man who didn’t like anyone found out no one liked him either. It was a fair trade.

School shootings might be a symptom of a greater societal problem, but Army base shootings like the two on Fort Hood, speak to a greater issue.

Soldiers die for each other all the time. It comes with shooting guns. The common enemy is the usual killer. What’s it mean when one of our own aims at us? Killing fellow soldiers strikes to the core of dysfunction. It’s not the same as fragging.

One of the problems in Vietnam was the rule of combat command for career advancement. Draftees and career non-commissioned officers did their time in a war zone because that was the deal. Commissioned officers did their time in service to their career. Not all, but some.

A new guy would show up with his classroom tactics. He had six months to show he could cut the mustard, then he rotated out to give someone else their shot a commanding troops in combat.

If the new guy wasn’t up to speed on in-country tactics, he had sergeants who were. If the new guy wouldn’t listen to his sergeants, things turned sour.

How many times do you go out on patrol and get blown up because the new guy thinks he knows better? Career soldiers want to advance as much as anybody, but they have to stay healthy to do it. When the new guy becomes a bigger problem than the common enemy, it’s time for a new, new guy.

The officer won’t listen. He works strictly by the chain of command. No sergeant tells him what to do, he tells them.

After enough blood is shed by the new guy’s mistakes, the troops either keep bleeding, or shed the new guy’s blood. It was a desperate measure during a desperate time.

Those stories came in with new recruits to the all volunteer Army. Do they still come in forty years later?


About David Gillaspie
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