One thing I quickly learned in basic training is that drill sergeants aren’t the most friendly bunch. They yelled at us to get up. They yelled at us for being too grenade_throwslow. Being too fast. Looking at them. Not looking at them. Eating too slow. Not swinging our arms correctly. These moody guys were nit-picky about everything.
The drills were also opposed to sleep. If we got in bed before midnight, we were doing good. If we made it to 5 a.m., we were doing better. One night at about 2 a.m. the lights came on and the angry voice of a drill started screaming to get out of bed and go outside. There was no time to dress, just get to the parking lot. He rushed us out of our bunks and into formation in the cold night.
Was there a fire? A gas leak? Did they discover a problem with the building that put us all in danger? We had heard that they found a problem and we needed to rush out of the building quickly. Let him who is on the housetop flee and not return to grab a coat. Run for your lives!
The drill sergeant approached with something in his hand. We patiently waited as our skin prickled in the cold. “I found this in one of your lockers!” he announced as he held something in the air. Drugs? A weapon? No. It was a donut!
Oh, the humanity! One of our guys had been on KP duty (kitchen patrol) and had stolen a donut from the mess hall. My guess is that they put it out there as a temptation, and then plotted revenge when they discovered it missing. And they waited until the middle of our precious rest to launch the attack. Those sinister brutes made all of us burn off the calories, not just the guilty parties. Fortunate for the offenders, their names were never revealed. There were a few tired and grumpy men amongst the crew.
About a week later, another food incident occurred. We were on one of the training ranges and preparing to leave. We were putting on our rucksacks. In case you don’t know what that is, a rucksack is a backpack, but without all the features. It served to give us more weight for the march. And to make running more fun.
Rucksacks had adjustment straps on both sides. To make it easier to pull tight, we’d bend over and pull as the weight shifted to our shoulders. I tightened and stood up. The guy beside me bent over and pulled. As the weight shifted on his back, two oranges rolled out of the pockets. More mess hall contraband!
The oranges rolled over his shoulders and across the ground. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, for at that exact moment, the drill was walking by. The sergeant stopped, and one of the oranges rolled over his toes. Knowing that the boots stopped in front of him belonged to the drill sergeant, my comrade didn’t stand back up. He froze, stooped over with the rucksack on his shoulders and straps in both hands. Seconds ticked by. Neither man moved.
I started laughing. Knowing that this is basic training, and laughing was strictly forbidden, I looked like a mannequin having cardiac arrest. Not to worry though. I was soon resuscitated when our platoon had to do pushups and other heart benefiting exercises.
Then came the grenade range. We practiced with dummy grenades and had to prove we could throw them at least twenty meters. Being a sports nut, that wasn’t much of a problem for me. At least not until I tried to throw the real grenade.
After a few days of grenade and safety training, we reached the day for tossing a real fragmentation grenade. Just beyond a wall, the booms could be heard from other trainees tossing away. We stood in line to go into the building where we’d be issued two grenades. Once we received the two canisters holding our grenades, we had to hold the open end against our flak jackets. Our hands were unusable until the range sergeant secured our grenades. Anyone who flinched would be executed on the spot.
They had the sweetest little drill sergeant monitoring us during this phase. She was about three feet tall and had a voice like a mouse. She squeaked threats at us, like all drill sergeants do. As she walked by, she said, “Private! Where are your ear plugs?” I looked around to locate where the voice was coming from and finally looked down. Then I looked at my earplug case, dangling from my chest pocket. I had forgotten to put them in.
“Don’t you even think about moving your hands – or those canisters!” she chattered. Sgt. Chipmunk stood in front of me, shaking her finger upward, and she sounded like an angry Disney character. Her head was not even to my waist, and she was threatening to kick my behind. I tried to be serious, but then I wondered how far you could throw a chipmunk. I tried to think about something else, but a smirk slipped out before I could. I heard the sound of a record being played in fast forward with occasional words slipping through. I decided to look like I was at attention so I wouldn’t have to look at her. Her last words were, “I hope the grenade blows your eardrums out.”
Romance was in the air.
Soon I stepped on the range, handed over one of my grenades and prepared to throw the other one. The trainer raced down all the horrible scenarios that could happen and then had me pull the pin and throw. Only I didn’t throw. Knowing all the horrid things this device could do, I put an extra effort in my toss, but I ended up spiking it instead of throwing it.
Instinctively, I tried to locate the grenade wondering if I should throw it again. Then I heard, “Get down you fool!” I was yanked from my feet and shoved behind a small concrete wall. Apparently they had anticipated such things. I heard the boom and was delighted that we weren’t sprayed with shrapnel. When I spiked it, I hit the berm in front of me and it had enough momentum to roll over and down the hill in front of our bunker.
The instructor looked at my second grenade and looked at me. He had kind words of encouragement for me. He used happy words like, moron, idiot, and a few other words that made my ears sting. After our sweet counsel together, he felt confident that I had no intention of spiking the ball again. I looked at the grenade and remembered the affectionate words, “I hope you blow your eardrums out.”
I found new courage. “This is for you, my little chippette!” and I hurled the grenade. Victory at last.