In Road Trip, Parts 1 & 2, I described my drive to DLI in the spring of 1991. This is a story of my time at DLI and I think it sums up the reason why I didn’t re-enlist again, and why the Army was likely very happy I didn’t. It's easy to blame my active duty experience as an EOD tech, for my difficulty in adapting to the real Army. After all, as a good friend recently reminded me, EOD units back in those days didn’t act, feel or were treated as if we belonged in the regular army. We were not only encouraged to be unconventional; it was a necessity for survival
Yes, it would be easy to blame my military upbringing, but there was more to it than that. The fact is that while I was always good and sometimes great at whatever job I did in the Army, I had little patience for the Army. I have no idea what a day in the life of a soldier is like today, but back in the Cold War 80's and post Desert Storm 90's, it was populated with people intent on making your life unpleasant for no other reason than they were bored and had the power to do so. There was a lot of bullshit, not for the sake of readiness, but for lack of purpose. Nowhere did this occur more often, than in training schools. Basic training is designed to break people down and then build them back up the Army way. I understood that going in. I also recognized that everything the cadre did was per plan and for a specific reason. They didn't just mess with us for kicks or to abuse their authority.
Unfortunately, once you left Basic Training where the cadre was trained specifically for this task, you went to other training called AIT, or Advanced Individual Training. In these schools, soldiers with experience in that job, or Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), were in the role of instructors and sometimes company cadre. After all, you still needed a sergeant to march you to and from class and tell you what do outside of class. The unfortunate part was that these people never received training beyond instructor courses. They had been through basic training and remembered it was miserable, so they assumed their job was to make the soldiers in their care miserable as well.
Not all of them were like this, and each school was different. I've heard that now, it is common for Drill Sergeants that are properly trained to hold these positions in all AIT schools, and for better or worse, it makes sense. When I got to DLI in 1991, I'd been an E-5 sergeant for five years. My platoon sergeant was an E-7, Sergeant First Class and a complete bastard. Let's call him sergeant Douchebag. I reported properly, conducted myself professionally, yet he pegged me as a shitbag. Shitbag, by the way is an actually Army designation for one that doesn’t carry his or her weight and should not be in the service. Being prior service active duty didn’t seem to help. In fact, having left active duty to become a Reservist is the main reason he took a dislike to me.
Reservists weren't well thought of back then and I doubt it has gotten a lot better. My former status as EOD also irritated him for some reason. I'm sure I also failed to answer his questions to his satisfaction. Regardless, he told me to my face he didn’t care for me or my attitude and didn’t think I belonged in "His" Army. I realize now it was my pride that got the better of me. Instead of trying to win him over through diligence and good deeds, I copped an attitude.
It seemed that this man LOVED inspections. He went beyond clean and gigged more than one person for "vertical dust" clinging to the tile bathroom walls. So of course, step one for me was to decorate my room. There are Army regulations, then there are post regulations that can be stricter than the Army regs, and sometimes there are company or unit regulations that can take it up even another notch. I always knew the regs. In this case, post regulations allowed for civilian bedding. The beds we had were twin size so naturally I bought a matching set of Legend of Zelda sheets and comforter. This went very well with my full sized cardboard cutout of Wolverine and my boogie board. The only thing green on my part of the two person room was the carpet, and I would have got a throw rug if I'd had the money.
Sergeant Douchebag simply LOVED it, and made sure that somehow I was always one of the random rooms to be inspected. He picked around 5% of the rooms to inspect each week on a random day and yet my room was always included. Randomly. Sergeant Douchebag also handpicked other student NCO's to be squad leaders that shared his love for douchebaggery. This people were real pieces of work and they agreed that I had no place in "their" Army. They tried hard to do something about that. Unfortunately for them, besides being an asshole, I was pretty good at cleaning, physical training and other Army type activities. They tried hard, I'll give them that, but they couldn’t pin anything on me. I was the only one that could do it for them. I would have had to do something that gave them the opening they needed. So of course, I did.
The Army doesn’t specifically have a rule against sergeants dating lower enlisted unless they are in your chain of command. In a class environment, we were all just students. However, they did have a big problem with soldiers have sex in the barracks. Apparently, we were supposed to either spend all of our meager pay on hotel rooms, or we were supposed to abstain. Did I mention we were all between 18 and 25 and under a lot of pressure? The only people that abstained didn't do so by choice.
The rule was, that you couldn’t have a member of the opposite sex in the room with the door shut, or your punishment was the same as if you were caught mid coatis. Students were caught from time to time with the door shut, and the universal expletive that escaped everyone's mouth upon being discovered was the same: "We were just studying!"
I gave them the opening they so desperately wanted when I started dating a private. The plan they had for my downfall, was the tried and true "Health and Welfare" inspection. These were conducted under the auspice of protecting soldiers from themselves, but the real goal was to bust us for breaking the rules. These inspections happened about once a month, and almost always in the middle of the night.
I knew that they knew that I had a girlfriend. I knew they were coming for me. What I didn’t know was when. I'll admit that I had my girlfriend in my room with the door closed from time to time. Times when my roommate was elsewhere (I'm not an exhibitionist). Did I deserve to get busted and kicked out of school for this infraction? Possibly. A rule is a rule after all even if I find it ignorant and unfair. But like all rules, they had to catch me first.
A flaw in their system was the student Charge of Quarters. Every night a student had to serve down at the Company Head Quarters and stay awake all night in case something happened. This person staffed the phone and 99% of the time nothing ever happened. They did however overhear a lot of talk between company personnel. For instance when the next random Health and Welfare inspection was going down. I got word that it would be the very next Friday night, around 2:00 AM and that my door would be numero uno on their random search.
I was driving around the next day with a friend of mine, when I was struck with divine inspiration. The people that were attempting and partially succeeding in making my life difficult, wanted to find me with a girl in my bed. I would oblige them. I drove to a nearby sex shop and purchased my one and only blowup doll. The cheapest was $25 dollars and as luck would have it, she had blond hair.
That wasn't enough fun, so my inebriated friend (I often played sober driver since I don’t drink), suggest we fill her with helium. I'm very grateful that cell phones were still uncommon and the ones that existed lacked a camera, or we may have been the first entries in the People of Walmart website filling up an inflate-a-mate on the clown shaped helium dispenser sometime past midnight.
I didn’t want to get charged with some other violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, so I borrowed a two piece swim suit from a nice lady sergeant that lived down the hall. I think the doll looked rather stylish. I tucked her in next to me, and laid awake on the verge of hysterical giggles for over an hour. Then I fell asleep.
The first thing I noticed was the pounding. It sounded close. It was followed by angry shouting and the sound of a key being inserted in my lock. Panic rocked me awake as I felt someone in bed with me. I could just make out blonde hair from the light coming in through the drapes. I was fucked, royally and truly fucked. Three people entered my room in a rush. SFC Douchebag was leading the charge, flanked by a not so douchey First Sergeant and the pretty decent Company Commander. What the FUCK? The CO never went out on these inspections. I locked eyes with SFC Douchebag and he looked past me to my bed and smiled in triumph. He rushed forward and threw back the sheets to reveal…
I never gave her a name, but just as he reached for my Legend of Zelda comforter, my groggy brain recalled how I'd spent the night. She didn't float up as fast as I would have liked, but she did head for the ceiling. I was looking at the Captain, and saw his face shift from disappointment to glee. I almost forgot my line. Almost.
"We were just studying!"
That was it for the company commander. He and the First Sergeant bolted out the door before they lost their military bearing. That left me alone with my number one fan, and my doll. I stood at attention and waited for the shock to wear off. When it didn't, I held my pose until the First Sergeant came in and took SFC Douchebag out into the hall. There was a short debate about the perversity of being in possession of such a doll and I heard the commander say "swim suit".
The First Sergeant said "Carry on," and shut my door. I'm not drawing any conclusions, but shortly after that SFC Douchebag was moved down the hill to G Company. My life got a lot better and so did the lives of most Foxtrot company students. I was there for another five months and we never had another middle of the night inspection and no one was ever written up again for vertical dust. My doll made an appearance at our class picnic as substitute volleyball, and then was passed on from student to student in a series of pranks.
I don’t know what happened to her, but she's never tried to contact me. Maybe I should have named her.