The following piece is the first part of two excerpts from "Military Madness # 2: Rat Fuzz."
The first week of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood was a blur with all of the moving around from station to station. Long about the third day, they lined us all up for haircuts, a symbolic enough of a ritual associated with countless books and films depicting military life. I should mention that my beard, which I had worn so proudly on that first day at the AFEES, turned out to cause me some serious grief. I didn't think anyone even noticed it or cared the first couple days, but then came Haircut/Picture Day.
So there I was, standing in a line of close to two hundred guys, when along came this drill instructor for one of the other platoons, and he noticed my beard. He. Went. Ballistic. Of course, I was mortified; my whole program in these early days was to stay unnoticed, and therefore be in the best position to survive this disaster.
Positioning himself directly in front of me, with his toes touching my toes, or rather his toes doing a little tap dance on my toes, he commenced to make conversation.
“What in the Sam hell is that on your face?” His roar sounded worse than his bite might have been.
“SIR! What do I look like to you? SIR! Don't you ever call me SIR again. I work for a living in this man's army, and I WILL BE GOD-DAMNED IF I WILL LET A PISS-ANT SORRY EXAMPLE OF A SACK-OF-SHIT TRAINEE INSULT ME! YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS DRILL INSTRUCTOR!”
“Yes, Drill Instructor!”
“I asked you, 'What in the hell is that on your face, Soldier?'”
Probably fear. Either that, or egg yolk from breakfast. “Drill Instructor?” There was a split second there when I thought he was going to lose it completely, but it was all an act. Later, I could see that. Right now, all I could see was his flaring nostrils. He perched on the balls of his feet, the better to be able to glare down at me, while he tried to figure me out.
“WHAT IS ON YOUR FACE?” His cheeks began to turn beet red, as he geared up for some serious “in your face” dialogue, except that there was only one of us currently speaking.
“Whiskers, Drill Instructor?”
“I ask the questions around here, and I asked you what the hell that was on your face, and why is it there?”
“WHISKERS, DRILL INSTRUCTOR! SHALL I SHAVE THEM?”
“There you go asking questions again.” His face was all of two inches from mine, and his eyes bulged out comically, only no one was laughing.
“NO, DRILL INSTRUCTOR ”
“Are you calling me a liar?” he roared.
Inside I could rationally see that it was all a game, and one that he had played countless times before with countless numbers of new recruits, and one for which there was no victory in store for me.
“No, Drill Instructor. I need to shave.”
“You're damn right you need to shave. You needed to shave yesterday! You need to shave right now, before I do it for you, and if I do it, I won't need a razor, 'cause I will rip it out by the roots! Am I making myself clear?”
“Yes, Drill Instructor.”
“I CAN'T HEAR YOU!” How many times I was to hear that refrain over the next ten weeks I can't even guess, but there was only one way to respond.
“YES! DRILL INSTRUCTOR!”
He heard me this time. “You got exactly five minutes to get into your barracks and get that rat fuzz off your chin.”
”YES! DRILL INSTRUCTOR!”
“When you're done, you will get your shaved self back out here so that you will have plenty of time to push up Missouri, while you wait for your own personal hair stylist to beautify yourself.”
Push up Missouri? How do I do that? “YES! DRILL INSTRUCTOR!”
“WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?”
The amazing thing is, that even in the midst of my fear and embarrassment, my little pea-brain was still sifting and sorting the previous exchange between me and Drill Sergeant Gaines. His specific words were, “...get that rat fuzz off your chin...”
First of all, I never saw a red rat before. I say red, because, even though I have brown hair, my beard comes out red, especially if I spend time in the sun. “...off your chin...” He didn't say anything about shaving the “rat fuzz” off of my upper lip. “Hmmm...”