Too Much to Pay
The biggest difference between Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Dix was that at Fort Dix we had a goal, and we knew that our time was going to be spent being trained in our areas of specialty. I had done my boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, back in 1972, and had now moved on to New Jersey for advanced individual training (AIT). Though we did do physical training (P.T.) every day, and we did run to and from our classes each day, the vast majority of our time at Ft. Dix was spent working on our classroom courses.
I was given fourteen books to wade my way through, including one on typing. It was a self-motivated program; the sooner we completed it, the sooner we could get out of the classroom and on the job, training. We had to learn how to type, and there were no computer programs. We knew that in order to pass our courses, we had to be able to type proficiently. No one knew what the required number of words per minute was, but we knew that none of us had reached the magic quota.
Officially, my military occupational specialty (MOS) was personnel specialist. I hadn’t been on post for more than a week, when word came down from On High, that the forty guys in chaplain’s assistant school, no longer were. That’s just the way it happened, except that there were four guys who had their job guaranteed in writing. Those four remained in the program because they had that piece of paper; of course it also meant that they were three-year guys. Too much to pay.
I had the opportunity to extend my military time of service in three different manners during the first four months of the service. The first was the conventional manner: sign up for a third year to guarantee either MOS or choice of eventual theater of assignment, within reason. A guy might want California, but not be able to get his hometown, having to settle for Ft. Ord instead.
The second method was to sign up to be an officer, and the third was to sign up for warrant officer school. While I was in Ft. Leonard Ward, I was approached to be a candidate for Officers’ School. As soon as I found out it was a three-year commitment, I said emphatically, “No thank you.” I started to do the same at Fort Dix, when this nice warrant officer came through the office one day, just after the order had come down that we were no longer chaplain’s assistants. Once again, my test scores from the series of basic skills tests we took upon entry into the service, had come into play.
Chief Warrant Officer Meane wasn’t. Mean, that is. He was just the opposite, which demonstrated a rare breach in the army’s ability to get it wrong. CWO Meane first appeared on the scene, not while we were in class, but when we were on our ten-minute morning break. We were standing around out front on a morning that had seen the rain move on, leaving clear skies, and steam rising up all around us from the saturated spring ground. We were drinking coffee, and some were puffing on their ciggies.
CWO Mean was in uniform, but he was not interested in formality. He quickly dismissed the required salute with a lazy movement of one hand.
“No need,” he said simply. “I’m not here to see how high you can jump, so much as I am to see how high you would like to climb.”
I thought to myself, this guy is not the norm. Just the salute dispensation told me that. The officers I encountered always seemed to get off on the need to have the enlisted men acknowledge their superiority in rank. When he started off in such an unorthodox manner, I took advantage.
I asked him, “Hey, Chief Warrant Officer Meane, what’s the difference between a warrant officer and a regular, army-issued officer?”
“That’s easy. Warrant officers do not have to possess a four year degree; they may be an expert in one field which makes them a desirable commodity, but lack the necessary schooling. Their primary task as leaders is to serve as technical experts, providing valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders in their field. We’re always looking at recruits to see if they may have the tools we are looking for.” He looked at us expectantly.
Roy asked him, “So are you checking out the prospects?” He grinned at the officer.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing, Private Turvey. How perceptive of you. I am interested in candidates for flight school."
“And do the prospects look good?” I asked, straightening up, and squaring my shoulders in an exaggerated way. I didn’t want an additional year, and I sure didn’t want to consider a job which involved flying, at least not in aircraft, but he didn't need to know that at this minute.
“It’s funny you should ask, Private O’Neill, because I was thinking they do.”
I looked at him and said, somewhat inanely, “They do?”
“Actually, I am here to speak to your commander about a meeting we are having in which we wish to present the opportunity to join training, with the purpose of becoming warrant officers. Is that something that appeals to you?”
“Are you talking to me?” Another brilliant question.
“I am. You and Roy here, and one other recruit in your class. What do you say?”
When I realized that he was getting serious, I went into the same routine that I had employed at Ft. Leonard Wood. “Well, I have only one question. Does it involve signing up for more than one year? Because if...”
Before I could go into my litany about the two years versus the three years, Roy interrupted me, firmly.
“Chief Warrant Officer Meane, we would be highly interested in attending the meeting. I think it would be in our best interests to see what the program has to offer. Don’t you agree, Private O’Neill?”
The meaningful look in his eyes convinced me that he had a good point. “Yes, silly me. I think an open mind is a sponge, and my mind is pretty dry right now.” Roy managed not to roll his eyes at that attempt at recovery, but all he said was, “Is the meeting after chow tonight, Sir?”
“Hell, no,” said CW Meane. “Right after lunch. At thirteen hundred hours, up in Battalion Headquarters. I will speak to the officer in charge of your classes. Simply go from chow up to Battalion, and ask for me. Good show, men.”
As he walked away, Roy looked at him, looked at me and gave me two thumbs up. "Mission accomplished," he said. "We have an appointment after lunch, and it doesn't have anything to do with sitting in a boring classroom."