AUTHOR's NOTE... I told this story on a Private Posting to a Military Veterans Only website. I am putting it up here on StoryStar, not only because it is a good story, but the Moral of the story works for Civilian Life too.
Signs you are being trained by a Leader. My first post was on Diversity in the Army. My second on how I got to see the world- again, through the Army. Now, I want to share just one little story about a Sergeant who taught me a lesson, and not just for the Army, but for Life. Here goes:
I was a young 19 year old Soldier in Germany. I am not good with tools, but for some reason could break down an M-14, or M16 pretty quickly. So when the NATO forces had a contest that included Military Skills, like an Orienteering Course, Gunnery Contests, Rifle Competition, etc..., they added a "Field Strip your weapon down" contest. Me and about 10 other Soldiers from Germany went up to Holland to participate in the Military Games.
We were all pretty good, somewhere less than a minute (if memory serves me correctly) . We had a "test run" in the gym the first day. A bunch of field tables with a white towel and an M16 on each. Our group placed seven in the top ten!
That was the first day. We had nine days until the actual competition.
We were assigned a Sergeant to run our drills, time us, and give us technique tips. On the second day, he told us after the morning workout that we were off until Midnight. We all took the train into Amsterdam and went sightseeing. Some of the other guys had a beer (maybe two). But we were all safely back in our bunks by Midnight.
At about 1AM we were awakened by a bellowing pissed off voice: "Get up you Maggots, get dressed, go draw your weapons from the Armory. Meet me on the Parade field in ten minutes!"
Holy crap. Where did "mister nice guy Sergeant" go?
It took more like 20 minutes, since the Armory was as sleepy as we were. But we did get there as soon as we could. Once all ten of us were lined up as a Squad, with our weapons and TA-50 on, he double timed us to a nearby woods.
We ran for what seemed like an hour. Then he stopped us in the complete dark of a moonless night in the woods. One at a time, he took us out into the bush. 25 minutes later he would come back. That trooper would go sit by himself and refuse to talk to us about what was going on. Soon there was only one left that he hadn't taken out into the woods...me. It was my turn. None of the other guys would tell me, nor were they talking among themselves. Nine soldiers just sitting there: forlorn, mute, and stone-faced. I admit, I was a bit scared.
The Sergeant took me about fifty meters into the woods. There was a small clearing, muddy and covered with leaves. The Sergeant took my M16, Field stripped it as quickly as any of us had done it in the pre-tests. Then he threw all the pieces in the mud and leaves. He took out his stopwatch and said: "Go!"
It took me five minutes just to find the pieces. It was muddy, it was dark, and M16 parts are mostly black. I finally got it back together. He was disgusted.
"Okay. Give my your M16." I did. This time he took my rifle and went out in the woods. He came back a minute later. Handed me my M16 - which looked fully assembled. It wasn't.
He threw his M16 on the ground. Then he said: "Your weapon doesn't work. You are on a battlefield. The enemy is all around you. The barrel on the other M16 is bent. Two rifles, neither works. Make one M16 that works. "Go!"
I stripped my weapon down after pulling the trigger. It turns out he had taken out the firing pin. I stripped the other M16 down, took its firing pin, put my rifle back together. He hit his stopwatch. Showed me the time. Then he said:
"You are dead, Soldier."
I went back and joined the rest of the guys. He ran us back to the barracks.
Before he dismissed us he said:
"It is one thing to put a weapon together in a gym, on a steady table with a nice white towel. You are warm, rested, and unafraid. Well, those things aren't on a battlefield. You won't be warm, comfortable, with time and a tablecloth. But clearing a jam, reworking a weapon from broken ones, might well save your life, or that of a buddy. And that is how we will train for the rest of this week."
And we did. He had us do five hundred push ups, then run a mile, then Field Strip our weapons and reassemble them. He sprayed us with a garden hoses while making derogatory comments about our Mothers, Sisters, and Girlfriends. He called us weak, slow, stupid. No matter what he was saying or doing, we had to Field Strip our M16's and put them together again.
Needles to say. We won the competition by a large margin. Afterwards he took us all out for dinner. Mr. Nice Guy Sergeant was back.
I asked him why he was so tough on us, but I thanked him too.
"Soldier, life doesn't care if you are a Civilian, or in the Military. Life isn't going to wait until you had enough sleep, or some time to think, or until the sun comes up to hit you with a curve. In battle, it is even worse. You don't get a chance to prepare during battle, only before. And rarely does life give you any chance at all. You Soldiers learned a skill you needed. And the lesson is simple- you don't get a second chance most of the time.
I never forgot that lesson. Nor that fine Sergeant. A simple thing like Field Stripping a weapon, and he put it in context to teach a real lesson. Now that is good training!