It takes a Silver Mine to make a Gold Mine.

Mexican Proverb

McNair joined our Basic Combat Training platoon a couple weeks into the cycle. Most BCT Recycles are flawed; they’re injury victims, have attitude issues, or show other problems. This guy was, just, well, different. McNair was damn near perfect; a wonderful physical specimen, and obviously the best soldier in the company.

Sargeant Solden explained: Ours was McNair’s fourth cycle. Three times he’d gone through Basic at Fort Knox, and three times he’d vanished during the last week of training. Each time Uncle Sam had tracked him down, locked him in the brig for a time, and sent him back to training. This time, Charley Tucker promised, things would be different.

Yeah, sure. On even-numbered days McNair was the best soldier in the camp; on odd-numbered days he was the worst soldier in the camp. It wasn’t an attitude thing, exactly–that was always bad, in a sullen sort of way–but it certainly was predictable. On practice day at the rifle range he missed a couple targets; a week later he hit a couple targets when the scores counted. I had the bad fortune to go up against him in Pugil Stick practice; he beat me to a pulp in 30 seconds. The stronger soldiers who followed me into the circle lasted a bit longer. The next day he failed the PT test.

But boy he looked fine while he failed. Good days and bad, the man was impeccable, in a BCT sort of way. His fatigues were always starched, his boots always had a perfect shine, his comportment was beyond reproach. Everything was done with a flair. Even the failures were stylish.

The point was clear enough. The Army had nothing to teach him, and he really wasn’t interested in this stuff.

A week from cycle’s end he went missing.

AnAmericanSoldier‘s Drill Sergeant Rob offered an obituary for Pat Tillman yesterday. It’s both a fine essay and an excellent example of the strengths of this writer.

My drill sergeant, Charley Tucker, discovered in late June of 1969 that he’d be shepherding a platoon whose members nearly all had a couple years of college, which made for an unusual cycle. We knew within minutes he had some respect for a college education, as he put the group’s college grads in the platoon’s leadership slots. But it was also pretty clear that Fort Knox wasn’t going to be much like college. Fifth Platoon developed into something a little odd–bookish, well-disciplined, but not especially fit–and we learned to help each other through the training. My memories of the cycle were that it wasn’t so much difficult as relentless; the pressure never let up, though the emphasis changed from week to week. It helped a lot that I was reasonably fit, and accustomed to long hikes. It didn’t help that I was only barely competent with a rifle. It was clear to us that, at least from Charley, the pettiness and meanness were part of the course work, not part of the personality.

Two bad memories from that summer:

  • Another drill sergeant inflicted a fifty-pushup punishment on me because I didn’t recognize my name one morning. He’d twisted it badly out of shape, and it just plain slipped by me that he was trying to get my attention. Since arguing with drill sergeants about this sort of thing is pointless, I did the pushups. I trust Charley gave him hell later.
  • I was one of the few people in the entire country who worked on July 20, 1969. Even most of Fort Knox got to watch the moon landing. I still haven’t forgiven whoever decided I’d spend the day pretending to guard the post. I’m quite certain the real guards had access to televisions.

I read Sergeant Rob because he’s thoughtful, says interesting things about his job, and says interesting things about the world. Rob’s occasional cheap shot is more than made up for by the thoughtful commentary. That I don’t always agree is, well, sort of the point.