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On Service

by Chris Chichester on 11/14/17

"Duty, Honor, Country . . . they give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next and the joy and inspiration of life."  -- General Douglas MacArthur, Address To Corps of Cadets, West Point, May 12, 1962
 
On June 18, 1985 I enlisted in the United States Army at Ft. Hamilton, Brooklyn. I was 19. This is a life-changing decision that continues its influence 30+ years later.  I did not understand the ramifications at such a young age. I do now. On Veterans Day I am one of 21.8 million. As a member of the 2nd Squadron 17th Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.

I enlisted for two reasons.
First, the Army offered the Montgomery G.I. Bill at $10,800.  To qualify a soldier forfeits $100 per month for the first twelve months of service.  Second, my contract required the Army to retire $4,000 in student loans.  I wasn't motivated by Fields of Fire or Jon Voight in Coming Home or a determination to conquer the Soviet Union AKA The Evil Empire.  I was motivated by self-preservation. 
 
At 5:00 a.m. on August 28, 1985 I flew from LaGuardia Airport to El Paso Airport in El Paso, Texas. For the first day of Basic Training at Ft. Bliss.  It is uneventful. The second day is unforgettable.  I exited the bus in front of the three barracks with 200+ other recruits.  The drill sergeants descended on us. It is 30 minutes of Full Metal Jacket taunts, insults and threats.
 
A drill instructor screams in your face to test if you can tolerate the intimidation.  To determine if you possess the character and will.  During this ferocious introduction to Basic Training one D.I. is nose-to-nose with a recruit next to me.  In a profane display he screamed:  Did you brush your teeth today? What is wrong with your teeth? Why does your breathe smell? I watched this abuse with alarm and fear.

This psychotic drill instructor is relieved of his duties during the second month. His brilliant advice to us at the beginning of basic training is: Lie, cheat, steal, privates, do whatever it fucking takes.  I heard those nine words every day and I concluded it is ludicrous and fraudulent language. But one impressionable soldier-dunce embraced it.  By cheating on the hand grenade qualification.

The
dishonorable soldier is the exception.  Every large institution is subject to the high art detailed by Lawrence J. Peter.  The U.S. Army is not a perfect assemblage of humanity.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice dispenses the reward for those in violation of its tenets.  I witnessed its righteousness as the recorder at courts-martial. This proceeding is a brutal examination/accusation.
 
From August 28, 1985 to May 27, 1988 the U.S. Army is an unrelenting challenge to excel. To exceed expectations -- and those of your superiors. To represent the division with a character and discipline that animates the oath. To discover honor.  To embrace order.  To rely on friendship to overcome doubt. To understand the truth.

How
to seek the truth. How to identify the truth. How to pursue the truth. How to do everything humanly possible to elevate the truth. The truth is a liberating force that has no equal and no superior.

My
roommate is Anthony O'Neil of Redlands, California. The Army brings you together when you are first 3,000 miles apart. A.O. worked in S-2 or intelligence.  Before the fall of the Soviet Union it is our intelligence apparatus that deters this super state of surveillance and tyranny from global domination.

It is a bunk-bed arrangement in our room. The last time I slept on a bunk bed it is with my brother Stephen. I was 8.  The military bed is not discarded every morning.  You must make your bed with hospital corners.  I better fold these hospital corners correct or it's my ass for a surprise inspection.

Military service invades  your life.  When I was a PFC I relaxed in my room on a Saturday afternoon.  Knock! Knock! Knock!   After I opened the door an NCO ordered me into uniform for guard duty.  I'm driven to the flight line.  For the next eight hours I sat at a wooden shack in front of a airplane hanger.  There is not a single living organism within a mile of me.  I'm thinking:  This is absurd.  It is a lesson.  Don't allow the things you can't control to influence your confidence and determination.

Three times
a week at 3:30 p.m. there is a formation for PT or physical training.  It begins with  push-ups and sit-ups and concludes with a two-mile run.  Fortunately, this is the least challenging requirement of Army life.  As I ran on the cross country team in high school and SUNY.

The t
wo-mile run is an invitation to identify the weak.  If a soldier falls out of a little two-mile run, than what is to prevent this soldier from falling-out in combat?  I have doubts about holding an automatic weapon next to a soldier incapable of a fifteen minute physical exertion.  The physical demands the Army presents hold the weak accountable.  

Before August 28, 1985 there is zero comprehension for the value of leadership.  After May 27, 1988 the paramount status of leadership and its decision-making structure is continuous.  A true leader identifies the strength of an institution and the weakness of an objective.  It is a balance that requires the constant evaluation of facts and circumstances.

The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is the Band of Brothers.  It is the embodiment of readiness from June 6, 1944 to November 14, 2017. It is a commitment to the United States Constitution's perfect explication of freedom. It is forever dedicated to the soldier as America's representative in the joy and inspiration of life. 

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Freedom Lies In Being Bold -- Robert Frost
www.eff.org