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After my eight weeks of A.I.T. (Advanced Infantry Training), I took a week’s leave in Savannah to visit my folks (remember, I didn’t have any friends) then reported back to Fort Jackson to await orders for Officer Candidate School. 

By now it was August. The days were long and the hills were steep and the air was hot. The area we were in was known as “Tank Hill”. I think that’s because by the time you double-timed to the top of it, and we did so several times each day, you felt like your body had been run over by a tank. 

They gave me three stripes, made me a “Buck Sergeant”–a D.I.–a drill Instructor– and put me in charge of “The Holdover Platoon”.

The Holdover Platoon was comprised of people (I think they were people) who were deemed unfit for military service for one reason or another and were awaiting orders to be mustered out of the service and released back into an unsuspecting civilian population. 

I doubt a more motley assortment of creeps, weirdoes and losers ever existed than those who made up The Holdover Platoon.

And I was in charge of all 19 of them. 

But they were MY creeps, MY weirdoes and MY losers. We all bunked together in one barracks. One of them, from New York, I believe, kept me up half the night trying to convince me that the popular singer, Dionne Warwick was actually a man. I was predisposed to believe that people from New York were to be taken seriously, but there was something unpersuasive about his argument. I began to think that maybe what it was about that he wanted to be a woman. Anyway, in a few days he was gone and someone else took his place. Someone who was strange in a different way.

My immediate superior was Staff Sergeant King, who appeared every morning to inspect the barracks while my creeps, weirdoes and losers were in the mess hall, presumably eating and probably making a mess of it like they did everything else. 

Staff Sergeant King was a real sergeant, not an “Acting Jack”, like me, a real “D.I.” a “Drill Instructor,” a big black man in a Smokey The Bear Hat with a “take-no-prisoners” attitude. A tall, strong, physically fit specimen with six or seven years service and another 23 to go. He was not inclined to smoke and joke, but was “strack” or strickly business. 

With a clipboard in my trembling hand, I followed Sgt. King around the barracks and “took names” while Sgt. King “kicked ass.”

Kicking ass meant that he would inspect each soldier’s area in turn, opening footlockers and wall lockers and dropping a dime on each bunk to see if it bounced high enough. If it didn’t, I wrote down the offending soldier’s name while Sergeant King reached down with one hand and grabbed the blankets, sheets and mattress in his giant fist and pulled everything off onto the floor with one smooth motion. With the other hand he was constantly engaged in overturning wall lockers in which he had detected that someone had hung a wet towel–or perhaps hung their field jacket facing the wrong way on a wooden coat hangar. 

The footlockers were always left open for inspection– and if, for example, a soldier’s socks were not rolled up exactly right, I wrote that down.

If Sgt. King found the open hasp on the padlock was facing the wrong way, I wrote that down.
But were Sgt. King to find someone’s razor with hair on it, he would literally “go ballistic”and start cursing as if someone had killed his mother.
Seizing the footlocker by the handles, he would turn it upside-down in the middle of the floor sending cans of shaving cream rolling the length of the barracks while I quietly stood there with my clipboard writing it all down.

On one occasion, he found someone’s can of Barbasol shaving cream vertical in the footlocker when it was supposed to be horizontal or “lying down” in the footlocker. Sgt. King knew just how to deal with this type of infraction. He removed the cap to the shaving cream and closed the lid back down tight on the footlocker. Because of the height of the can, the lid of the footlocker closed with exactly enough pressure to discharge the entire contents of the aerosol can of shaving cream out into the closed footlocker.

When the inspection was over it literally looked worse than if a tornado had gone through the barracks. 

Then Sgt. King went away, to God knows where, after ordering me to march the Holdover Platoon back from the mess hall, using my loud commanding voice– and supervise the clean up of the barracks.

Although the Holdover Platoon didn’t really have any official duties to speak of, and although most of them would be out of the army in a month or so anyway, the demoralizing effect Sgt. King’s actions had on the members of the Holdover Platoon cannot be over exaggerated. Civilian life must have seemed like a vacation after what they had experienced in the army.

Many of these soldiers were hanging onto sanity with only three fingers as it was, and it fell to me to cheer them up, to encourage them, to motivate them, and to get the barracks back in order– so Sgt. King could do it all over again the following day.



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