Monday, March 19, 2012

The Army I Knew: Light Sleeper

One thing I forgot to mention in the previous post about AIT and jump school; sleeping on the floor and burning paste wax. Both were peculiarities I encountered at Ft. Benning for the first time. They tended to reappear any time I went to an Army school, but Benning was the first.

The former was a simple expedient to having too much to do in too little time.

We learned very quickly that we were expected to keep our barracks to an IG inspection standard daily, from the uniforms on the hangers to the items in the drawers to the tightness of the bunk. Anything less meant returning from the day's training to find a nightmarish disaster that had to be repaired by the next morning.

One thing we quickly learned was that beds don't HAVE to be for sleeping. And that a tightly-made rack could easily be used as a static display whilst the exhausted GI managed to camp out on the floor using his sleeping pad and poncho liner. I don't think I spent a single night in my jump school rack until the night after the final jump. I dusted the blankets and tightened the corners, but that was all.

Let me tell you this, though; linoleum is fucking cold, and don't let anyone tell you different.

The other requirement was perfectly - and I mean perfectly - glass-like linoleum floors.

First of all, nobody - nobody who valued their lives - wore their boots into the barracks. Like little Japanese schoolboys, we took off our shoes at the door.

But the true, genuine, mirror-bright shine was only possible through the workings of modern technology which, in this case, meant Johnson's Paste WaxTM, an electric buffer, and very small private, and a selection of terrycloth towels.

Here's how it worked.

First, you set fire to the can of paste wax; this was easy to do but hard to control - the trick was to make a sort of field-expedient handle out of a wire hanger and not mind the second-degree burns you got out of the sloshing, boiling-hot liquid wax.

You poured this liquid onto the floor and then, with a miniscule troop perched on it and a folded terry towel under it, ran the buffer over and over the waxy floor.

The effect was magical. Decades-old linoleum gleamed like jewels. I remember being mesmerized by the pure military poetry of it. Mind you, it could do nothing to close with and destroy the enemy, heal wounds, defend borders, succor allies, or defeat the enemies of my country. But it sure was pretty.

I also remember vividly one of the student leaders doling out this piece of advice regarding the floors; "You-all will want to remove your footgear before walking on my floor, because whoever fucks up my floor will be fucked up in reciprocity."



rangeragainstwar said...

You didn't mention the bunk adapters,

rangeragainstwar said...

I get a lotta bullshit from the socnet crowd, but i treated my trainees like human beings.
They slept in their bunks, and i DID NOT allow the junior nco's to fuck with them unnecessarily.
How many socnet types would have the leadership to do that in face of a nasty, mindless tradition to the contrary.
I do confess that i had to restrain even myself when WR cadets came thru in summer classes.
My biggest problem with bunks was the mattress covers getting cut up for rags.

Lisa said...

That seems so wrong not to be able to sleep in your beds! It seems it would have been adequate just to have the beds made, as opposed to being so absolutely perfect.

It would seem your fitness after a good night's sleep would have been a more important expedient.

Barry said...

Rangeragainstwar, what was a bunk adaptor (asks the guy who went though Benning in Fall, 1980).

Lisa, in my experience this was rare; it was only done when there was a major inspection in the morning, and the preparation was done sometime after midnight (well after). Then it was a case of curling up somewhere for a couple of hours.

The funny thing happened when there was an inspection coming up and a p*ssant corporal had his squad sleeping outside to keep the barracks perfect. Not himself, of course, because he was a p*ssant.

The Sergeant Major comes by at midnight, sees this, and asks what was going on. He took exception to p*ssant NCO leadership, and, uh, 'awoke' the corporal, whose life took a turn for the worse.

FDChief said...

jim: I never really "got" the point of making a standard to strict that it had the effect of negating the intent of the standard. Our racks had to be made SO tight that it was impossible to actually make them and do everything else we needed to do in the morning. So rather than teach us to make a neat bunk quickly it taught us to cheat...

The only "bunk adapter" I recall were the metal pipe sections that worked to turn the old metal rack into bunks. We didn't have them at Benning in 1981 - we had the fancy wooden bunks with the drawers...

Lisa: Trust me - we were tired enough that the p-pad and a poncho liner worked just fine...

Barry: Not sure if jim's using a term for something else - the only adapters I am familiar with are described above...

And I have to say, the student NCOs slept on the floor like the rest of us. The officers got to slide, though, living in the BOQ as they did, the lazy beasts...

rangeragainstwar said...

The bunk adapters were as Chief describes,BUT the troops would use the extensions as weapons to brain an opponent.
Also they'd ALWAYS take the caps off and put butts/ashes in the tube. This was a gig in an inspection, and it was always a gig. The troops thought we we dummies.
I'm glad to hear that we did make a difference by treating the trainees as human creatures.If Chief had been willing to drop outta grade school then i couldda been his Co.
I also did not allow harassment in the mess hall or line. This almost led to a fist fight since we shared a mess hall with a sister company, and that Co believed in fucking with the troops.
I had to see the Bn Cdr on that one.

FDChief said...

We STILL used them as butt cans. And they were useful for blanket parties, as well.

All things considered I didn't have too many really bad cadre as a trainee. The SGM of my PNCOC made us memorize the 193rd Brigade Song, but that was another story.

rangeragainstwar said...

Why memorize a song?
i wouldda had it tattoed on my p---er.