A lesson well learned


The millisecond I raised my hand I knew it was a mistake. Somewhere in the handbook of life and barracks history it is written….never, ever volunteer for anything in the Army. It was too late. Sergeant Solomon, my Army basic training drill instructor, looked me in the eye and said, “Okay, grunt you’re one!”

“One what?” I thought.

Sgt. Solomon had just inquired if any of us raw, new recruits had ever had R.O.T.C. I was thrilled to answer in the affirmative, “Yes, Sergeant,” since I had recently spent three years in uniform in Science Hill’s R.O.T.C. program. This short-lived enthusiasm quickly faded as the good sergeant bestowed on four of us individuals an immediate parking lot promotion to temporary squad leaders of our basic training platoon.

Military veterans remember their basic training. Most remember their first drill instructor and first home away from home barracks. Our Harmony Church, Fort Benning barracks were leftovers from World War II. They had two floors, painted white with dark green floors. Rows of bunks lined both floors. At the end of the first floor was the latrine, a new word for many of us.

Each of our squads was responsible for keeping his appointed barracks area clean for the duration of our recruit training. Bless his heart, dear Sgt. Solomon appointed our squad the daily duty of cleaning the latrine, the worse job possible. I noticed a little smile underneath his mustache as he gave us the good news.

My new squad looked mighty sad. We had all just come from the warmth of our mommy’s arms, home cooking, girlfriend’s kisses, and most of all plenty of sleep. Now we were thrust into cleaning toilets, showers, urinals, mopping floors and shining fixtures. And we had no one to whine to. Sgt. Solomon certainly wouldn’t listen cause he had mentioned something about us having grass growing somewhere on our anatomy and he was now the lawnmower.

Our little squad was resigned to the daily task. We worked hard keeping our area sparkling. Our cleaning time was always right after breakfast. If a recruit had not had the opportunity to use the facilities earlier, he was out of luck. I put our biggest two-squad members at the door to keep out tardy latrine users.

I always remembered the Japanese camp commander in the movie “The Bridge On The River Kwai,” saying… “Be happy in your work.” I would often repeat that statement to my squad as we scrubbed the toilets. I cannot recall them ever being happy though. But, over the weeks we became more efficient in our work. Even Sgt. Solomon commented on our excellent work. He knew the value of praise.

Before our final barracks inspection and graduation day we worked extra hard. Heck, we were even proud knowing we had saved our platoon from enemy germs. One thing is for sure during those six weeks, I learned a good lesson…never, ever volunteer for anything in the Army.

To this very day my wife can’t understand why I don’t like to clean bathrooms.


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