Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal
J. D. Pendry
The subject that won't die. The possibility of a woman in combat arms is still a hot debate topic as is gender integrated basic combat training. Let me share with you a fable with a moral.
In the summer of 1980, I reported to the 1st Basic Training Battalion at Fort McClellan, Alabama as a Drill Sergeant Candidate. In those days, you didn't go to school then get a unit of assignment. You reported to a unit and worked as an assistant to a Drill Sergeant until you had a class date or shipped out to work for Range Control.
When I left Erie, Pennsylvania, earlier in the month of July the temperature was 50 degrees. My first day in Anniston, Alabama it was a 104. I remember marching with the company and watching the waves of the heat mirage rise up from the asphalt. There were times early on when my feet were on fire and I had sweat-soaked my uniform - shirt, trousers, socks headgear and all - that I wondered if volunteering for this job was a wise decision and questioning if I was up to it or not. Some candidates were not up to it. For whatever reason they could not meet the demands of the job. The standards were beyond their reach.
In the fall of 1980, only after the First Sergeant and Senior Drill Sergeant thought I was ready; I got a class date. My class, Drill Sergeant Class 1-81, had 15 students. Fourteen volunteers and one draftee, 14 males and 1 female. We also had three SFC, 3d year, Drill Sergeant course managers. That 1 to 5 ratio equaled much personal attention. That was just one method of ensuring standards were met. There wasn't very much, if anything, that SFCs Clark, White and Sledge didn't know about us in a very short time. They instinctively turned up the heat on anyone who may have been just trying to get by. Before 2 weeks, our draftee was history. He had no desire to crank it up to the intensity level required to become a Drill Sergeant so he went away.
That left 14, 1 female and us 13 males. This was my first experience training with a woman so I had no expectations other than that she would do what everyone else did.
At that time in the Army, we had not yet converted to running shoes and physical training uniforms. For physical training we grounded our shirts - or not - and unbloused our trousers. It was practical. I can't speak for physical training in Drill Sergeant School nowadays, but then it was no picnic. The senior course manager at the school was a Drill Sergeant Hat wearing master sergeant. I believe his name was Rufus McGhee. He took great pride in bragging to us how our physical training program was tougher than PT at Ranger School. I had no way of telling if he was blowing smoke or not, but there was a Ranger Tab wearing SSG in our class who never challenged the validity of that comment - not even in private to his classmates.
PT in Drill Sergeant School wasn't where one would choose to be if one had a choice. It started at 1600 on the training schedule and always had UTC as the end time. That means until completed. In those days, physical training was not as advanced as some like to believe today's PT is. We had three Army Conditioning Drills in the old PT Manual, along with Grass Drills and Guerrilla Exercises. A typical PT session for the first week consisted of the instructors showing us the proper way to teach the exercises, and then leading us through all three drills, generally 12 repetitions each. That probably sounds like easy stuff to some of you. Unless you're an old fart, however, you may not know what a conditioning drill is and you probably don't know that each had a dozen exercises in it. Some of the better ones were the 8-count push-up, the squat thrust and the body-twist. The latter was well known for causing large pieces of turf to disappear from the PT field and gas being uncontrollably passed.
After the end of the first week, we were accountable for knowing the exercises by conditioning drill and exercise number. The instructor may yell out, "Student number 6, conditioning drill number 3, exercises 5, 8 and 9, 12 repetitions!" If you were student number 6, which I was, you jumped on the PT stand and led, or if instructed to, taught those exercises. Not being able to do them or teach them properly resulted in you doing them again - right after PT - alone on the PT stand with just you and SFC "No Go" White until you got it right. After the conditioning drills, the last student on the stand reformed the class for a run. The instructors then barked out student numbers designating road guards for the day - not a sought after position. Then we would set out on our run, generally about five miles, in combat boots and incorporating some of McClellan's landmarks like Banes Bap. Banes Gap is a hill. You never had to worry about running all the way to the top you just had to hang on until the course managers decided to turn around. Usually that was when your lips were about two inches from the ground and you were breathing so hard you were beginning to suck gravel up off the roadside.
During our runs, one of the instructors would call out a student number. When you heard your number, you took charge of the running formation and the cadence calling. We never adjusted our pace for anyone we just kept up with whichever instructor took the lead that day. Sometimes, not often, a candidate would have a bad day and fall behind on the run. Failure to finish the run with the rest of the class - even if it was by a few steps - earned a candidate remedial PT. Remedial PT for falling out of the run amounted to issuance of a road guard vest, flashlight and instructions to complete the run again - immediately. Several times falling behind could spell and early end to your drill sergeant career.
Did I mention it to you that we had a woman in our class? I don't recall even thinking much about it myself until recently. Do you know how many times she fell out of a run? Zero. I don't know about the requirements for Drill Sergeant School now but in our Drill Sergeant class negotiating every obstacle on the confidence course including being able to name, explain and demonstrate each was a graduation requirement. On the conditioning obstacle course, there were no shorter walls for women or obstacles you could walk around if you chose. Our female classmate did it all right along with us. She also met all of the other standards required to graduate from a course where the standard on most tests was 100% and where you could be no-go'd for not projecting a command voice, or breaking the position of attention while teaching a drill and ceremonies class. Simply put the standard was the same for everyone in our class and they were unmercifully enforced. Either you met them or you went on to do something else for the Army.
I don't recall anyone ever making a disparaging remark about a member of our class being a woman. Maybe that's because some of them feared being out performed by a woman - some were actually. I don't recall any conduct that one might consider sexual harassment. This woman was in a class where her 13 male classmates were out to prove to one another and the world that they were the toughest SOBs to ever walk beneath a campaign hat, but so was she.
I told you there was a moral to this story - so here it is:
"When you meet the standard no one gives a rat's rear end what your gender is."
© 2000 J. D. Pendry