How I Spent My Summer Vacation
A Stinking Bog
J. D. Pendry
Golf course managers you can rest easy now because Iíve had my golf outing for the year.† It may take Fort Gordonís golf course maintenance crew some time to repair the damages from hurricane JD, but if youíre patient, Iím sure theyíll have the course back in shape soon.† My game has improved somewhat.† I lost only one ball this time Sam.† It went in to the water on the first hole.† Sunday mornings at Fort Gordonís golf course begins with a shotgun start for the 0730 tee time.† For you non-golfers that means at least 18 foursomes tee off at the same time, but from different holes.† I know now where all of the military retirees in the Fort Gordon area spend their Sunday mornings.† You should have seen all of these geezer driven golf carts zipping about in a thousand different directions at the same time.† Coffee sloshing, some eyeballs still bloodshot from the early morning wakeup after the Saturday night.† Iím happy to report that no one was killed.† We can only attribute this to much practice.†
My foursome minus one was lucky.† Our first hole was an island green par 3.† No warm up, no range balls, just tee it up and hit a green surrounded by water about 175 yards away.† For Tiger, thatís a ho-hummer, but for me itís an ugly way to start a relaxing Sunday morning.† I picked the right club and had the right range, but my aim was a off a little.† Golf balls donít make much of a splash when they hit the water; itís more like a sploonk. So, I dropped another ball, which is what you do unless you want to go snorkeling, took the penalty and double bogied the hole.† Thatís about as good as it gets for my golf game.† Golf is like anything else; you get back whatever you put into it.† In other words, if you want to be decent at golf, you need to work at it some.† My golf game preparation usually consists of having a cold adult beverage (I find Moosehead is a good training drink) while hauling my clubs out of their dark corner in the garage and dusting off the cobwebs.
There are also bogs on Fort Gordonís course.† Stinking bogs.† Theyíre several feet deep, well camouflaged and blend well with the surrounding turf. †I stepped into one.† I was in over my ankle and going deeper when I figured out what was happening.† As I pulled my foot out, the bog schlooooped closed and patiently awaited itís next victim.† What ever these bogs are composed of stinks.† The remainder of the day my foot and golf shoe smelled as if I wallowed it around in the middle of a seasoned, bloating pile of road kill.
My golfing partners were AIT instructors.† One of them Pendry the younger.† I spent much of the day listening to ďYou wonít believe this stories.Ē†
ďYou wonít believe this, but we have a new soldier assigned to our unit who came to work at 1300.† She said the electricity went off at her house so she wasnít sure what the correct time was.† Problem is, she was wearing a watch.† And nothing happened to herÖĒ
ďYou wonít believe this, but we have privates in training that tell the instructors their not allowed to yell at them. Even if theyíre being insubordinate and suffering from a bad case of diarrhea mouth or are disrupting training for others.Ē
ďYou wonít believe this, but I had a private tell me that I couldnít tell him what to do because I wasnít his Drill Sergeant.Ē
I donít like the picture these stories painted for me.† In the day, as we say, any of these incidents would cause a NCO to stand on the privateís chest and question the location of his or her head.† I suppose this method is not acceptable in the kinder, gentler approach to soldierization.† When I left basic training, I can tell you with absolute certainty that it was several years before I would even initiate a conversation with a NCO unless it was to ask a question.† Then I asked it from the position of parade rest and the first question requested permission to ask the next question.† Among the first lessons I learned were be on time, accept responsibility for and the consequences of my actions, and a thorough understanding of what ďgeneral military authorityĒ means and to not question its legitimate use.
The most important intangible for soldiers and the Army is discipline.
From Merriam-Webster, discipline is:
I donít want to take the Chicken Little approach to analyzing the current environment, but some of the things Iíve heard lately do not give me the proverbial warm and fuzzy feeling Iíd like to have regarding the discipline of our newest soldiers.† I donít base this on my golfing conversations, as much as I base it on other things Iíve read, heard and witnessed.† The frequency at which I hear these stories points toward our current approach to the basic training of soldiers.† For some reason, the way we are going about it does not instill in new soldiers the level of discipline thatís necessary.† Itís as if we stepped off into one of those stinking bogs and are not sure how to extricate ourselves.
The Army is not unlike my golf game.† If we approach the business of making and being soldiers the way I approach golf weíre heading for serious trouble.† Instilling discipline in soldiers begins on the first day and itís reinforced constantly until soldiers understand that there is only one way.† You canít occasionally drag it out of a dark corner and expect it to be there when itís needed.† When the time comes, we will show up to that island par 3 just as I did with no warm up and no practice shot.† Weíll face the challenge in front of us just as we are.† If we do not have well disciplined soldiers prepared to meet the challenge, the result will not be good.
We inevitably make comparisons between old and new in the Army (Looking Forward to the Past).† What weíve always been good at, when it comes to teaching skills to soldiers, is sticking with what works.† Look back as far as you like and youíll find that the principles we use to teach basic rifle marksmanship are virtually unchanged.† Our equipment, both weapons and training aids, has changed dramatically, but the principles of sight picture, sight alignment, breath control, trigger squeeze, and other steady hold factors are unchanged.† Why?† Because those principles when taught and followed work.† They do not change just because the equipment did.
As I check human evolution, I donít notice much physical change in the species, except for maybe softer bodies and rounder bellies.† We hear repeatedly, however, that the new generation of soldiers (those passing through basic combat training as we speak) is more intelligent and more apt to ask why when given instructions.† Because of this myth, and thatís what it is, we insist on tinkering with the approach Ė principles - that produced highly disciplined soldiers from basic combat training for years.† When we begin to tinker with the intangibles, such as discipline, we begin to hear stories such as those I shared as well as stories like the soldier gang that robbed an on post McDonalds.† It appears we are slipping deeper into a stinking bog.
Either our current practices are not instilling the requisite level of discipline in soldiers or too many of them are just not getting it.† Whatever the case, itís something that we must address and correct.† When we tee up for our next challenge, there is no place in our units for even one soldier who doesnít carry his or her load or that challenges the legitimate authority of the leadership.†