Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oldie But Goodie

Here's a little piece that I wrote a few months ago. I thought that I'd revive it for amusement's sake. Enjoy this oldie.

Death of a Toothbrush

There was a time in my life when I found bitter pleasure in the misery of young men. While I was serving as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, or DI, at Parris Island, I encountered every type of recruit that you could imagine. Each new batch was about 75 to 80 strong, and included every personality and body type under the sun. Short, fat, tall, skinny, rough, refined---all of these types of young men could be found at Parris Island, South Carolina. They all had one thing in common: a glaring lack of discipline.

One particular platoon included a young man by the name of Recruit Kendall. Recruit Kendall was a stout, tough, aggressive young man that grew up in a hard town. Kendall wasn't very bright, but he was dedicated and loyal. He'd follow any order, and accomplish it with vigorous enthusiasm. This unique young man also used his size and strength to his advantage.

One late evening, I was supervising "weapons maintenance," during which the recruits sat on their footlockers while cleaning their rifles. I was giving various commands in order to tell them what part of the rifle to scrub with their "AP," or All Purpose brush. The AP brush is very similar to a toothbrush in shape and size, but only comes in one lovely color: Olive drab.

Pacing along the line of recruits, shouting various commands, I quickly noticed that Recruit Wilson was not using his AP brush, but a rag instead. Recruit Wilson had been struggling to keep up with his peers in Recruit Training. I believed that he had led a sheltered, inactive life. In the not-so-gentle fashion that is typical of a DI, I politely asked Wilson, "Are you out of your freakin' mind?" "Where's your damned AP brush recruit? How do you expect to maintain your weapon in combat with nothing but a rag?" The young recruit leaped to his feet and sounded off with, "Sir, this recruit does not have an AP brush Sir!" I immediately told him, "Oh yes you do son. I know for a fact that you have an AP brush. It may be blue, red, or purple; it may say Colgate on it; but you've got a freakin' AP brush!"

I then commanded the entire platoon, "Now, when you receive the command, you will get on line with your AP brush in your right hand! Ready...MOVE!" I then began counting down, out loud, from ten. Wilson just stood there with furrowed brow. I barked, "GET YOUR DAMNED AP BRUSH NOW!" He quickly pawed through his footlocker and produced the most amazing looking toothbrush that I've ever seen. This wonder of dental technology had a flexible head, a soft comfortable handle, and looked like something his parents had paid about 12 bucks for. I was immediately delighted.

I continued counting down, and upon reaching one, the platoon sounded off with a thundering "DONE SIR DONE!" There they stood with their AP brushes, and Wilson with his high-tech toothbrush. I then loudly commanded them all, "Now, when you receive the command, you will toss that AP brush into a pile in the middle of my deck! Ready...MOVE!" I then counted down from three...."DONE SIR DONE!" I spied Wilson's 12 dollar special laying in the middle of the pile. The recruits were frozen at the position of attention, nervously awaiting their next order.

While looking directly at Recruit Kendall, I said, "Now when you receive the command, you will quickly make your way to that pile, and grab a brush. I don't care which one, just freakin' grab one! You will then immediately return to scrubbing those rifles!" Kendall made a brief instant of eye contact, and I could almost see the light bulb come on in his head. He had a gleam in his eye, a bead of sweat on his brow, and his powerful muscles were rippling beneath his shirt. "READY...MOVE!" The whole platoon scurried to grab a brush. Kendall was elbowing young men out of the way as he made a beeline for that 12 dollar toothbrush. Wilson tried to make a grab for it, but ended up flat on his butt.

By the time I had counted down from five to one, Kendall had his prize, and was back on his footlocker, gleefully scrubbing the dirtiest part of his rifle with Wilson’s toothbrush. I could sense Wilson's crushed spirit. However, he now had a perfectly good AP brush in his hand, and was scrubbing his rifle. Mission accomplished.

To the uninitiated, the way in which Marine Corps Recruits are treated may seem overly harsh. I would remind them that, as a DI, I was not preparing those young men to flip burgers at a fast food establishment. I was striving to mold them into the type of men that would survive the rigors of combat. As George Orwell once said, “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

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