Dirk was standing at the bottom of the rope wondering if the airman half way up that rope was ever going to get going again. The rope was tied to a beam maybe fifty foot in the air extending out from the top of a cliff.. The airman in question seem froze at about the halfway mark . Dirk thought that he’d been standing there waiting his turn for much longer than was safe. Any minute now the TI was going to….
“Howard!!!!” Screamed the TI…”what the HELL are you doing just standing there…climb that rope!!!”
“Sir!!! Yes Sir! Sergeant!”…and Dirk practically launched. He went up the rope like a monkey…barely slowing when he reached the exhausted airman Dirk merely grabbed the poor guy by his belt and drug him up the rope. Dirk could climb a rope faster than anyone on the squad and having to carry someone wasn’t all that big of a chore. When he reached the top Dirk muttered to the airman…
“You better hurry…the Sarge is looking”.
With that Dirk took off. No more mister nice guy. Uh Uh. He didn’t want the Sarge jumping his case so he lit out like a scalded jack rabbit, trying to make up for lost time on the obstacle course. Running wasn’t Dirk’s strong suit since his legs were so short but He made up for it mostly because he was so strong and had such great endurance. Even short legs could cover distance if pumped fast enough and long enough.
Dirk had heard that most Air Force Recruits didn’t have to do so much physical training. He’d heard wrong. Either that or things had changed. Rumor had it that since almost everyone was going to Viet Nam when they finished basic that they needed to be trained more like the Army than like “classic” Air Force. That might explain the emphasis on Physical Training, the Daily Obstacle course run and the above ‘normal’ amount of firearms training.
Dirk didn’t know or care. He ate physical training with a spoon. Whatever they wanted to dish out he could take and come back for more. Dirk also like guns. Life was good.
Running along Dirk remembered what it had been like the first day.
Dirk was had read Battle Cry by Leon Uris and Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein so many times that their covers were falling off. He’d paid particular attention to the parts concerning basic training. He vowed that he would NEVER get himself into such as mess as did the guys in those books. That first morning of basic Dirk tried to stay inconspicuous and to the rear of the group. While in High School Dirk had taken marching band as well as Boy Scouts so he was familiar with standing in formation, at attention and suchlike. When the little man with the bad attitude strutted out in front of them and screamed
“Squaaaad runnnn Faaaalllll IN!!!”
Dirk knew what was expected of him and did it. More fool him. That served as an attention getter right then and the little man….the Training Instructor….noticed. The TI then proceeded to begin screaming and ranting..meanwhile two other guys in uniform pushed and shoved the recruits into position. They were none too gentle about it either.
“ Move it, move it, moveitmoveitmoveit!!! Get your fat asses in line. In all my years in this man’s Air Force I’ve NEVER seen such a sorry lot of momma’s boys , wimps, sissies and downright pussies in all my life. What rock did you creatures crawl out from under? What, oh gawd, did I ever do to deserve this? I’ve seen bad recruit squadrons before but….”… and on, and on…and on for the length of time it took his helpers to get everyone all straightened up and in rank and file as they were supposed to be.
Dirk thought it was kind of reminded him of home. He’d had coaches that sounded just like that guy. His marching band instructor wasn’t much better. This guy was pretty good…
All the recruits were finally pushed and shoved into the proper position and the TI began a different rant
“All right girls. Now that you’re in some sorry semblance of order I’m going to explain things to you. To begin with as far as you are concerned for the length of your stay here you may consider me to be GOD! Is that clear?”
Dirk Screamed “Yes Sir”. Ooooops. He and one other long, lanky skinny guy, had replied immediately. Maybe three more a little bit slower…out of a group of fifty. They pretty well stood out. So much for keeping a low profile. Everyone else was silent….
The TI looked aghast. He shook his head, put one finger in an ear and twisted it. “I can’t HEAR you! “ he shouted. “ I repeat the question is that CLEAR?”
“Yes Sir”…about half the recruits answered with varying degrees of enthusiasm.
The DI shook his head again. “What a bunch of sissies. A box of puppies could make more noise. When I ask you sorry bunch of losers a question the proper response is Yes Sir or No Sir as the case may be, delivered forthrightly and with vigor. In other words spit it out. AM I CLEAR?” he asked.
“Yes Sir!!!”…the response was much better this time. Most of the recruits replied at any rate.
NOT good enough for the TI. He looked disgusted.
“What a bunch of wimps ….drop down and give me fifty pushups. HUP!” Shouted the TI.
Dirk , the lanky one, and those same three other guys were instantly on the ground and churning out pushups. Ahh…thought Dirk. This is just like home. Dirk could do pushups all day. They were zero strain to him. He’d learned to do pushups and learned of their use for emphasis while playing high school football back in west Texas.
The rest of the recruits, however, weren’t so quick on the up take. This resulted in the TI going into a caterwauling rage.
“Down….down down down…GET DOWN on the GROUND you sissies and start doing pushups. NOW! NOWnownownow!!! What part of that do you not understand?”..he was practically foaming at the mouth. His assistants walked among the recruits helping them to assume the position. Once again..they weren’t especially gentle.
Dirk didn’t bother to count….he was sure that he’d done much more than the required number of pushup but if he stopped that would draw attention. He didn’t want attention so he just kept doing pushups. Steady rate….like a machine.
The TI glanced over at Dirk and then at his assistants. They nodded to each other.
“All right Children” Screamed the TI …”apparently you pussies don’t know how to do pushups. Sqaaaaadron. Aten -SHUN!”
Dirk sprang up off the ground as if he was spring loaded. The lanky one and the other three guys were almost as quick. They all stood quivering at attention. The rest of the group of boys slowly managed to regain their feet and managed some poor semblance of the posture known in the military as “attention”.
“You worthless, useless, SCUM!” screamed the TI. “Did you all take home economics in school? Except for four or five of you there doesn’t appear to be anyone who knows how to DO pushups. That being the case a demonstration is in order”
“YOU!!!” Screamed the TI…”what’s your name recruit?” He pointed at Dirk
Shit. So much for keeping a low profile…”Sir! Dirkson Howard SIR”.
“Well, well, well, Airman Howard….and you all are, may god help us, airmen. This IS the Air Force…and you, lowest of the low, are Airmen. The bottom rung in the latter. We’ll get to all that later in classroom work. Right now I have some questions”.
He paused….looking at Dirk expectantly. Dirk didn’t say anything. He’d learned in football AND band not to speak unless asked. The two books he’d read so many times also made a point of stressing that very same subject. Dirk stood mute staring straight ahead.
He’d have sworn there was just a glint of a smile that passed across the TI’s face.
“Airman Howard. You appear to know the fundamentals of doing pushups….assume the position please. HUP!” The TI shouted. It appeared that the TI never spoke unless it was a shout.
Dirk was instantly in pushup position. Hands and toes on the ground, legs together and straight. Back straight. Shoulders square, arms straight to the ground. Dirk was still as if he’d been carved from stone.
The DI walked around Dirk examining and explaining the position to the rest of the recruits. Then he stopped. “Good Job Airman Howard”. Dirk didn’t move. The TI nodded.
“SQUADRON” he shouted…..” Assume the pushup position…HUP!”…
This time the majority of the group had caught on to what was happening and what was expected of them. They all dropped more or less at the same time. One or two, there is always one or two in every group, were slow. They received special attention from the TI’s assistants.
The TI and his assistants walked among the squadron and made adjustments in placement of hands, feet, arms, and legs as needed. Accompanied by shouts of “MOVE that arm,” “Straighten that back airman”…”Get your legs together you aren’t humpin a….” and many other profane remarks. Finally they were satisfied.
The DI glanced toward Dirk. It was as if Dirk were a statue carved from stone. Dirk didn’t even quiver.
“On my count” shouted the TI…” ONE!”
Dirk was down and back up in a flash. It was as if his arms were pistons. The rest of the squadron followed much slower.
“TWO” Dirk was up and down….the rest followed.
………….and so it went. By the time the TI reached fifty he was looking at a raggedly sorry lot of young men. Most were showing visible signs of fatigue. Some were struggling each time. Many had lost all semblance of proper form.
Except Dirk. Dirk was a machine. Up-Down, Up-Down. On Tempo.
Dirks face was to the Ground so he didn’t see the TI’s glance toward his assistants. They seemed amazed. The TI walked over to Dirk.
“Airman Howard, are you tired” He asked.
“Sir, No Sir” shouted Dirk. And amazingly…it seemed as if he were not. Dirk was as fresh as when it had all began.
“Continue on then” shouted the TI “ let’s see if we can make you tired….fifty one…HUP!” Dirk went down and the TI stepped onto his back. Dirk went right back up again as if nothing had happened. TI on his back making no apparent difference. The TI’s eyebrow rose as he looked his assistants but he continued the count.
The count continued. It got to a point where almost none of the airmen, except dirk, were doing proper pushups. Some were barely quivering. Most were doing girly pushups. It didn’t seem to matter to dirk. He was a machine. He kept pumping them out. The TI, shaking his head in wonder, stepped off Dirks back.
“Squadron…..aaaah ten SHUN!” he barked.
Dirk sprang from the ground as if launched from a catapult…standing stiff as a board. The rest of the squadron struggled to stand.
“Well girls….I seem to have gotten side tracked” As I was saying”…and he launched into a forty five minute harangue covering their personal habits, their ancestry and his almost nonexistent expectations of ever doing anything with them. All the time keeping an eye on Dirk.
Dirk was a statue.
The TI eventually wound down.
“I despair.” He said. “ But all is not lost. This is a fine day. I don’t think it’s even going to break one hundred degrees today. A fine morning for a jog. We’ll do a mile before breakfast and then we begin the in processing. …Squadron!...Riiiiight ….. FACE!. Forward…MARCH!. Double Time….MARCH!.”.
And off they went. Dirk and those same five or six guys got it right….the rest were clueless…but were eventually shoved, chivied and pushed into doing the proper thing.
“Damn” Thought Dirk “ So much for being inconspicuous”.
“heh” thought the TI…”there’s my squad leaders”.
And that’s the way it went. Dirk become one of five squad leaders. The lanky guy, also a Texan also and became a squad leader. Dirk and the lanky guy became friends. The lanky guy’s name was James Shropshire. Oddly enough he wasn’t called Jim. He was called Slats. Back home an aunt had commented that he was so skinny that it was feared that he might fall between the Slats in his bed. That nickname followed him everywhere.
There came to be a bit of a competition. Slats could outrun Dirk…barely. Some of the other guys could outshoot Dirk, by the barest of margins. In the class room some of the real nerd could do better than Dirk and Slats, but not by much. However when it came to raw, unchained strength and speed, Dirk stood alone. No one else even came close.
Basic training, sometimes called boot camp, passed with amazing speed. Dirk was actually enjoying himself. It would be a shame when it ended.