The following is a speech I gave last night at my local Toastmasters meeting …
Back in Oct 1981, I went on a six week all-expenses paid trip to San Antonio, Texas. There was only one catch. In order to get the free trip, I had to sign up for 4 years in the United States Air Force.
I thought it was a good deal. First of all, I’d never been to San Antonio before and next, I didn’t really have anything planned for the next 4 years of my life anyway.
Yes, I was off to Basic Military Training School. I had so much to learn. And, the Air Force had so much to teach me. And, they only had six weeks to do it.
We learned how to wake up on time.
On my very first morning in San Antonio, I was awoken by the sound of a baseball bat banging against my metal bedpost. Followed by someone yelling, “Get up ladies! Your beauty rest is over!”
Before my eyelids even opened, I found myself standing at attention next to my bed.
Then I saw him. Our Training Instructor or TI. A short but intimidating man. His uniform was immaculate. I could tell straight away, he was a serious, no nonsense guy. The kind of guy you didn’t cross.
He dominated the scene. He was in charge. 50 raw recruits standing at attention. All scared out of their wits. Including me.
His name – Technical Sargent Vogel.
And then he explained the procedure.
“According to my watch it’s now 0500 hours. I want you up at exactly 0500 hours every morning. Not a second before, and not a second after. If you’re not up at 0500 hours, I will wake your rear end with my military alarm clock!” As he tapped the baseball bat in his hand.
“Anybody got any questions?”
There were none.
It was amazing, we woke up every morning at 0500 hours without any need for a TSgt Vogel’s military alarm clock.
And that’s how we learned how to wake up on time.
We learned how to make a bed.
TSgt Vogel asked us, “Do you remember how your bunks were made up last night when you got here?”
Heads bobbed up and down as we all recalled how they looked. They were perfect. Blanket pulled tight, no wrinkles; all the folds at precise angles.
“Ok, then. I want you to make them up just like you found them last night!”
We all scurried about making our bunks. Twenty minutes later, TSgt Vogel was back. We all stood at attention at the end of our bunks as we waited for our turn …
He walked up to the first recruit and asked, “Is your bunk made the way you found it last night when you arrived?”
“Yes sir!” came the confident reply.
Then TSgt Vogel reached down and grabbed the bunk and flipped it over. CRASH! “No it ain’t! Make it again!”
Then he moved to the next recruit, “Son, do think your bunk is made correctly?
“Yes sir …?” He replied with a lot less confidence than the first guy.
Then the recruit watched in disbelief as Sgt Vogel reached down and tipped over his bunk and sent it to the floor with another loud crash! Then Sgt Vogel calmly moved on to the next bunk.
“Son, you really think your bunk is made right?” He asked.
“No sir!” said the observant and smart recruit.
“You’re dern tootin it ain’t! It’s a mess. That’s the worst looking bed I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Now, I’m gettin a bit tired of tearing up these here bunks … you know what to do.”
“Yes sir!” came the reply. And then the recruit reached down, grabbed the metal bunk and flipped it over! Crash!
Then Sgt Vogel called out to the rest of us, “Do any of you knuckleheads think your bunk is made correctly?”
A chorus of “No sir!” echoed throughout the barracks.
Then Sgt Vogel said what we already knew, “Then tear up your bunks and make em again!”
What followed was the sound of 47 metal bunks crashing to the floor. Crash! Boom! Ka-bang!
TSgt Vogel spent the rest of the morning sharing with us the fine art of military bed making.
And, that’s how we learned to make a bed,
We learned how to suffer …
Prior to joining the Air Force, I thought I knew suffering, but TSgt Vogel brought it to a new level.
You see he had an unusual way of starting off our daily briefing.
The daily briefing, that’s where we sat on the cold hard floor and he would stand at the podium and talk to us.
Now, we were starving. Not for food but for some other basics. We were starving for outside news; starving for letters from home; starving for some semblance of a normal life; some basic freedoms. No TV, no newspapers, no family, no social life, no sleep, no fun. Just the Air Force basic training daily grind. Marching, cleaning, shining our boots and getting yelled at.
And yet, TSgt Vogel, would start off every daily briefing with the same torturous phrase. A phrase that still haunts me to this day … He started off every briefing by saying,
Last night when I was at home, with my family, watching TV and drinking a beer …
Then you could see our eyes fill up with tears as we tried to picture what it would be like to be home, to be with family, to be able to watch TV and heaven’s above – TO HAVE A BEER!
That phrase was like a dagger to the heart.
And, that’s how we learned to suffer!
Adventure comes to an end!
Well, my six week adventure – all expenses paid trip – to San Antonio, finally came to an end.
How was it?
One recruit summed it up best. Probably spoke for all of us when TSgt Vogel asked him, “Son, what were you in civilian life?”
The recruit looked straight down at Sgt Vogel and said, “In civilian life sir, I was happy!”