When I’m running at night, I remember 4:30 am, October 3, 1966. First morning in my new unit. We fell out of renovated barracks and started lighting cigarettes off of each other, not knowing what was about to happen next. We were dressed just like I am here, V-neck t-shirt, fatigue pants and dog tags.
As daylight approached, they moved us up onto the company street. That company being A-4-1, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. We were being groomed for jungle warfare.
Once on the street, four platoons of fifty troops were called to attention. After a sloppy “leeeeft faaaace, forwaaard, haaarch” we started to move awkwardly towards the run down “Drag Ass Hill”.
It was so steep you could almost fall down it. “Drag Ass” got its name for the return portion of the torture. Its name was well deserved.
When “double time” was ordered, chaos quickly ensued. The term “myocardial infarction” was twenty five years from my lexicon, but if I had known what it was then, I would have used it.
My leathery, 19 year old lungs were about to explode. Things were happening to my body that scared me to death. This, was surely the end.
The Viet Cong would never get my skinny, white ass. I thought.
At the one mile mark, a few of us panicked and ran off into the woods. The drill instructors, fully anticipating the move, were in there waiting for us.
Sgt. Sanders, a “muscle head” of a lifer, took particular joy in punching, kicking and berating me, while rubbing my face in the red, Carolina clay.
But anything was better than running back up Drag Ass Hill. In other words, I didn’t feel a thing.
In a few months, I was a lean, mean, fighting machine, My body had responded to the rigors of military life. It had a dramatic effect on me. I started to carry myself as a man, not a confused, aimless kid.
Better yet, I knew how to put the work in. I was, for once, organized, responsible and mature. The change was in.
Nowadays, my torture is completely self-inflicted. I crave the demands on my human movement system. I love every minute of it because…. my ass ain’t draggin’.
Some gifts do come in olive drab.