I must be dreaming, I thought, drifting back into slumber.
My dream was slowly returning.
KA-BAM! Thud, thud.
"GET UP YOU SLACKERS! DIDN'T YOU HEAR THAT BUGLE?"
KA-BAM! Thud, thud.
The noise was overwhelming. My morning sleep was being interrupted by... YIPES!
KA-BAM! Thud, thud.
It wasn't a dream. It was happening.
"GET OUTTA THOSE RACKS! YOU GOT NO TIME FOR SLEEP!
KA-BAM! Thud, thud.
What is that noise? My eye opened wide. I sat up slowly and looked in the direction of the crashing noises. Our Sergeant was moving methodically toward my rack yelling at the top of his lungs.
"GET UP! GET UP! YOU SHITBIRDS GOT A LOT TO DO TODAY."
With each sentence roaring from his mouth he took a turn. If that poor soul was still lying in his bed the Sergeant grasped the under railing and lifted. The rack flew upward slamming down with a KA-BAM! The newly enlisted Airman completed the noise--thud, thud--by bouncing off the linoleum covered concrete floor of our barracks. He was three beds away from me. The first five long my side were lying on their sides, thin mattresses, sheets, blankets and occupants scattered about.
I jumped off the mattress searching for my clothes in this unfamiliar place. It was 0530. We were supposed to be up and ready by 0500. At least that's what the Sergeant told us at 0330 when we were given our assigned racks.
Our arrival at Lackland Air Force Base had been the previous night around 2300. Through the entrance gates and along roads bordered by whitewashed stones up to a flat roofed brick building, we rode in our Air Force Blue bus. The driver came to a stop and threw open the folding doors.
"OK, boys. Your destination."
Lethargically we rose from our seats gathering our suitcases. Our leisurely exit from the bus was met by the charming greeting from a Sergeant with a Smokey the Bear hat slanted at a forward angle. His khaki uniform was crisply fitted to his lean body. The creases were razor sharp as if he had just stepped out of the laundromat. His fists were anchored to his waist elbows out. His head slowly moved from side to side as we stepped out of the bus luggage in hand.
As the last one of us exited the bus he finally began to speak.
"ALL RIGHT YOU BUNCH OF MOMMA'S BOYS, LISTEN UP."
We turned to listen as we shambled to a stop.
"YOU ARE MINE NOW! YOU CAN FORGET HOME! FORGET YOUR MOMMA'S LOVING HAND, HER COOKIES, HER COMFORTING WORDS! YOU BELONG TO UNCLE SAM. HE'S NOT GOING TO CODDLE YOU! HE'S NOT GOING TO KISS YOU GOOD NIGHT! HE'S NOT GOING TO HOLD YOUR HAND! YOU ARE GOING TO BECOME MEN DURING THE TIME YOU'RE WITH ME OR BE KICKED OUT TO THE CURB AFTER WHICH YOUR UNCLE SAM WILL SNATCH YOU UP INTO HIS ARMY, THROW A RIFLE INTO YOUR HANDS AND SEND YOU STRAIGHT TO THE RICE PATTIES OF VIET NAM! DO I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION?"
He was answered with a yawn from one of the taller enlistees.
The Sergeant walked stiffly up to the young boy. He stood squarely in front of him slowly looking upward from his chest to his face. His eyes burrowed holes into the recruit's eyes. The boy backed off.
The Sergeant returned to his previous position. As he walked his customary stiff march back we heard a mumble from our midst.
"Hell, you ain't so tough."
The Sergeant stopped. Slowly he turned. He looked at each face before him.
"SOMEBODY GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?"
"ALRIGHT! LET'S HAVE IT RIGHT NOW!"
He stood about five foot seven. His frame was solid. His sleeves covered arms of solid muscle.
"SPEAK UP NOW! ANYBODY FEEL LIKE THEY CAN TAKE ME? LET'S DO IT NOW!"
"I SEE! YOU CAN ONLY SPEAK UP FROM THE MIDST OF A CROWD! BE A MAN! STEP OUT!
The minutes passed. He stood rock still eyeing the group. Finally,
"Ah, hell. I'll show you. You ain't so tough little man." The boy was at least six feet. He ambled over to the Sergeant flexing muscles. His smile was confident.
"YOU SURE YOU WANT TO DO THIS BOY?"
"Hell, yeah. Bring it on little m..."
The Sergeant threw one punch. The new enlistee rose a foot off the ground. He collapsed in a heap at our feet.
We all moved away from the crumpled figure shaking our heads.
"GET UP ASSHOLE!" he shouted at the boy on the ground.
"LINE UP! YOU PANTY WAISTS!"
We gathered our belongings and lined up as best we could.
"YOU ALL WILL FILE INTO THE CANTEEN AND EAT THE MEAL PREPARED FOR YOU. AFTER WHICH, YOU WILL LINE UP RIGHT HERE! FROM HERE WE WILL MARCH TO YOUR BARRACKS. YOU HAVE THIRTY MINUTES TO EAT! IS THAT CLEAR?"
"Yes sir," we mumbled.
"I CAN'T HEAR YOU!'
"Yes sir!" we said a little louder.
"I STILL CAN'T HEAR YOU!"
"ALL RIGHT, FILE IN!"
We shuffled through the line, trays in hand. Plates, silverware, napkins, drinks. The cook slapped something on those plates. He looked bored. We looked scared. He noticed and smiled.
After eating we milled around outside until the Sergeant came for us.
"LINE UP YOU RETARDS! FORGET YOUR HOMES AND SWEETHEARTS! YOU ARE GOING TO YOUR LIVING QUARTERS WHERE YOU WILL BE BRIEFED ABOUT YOUR COMING DAY. WE HAVE SOME PAPERWORK TO BE HANDLED SO BEDDY BYES WON'T BE FOR A LONG TIME YET!"
That was our introduction to our new life. The briefing lasted until 0330 at which time we were assigned our racks. Dead tired and frightened we laid our civilian clothes on our lockers and climbed between the sheets. Exhausted we fell asleep right after the Sergeant clicked off the lights.
Immediately the chaos of the morning began. I was up and into my clothes. As I stood, at what I thought was attention at the foot of my bed, the last KA-BAM! Thud, thud rang in our ears. It was one bed over from me. The occupant of the bed next to me looked my way. His eyes showed fear just as mine did.
"ALL RIGHT YOU DEGENERATES! YOU NEED TO LINE UP OUTSIDE, NOW!"
We scattered toward the doors.
"PICK UP THOSE RACKS!" he yelled at the unfortunates who had been dumped on the cold hard floor.
Everyone take the time to offer a prayer for the soldiers who have come and gone. Those who give a portion of their lives in the service of their country deserve more than our thanks. God bless them all.