During my Air Force basic training at Lackland AFB, TX we trainees found ourselves participating in an exercise - as though the continental United States was under attack. We green recruits, much to our surprise though obviously not to the school staff, suddenly had to play trained airmen. It was quite disorienting, as well as challenging. The school kids had to realize what we've volunteered to do wasn't some remote story. It could become very real very fast. The mundane day-to-day routine was shaken off to say the least.
I was quite gratified to see my fellow airmen sobering up to the occasion, and though we all felt out of our depth (which I'm sure was the intention) we all were intent and eager to learn. Yet, eventually we all had to happen upon the drill instructor who prided himself in handing out demerits to everyone who passed by. He'd positioned himself at a particular doorway where he knew unsuspecting recruits would be filing by, and sure enough was loudly, and rather bombastically passing out demerits for anything he could get by with; shaves, boot shines, creases in fatigue pants anything would do. He was having a time, too - quite pleased with himself and obviously enjoying every moment.
Yes, there are quite a few fellows like this guy. He probably called himself something like "hero" or "patriot", but we normally call guys like this "jerks." There were the young recruits, only a few weeks into their training, hurry along trying to faithfully carry out whatever tasks they had been assigned, hoping they didn't screw it up, or nothing went wrong, getting ambushed by this arrogant "leader" who was visibly doing nothing in support of the exercise everyone else was involved in. Of course, he was too important for such trivia. Such are patriot heroes of his sort.
It happened I was able to watch him for some time across an expanse of concrete normally used for assembly formations and morning physical training. Being a bit older than the other recruits, I found myself being assigned things which required patience, so to speak. There I was holding down an end of the concrete looking for "unauthorized" people. From there I was able to watch this dutiful sergeant for a good 45 minutes as he terrorized the recruits who visibly showed panic on their faces, which the good sergeant seemed to relish. Until, he loudly proclaimed how lucky he was to find his little spot to give out all those demerits. It struck me as rather cruel.
As it happened, there was a suggestion box available, so I took it upon myself to jot down a bit of a suggestion. You see, I'm an athlete. I played organized sports from the age of six, and am quite accustomed to training regimes - even stressful and strenuous ones. There wasn't much Air Force basic training could throw at me to equal what I'd already experienced, truth be told. There was this one thing my father, the perennial basketball coach, always said. "As you do in practice so you do in the game." And, I wrote a paragraph or two on this subject, asking if it was preferable to terrorize trainees with matters of small concern when expecting them to capably function during circumstances where other matters of greater import demanded attention. "Do we really want to be assessing the sharpness of someone's pant crease while we're under attack? Do we want to teach our recruits this standard"?
It wasn't long afterward, maybe a week to ten days went past, when another "surprise" exercise was launched. There we were again, scurrying about playing war. There I was again at the same corner of the huge concrete pad "watching out." And, there was our sergeant, positioned in the same spot as before, only this time he wasn't loudly celebrating his issuance of demerits. This time he was loudly complaining about all the demerits he could be giving out, but for the fact he was unfairly restricted by our commander who seemed to think there were more important things to do. From this I learned two things:
1. Adapt or die; change is a good thing if done correctly for the right reasons, and....
2. ...never pass up the chance to use a suggestion box.