Drill Sergeant Woods

Two weeks into basic training, our platoon drill sergeant picked two privates and assigned them the responsibility of cleaning his office. This was supposed to be a position of honor and trust; after all, they were given the keys to the office. We always laughed at the two trusted privates as they spent their free time cleaning an office while the rest of us wrote letters home, read letters, waited in line to talk on the phone, or caught up on sleep.

One of the guys in the platoon had a Polaroid camera and it didn’t take long for someone to come up with the idea of taking pictures while wearing the drill sergeant’s distinctive “brown-round,” or Smokey the Bear hat. It didn’t take long for the drill sergeant to find out about it either.

The smart thing to do as soon as the Polaroid came out—the blank film fading to an image of you standing there, cheesy grin and stupid eyes under the drill sergeant’s hat—was to stick it in an envelope and send it home for safe keeping. Wall lockers were inspected often, and the drill sergeant had the keys to our wall lockers anyway, so one couldn’t hide anything.

One Saturday afternoon two drill sergeants were going through our wall lockers. We weren’t allowed to watch while they did this. We stood at the foot of our beds holding our breath and hoping the pissed-off drill sergeant wouldn’t tip our wall locker—dumping our meager belongings onto the floor and making us do push-ups until he remember us sometime later in the evening.

“Holy shit, private! What the fuck is this?” drill sergeant Johnson’s voice suddenly boomed from across the bay. “Hey, drill sergeant Moyer, come over here and check this out.”

Fuck fuck fuck. What did they just find?

“Private, did you put my headgear on your nasty fucking head?”

The drill sergeants wanted to know who was responsible and the blame got placed on some poor kid who was only there for the first half of training. A split-option is what they’re called. He went to basic during the summer before his senior year in high school and would finish his training after graduating. The drill sergeants said they’d be waiting for him and wanted to know if there were anymore of these pictures. Of course not.

Later in the month we were all gathered for mail call. Drill sergeant Moyer threw out pieces of mail at us but paused at the last letter.

“Woods,” he said, tapping the envelope slowly against the desk. “This is interesting.”

Five little numbers make such a big difference. Woods had sent a letter to his girl-friend at the University of Illinois but forgot the zip code. I’m fairly certain that the post office could have delivered the letter without the zip code, but I guess they were feeling lazy that day and shipped it back to the sender. Woods was up now and walking towards the table to pick up his mail. It was always nice to get mail in basic training.

“Woods,” Moyer began and looked up, stopping Woods dead in his tracks. “Care to explain why the return address on this letter is ‘Drill sergeant Woods’?”

The platoon gasped. Drill sergeant Woods? Surely he couldn’t have been that stupid.

“I want you to open this envelope and dump the contents right here on the desk.”

He did as was instructed and sure enough, a Polaroid picture with Woods wearing the brown round floated down to the desk. This is only one way to begin a very long night.

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