07 November 2008

Brat Books & Basic Training

The point of this was to give advice about being a Brat...And since I discovered I still had a lot to learn and was in no place to hand out advice...I decided to quit. I've quit a lot of things in my life. In fact, I tried to quit the Army. I called my father after two weeks of Basic Training and told him I had made a big mistake and was getting out. He told me he would support me in anything I decided to do but asked that I listen to him for just a moment.

He told me, "You've never finished anything in your life. You've started a helluva lot of things but you never complete them." He recited a list: Skydiving, hang gliding, rock climbing, sailing, rifle team, police cadet, Cub Scouts, Webelos, Boy Scouts, drums, bass guitar, surfing, archery, Judo, wrestling, horse back riding... After the list he sighed, "You know, basic training is nothing compared to Outward Bound." He hit me where it hurt. I'd like to say I was so ashamed that I grabbed something from deep inside and told him, "Forget it. I'm gonna stick this out." But I'd be lying.

The next morning I approached my Drill Sergeant. An American Indian, the man suffered an injury in the cycle prior to mine that made it impossible for him to turn his neck. He was still out on sick leave when the  picture of my class was taken. He had to turn his entire body to look in any direction. Or, at you. He was looking away from me when I told him I had thought long and hard about it and had decided I wanted a General Discharge. He slowly turned his entire body to me, looked down and said, "You red faced maggot...In order for me... to give you a General Discharge... I'd have to write up paperwork on your fucking ass and since I don't have the fucking time for something that fucking stupid I suggest you get your fucking ass back in the formation."

A few things: I was called red faced maggot because my face was sunburned. All the time. He used "fuck" like it like poetry. Lastly, he and not my father, kept me in the Army. I am grateful to him and wish he was in my picture.  By the way, that's me in the third row, second from the left. The only one looking away from the camera. I remember a car going by just before the picture was taken and all I could think of was how I wanted to be in that car... going anywhere.

These books are interesting. The first one is  "Military Brats" by Mary Edwards Wertsch and  published in 1991.  I have shared this book with numerous brats:  The President of the Union League Club of Chicago. An insurance underwriter. A naval officer's daughter I was secretly in love with. My father. It's not a tough read. By that, I mean it's engaging and fast. What was tough about it, for me, was learning why I was the way I was. So much of this book felt like a punch to the gut. And, for the very first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. Not to a place or town or country. But to people just like me. That's the power of this book. Get it. Read it. Make notes. Here are some of mine penned in the back of my copy:

Always second guessing


What's the point? We're gonna move anyway

I've got nothing to lose 'cause I've lost it all before

Always an outsider

Afraid of gut instincts

Short fuse

Doomed to failure

Sense of being watched

Afraid to ask for what I want

Not certain of who I am

Always have options

Desire for father's approval

The next book was written in 1970 by Dr. Victor Gonzalez. I don't think you could find it easily. Not that you'd want to. I've probably read Wertsch's book at least ten  times and bounced around it umpteen. I've started "Psychiatry and the Army Brat" I don't know how many times and I just can't get through it. It might be me but I think it's a thunderous bore. 

While I spent four years in the Army - -I spent 18 years as an Army Brat. And while I'll always be a soldier, I think my life as a Brat is the more interesting one.


Anonymous said...

As always, you have a talent at summing up the nitty gritty.
Good on ye'.

You'll recall, that I was also an Army Brat for 18 years. My dad (your grandfather), a WWII officer and later Command Sergeant Major, almost never gave me advice on anything. I was expected to learn from observing his behavior -- both personal and with his troops.
Throughout his life, he and I never had a serious conversation. When I asked for his approval to marry (your mother) at age 18, (hoping he'd refuse), he simply wrote "approved."

He complimented me on very few occasions: your birth, my university degree, my jump wings and Combat Infantry badge, my final promotion to "Lite" Colonel.

We're of Norwegian stock. Cold on the outside (not huggers), but warm enough on the inner. We care, we just don't show it.

Main thing I learned observing your grandfather, was that one of an NCO or Officer's primary duties was "take care of your troops."
So, in "my" Army, as an NCO and Officer, you put your ass on the line to look out for your troops. Sadly, in today's Army, NCOs and Officers often put their troops asses on line in order to protect their own sweet, perfumed asses.

"Army Strong."
Don't show weakness. Feel it, but never show it. No crying, whining or sniveling allowed!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Seen this?


Read about it in USAA Magazine. And yes, there is that sense of belonging along with some of that other stuff that you noted.

Happy Veteran's Day to you and your father. Thank you for volunteering so that I've never had to go into harm's way.

tintin said...

tintin's phred/dad- Odd how we're communicating like this. I'll take it. I never knew that's how it was for you. But you always a smart kid. I needed to be hit over the head with a crow bar before I understood anything. Picking up clues ain't my forte. Still, it's never too late.

easy & elegant-
Yep. I saw it and ordered a number of them for my family a couple of years ago. It's a fantastic film to watch but could go deeper. I'd say it's a good intro that should be follwed up with Wertsch's book, Military Brats. Funny, I was thinking that all we get as brats is an opportunity to be insured by USAA.

Anonymous said...

Your Dad rules!! "a WWII officer and later Command Sergeant Major" wow, resigned comission?

tintin said...

WEssex- Grandpa was a WO2 who was rif'ed after WWII with lots of others who stayed in. Think he was knocked down to MSGT and retired a CSM. My father went in enlisted and retired LTC.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, got it. I believe nurses were once Warrants, but somehow they all got promoted - go figure.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, got it. I believe nurses were once Warrants, but somehow they all got promoted - go figure.