I remember this one day during the final weeks of Basic Training at Fort Knox in February 1985: We rolled up to our barracks after a long, exhausting day of training only to find some frantic drill sergeant screaming that the Training Battalion’s Sergeant Major was coming to inspect our lockers — and us — and that he would be here in 30 minutes.
All Hell broke loose. We had 30 minutes to prepare for an inspection that would properly require hours and hours of work. And this wasn’t any NCO, either. This was a sergeant major! None of us had ever seen such an exotic creature. It might as well have been General Patton, Jesus Christ, Mick Jaggar and Bigfoot, all rolled into one as far as we were concerned.
Accordingly, we all Freaked The Fuck Out.
During the mad scramble to prepare our wall lockers, foot lockers, beds and uniforms for this impossible inspection, as drill sergeants lost their minds, I found myself thinking that the whole damned situation was just absurdly hilarious. And so I made up a song and started singing “We’re not going to make it! ” to the tune of Twisted Sister’s hit Hair Metal anthem “We’re Not Going To Take it.”
I only got out the first line before everyone in my bay — about a dozen recruits — picked up the tune and shouted “NO! WE AIN’T GONNA MAKE IT!” And then we all busted out laughing, still polishing and cleaning and measuring while improvising the rest of the song parody.
A few seconds later, someone down the hall screamed that the Sergeant Major was on deck. We jammed all our pathetic, half-assed stuff into our wall lockers, hid the remaining stuff as best we could, and stood at attention, waiting for the Sergeant Major to arrive. The most likely outcome was that he would probably kill us.
But I remember looking around at those guys, and we were all on the verge of falling apart laughing, because our bay looked like a gypsy caravan had exploded in it, and there was nothing we could do about that. Things were really bad.
We. Were. Fucked.
Few minutes later, the sergeant major bursts into our bay. This is one strack-looking black dude. He gleams. He shines. He’s pure, perfect, proud U.S. Army masculinity squeezed through a grease gun. And he just struts around our pathetic display, looking at the guys in my squad, not saying a word until he gets to my locker.
Sergeant Major says: “Where are you from, private?”
I shout “NORTH CAROLINA, SERGEANT MAJOR!”
He says “Where in North Carolina?” I shout “BROWN’S SUMMIT, SERGEANT MAJOR!”
If you’ve never heard of the place, that’s because it’s so small that when the N.C. Highway Department put up a new U.S. Highway 29 exit sign in 1980 with a typo in it, Brown’s Summit just said. “Well, guess that’s our new name now.” A few years later, the town officially changed the name to the typo.
Anyway, the Sergeant Major said: “I know that place. I grew up just a few miles from there.”
And little rube me, I say: “Really?”
And he’s like: “Yeah! I’m from McLeansville!”
And I said: “I went to high school in McLeansville!”
And he said: “Northeast Guilford! I graduated from Northeast!”
And I said: “ME TOO SERGEANT MAJOR!!!”
And the Sergeant Major, he said: “Well, you’re doing a fine job soldier! A fine job! Keep up the good work!” And then he strutted out of our bay without inspecting another wall locker.
The moral of this story is: Yes, we’re all fucked. But keep your heads up, maggots!
We might get lucky yet.