Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fort McClellan--Wash Rack, Salute, and a Hug

Fort McClellan, Alabama in the summer time for boot camp was not just hot by the temperature but also in finding that the recruiter wasn't quite honest about what to expect at least in the mind of the recruit. What they left out was how they were going to look like the videos. Well, let me restate that, the recruiter showed great pictures and gave wonderful testimonials, just not the more difficult challenges that would be experienced.

Back in the day (about 35-years ago), a young woman sat in the recruiters office and was shown videos of the soldiers in crisp uniforms, women sitting in make-up classes learning techniques. Then there were the brochures and more pictures of traveling the world, sightseeing and being part of the bigger picture. What young woman wouldn't want to take part in THAT? Especially when the place you currently reside, a city that was THE place to live was now all but dead. Yeah, sign me up.

This is the true story of a friend who proudly signed up to be a U S Soldier. This is just one of the many funny stories of interpretation and what truth really became. You heard a little bit about her in a previous blog, but today I focus on Sargent Worthey's first weeks in basic training at Fort McClellan.

Coming from a line of African-American soldiers--both Air Force and Army, she joined the ranks. With the last name starting with a "W" she was last in line for most things, and at 5' 3"
by the time she got to the quartermaster to receive her uniforms and boots, most of the small sizes for women were gone. She got the fatigues okay, but the boots were a bit too large, so they put her in the men's shoes to try to get a better fit.

"They didn't tell us that those nice, crisp looking uniforms we saw, that we were going to have to iron and starch them to have that crease and stand up look".

"If you really wanted to have the bed that you could bounce a quarter off on, you just didn't sleep in the bed."

"And that makeup class, not even close. They had little classes sponsored by one of the major makeup companies, but not the type of let's do hair and makeup we were expecting."

"After make-up class they sent us to the gas chambers. What a sense of humor, we go from putting on makeup and looking really nice, to choking and gagging, our mascare running."

One day she said she had enough and wanted out. Her unit had a short break and she went immediately to a pay phone way at the other end of the yard. She was talking to the now retired Command Sargent Major of the post, better known to her and the family as "Uncle Ray". And as he was giving her a "hang in there", Worthey turned around to see her own sargent walking towards her. The result was not pretty.

A few weeks later Worthey was taken by some soldiers and told her she was to report to the wash rack. It was one of those places you didn't want to report to. Oneof the worst places you could be assigned! Thinking that talking on the pay phone couldn't have been that bad, but here she was and with an escort. She just followed orders. Behind the buildings, in a back lot was a car and as she approached her escort stopped and she continued on--out stepped "Uncle Ray".

What a difference a salute and then a hug can make to a homesick soldier. She didn't only make it through basic training but went on to be come a top sargent.

Moral of the story? We can all be in a challenging condition. Maybe its not one that we considered could happen because it wasn't what we expected--we might even had hoped for something a bit different. But what a difference one person can make to help us change our attitude and direction.

You make a difference to somebody--make a difference today. Somebody might be in a place of saying I've had enough--are they waiting to hear from you with a word of encouragement?

I'm going to have to tell you about "Uncle Ray" ... I adopted him as somebody I look up to and have a picture of him in his uniform on my desk. A soldier's soldier that never said "quit".

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