I've mentioned before that three of my 21 years in the Air Force were spent as a drill instructor.
It was a job I truly loved. I was out of doors summer or winter with a flight of sixty young airmen who had chosen to wear the uniform of their country.
I ate what they ate, marching where they marched, ran the obstacle course when they ran it, and slept out of doors with them during field exercises. I was in better shape than ever before in my life. And I was doing something important: Teaching young men the meaning of three words:
Honor, duty, country.
The Air Force came to the conclusion -- correctly -- that time and money could be saved by splitting basic training into two phases: Phase One was a few weeks spent in traditional basic.
Phase Two was completed while men or women were going through tech school, which only took up half the workday.
During the two and a half years I spent working in Phase Two Basic, it happened that my squadron needed someone to straighten out the mess in the operations office.
I got tapped for the job. Actually, it was an easy task; I had the ops office running smoothly in less than two weeks.
I never got back out in the fresh air again. I stayed in the ops office until I left the Air Training Command.
One of my jobs was placing men on fatigue duty when they arrived for a course which was not ready to start.
They cut grass, or worked as runners, or went to the mess hall as KP's (kitchen police), or did whatever. The man I replaced had simply assigned each man to a job and left him there.
I thought that was unfair; a man might be assigned to KP for three weeks, while others got off easy. I tracked each man and divided the workload fairly.
One day a short, chubby-looking young man named Schwalb came into my office and stood frowning in front of my desk. "What can I do for you?" I asked him.
"Sarge," he asking me, still frowning, "why the heck did you pull me out of the mess hall and send me off on a grass-cutting detail?" A little startled, I told him, "To give you a fair share of the decent details."
"Uh-uh," he told me. "No way. I want to be put on one detail and left there, so that I can learn the job and do it right."
"But I can't just put you on a good job and leave you there. It wouldn't be fair to the other men."
"Then put me on KP and leave me there."
"What? You don't mean that!"
"Yes, I do."
So Schwalb spent three weeks in the mess hall.
Three years later, I was shipped to Japan and there was Airman Schwalb again, assigned to my shift in the Air Terminal. I grew to like him. He was a hard worker.
By that time I had been out of my training job for over two years and was growing soft.
A chance arose to take overweight airmen to the exercise room and work some of the fat off them. I volunteered, delighted to spend four hours a day, three days a week, lifting weights and doing pushups and situps with the fat boys.
One day I was back at the shop and -- I suppose --bragging a bit about my once more solid muscles and slender waistline. As a demo I got up on a work table and did 30 clap-hand pushups.
Schwalb grinned and said, "That's nothing, Sarge. I can do 200 of those."
I took out a $20 bill. "In your dreams! Do a hundred and this is yours."
Two things happened: I lost my $20 and I found out that chubby-looking little Schwalb was a weightlifting champion.
Here's the problem: I know there's a moral in that story somewhere, but I'm hanged if I can put my finger on it.