Sometimes The Moral Of A Story Is Not Obvious



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.

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