The Dumbass Chronicles: Crazy Drill Sergeant
By RU Rob
There are very few people who can’t recall some crazy story that happened during basic training. Usually they involve a sadistic Drill Sergeant who just seemed a little too far gone—had that 1000 yard stare and an evil twitch in his eye when he would yell. I had those same stories about my Drill Sergeants until I became one; then the old light bulb went off in my head and I realized that it could be fun to have a company full of trainees scared to death of me because I was straight-up cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.
I was a Drill Sergeant in a Basic Combat Training Company at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Before you start to even question what an infantryman was doing in the land of the pogues, let me answer…I have no freaking clue! My best guess is that the Army, in its infinite wisdom, needed a bunch of wild-men to balance out the prim and proper support Drills. There were a total of three infantrymen in my company and thank god one of them was my partner. Luis was the other grunt Drill Sergeant in my platoon and we got along great. We played off our strengths and always kept our soldiers in the dark as to what was coming next—just the way it should be.
In the second week of basic at Ft. Jackson all the trainees get to go through a series of events to boost their confidence. This culminates in a multi-story obstacle course and ends with a 50ft rappel down what is affectionately known as Victory Tower. It just so happened that the day our company was to visit Victory Tower my platoon was the duty platoon; meaning my partner and I would be doing all of the demonstrations and teaching the soldiers how to negotiate the obstacles on the course. The soldiers would execute all of the little obstacles, break for lunch, and then we would tackle Victory Tower right after. It was during this lunch break that Luis and I began to hatch our scheme into making me the craziest son of a bitch known to mankind and the subject of many ”Crazy Drill Sergeant” stories in the future.
But before I delve into that, let me back up a little bit. In Basic Training at the time, it was frowned upon to use curse words or to be vulgar in any sort of way. Especially if there were females present. It was a challenge to come up with new and creative ways to be vulgar without being so.
Every platoon had a life-size dummy that weighed about 80-90 pounds. It wasn’t true to life size but it was close enough. My partner and I would make our platoon take our dummy wherever we went. They washed his clothes, shined his boots; when he was outside he had on headgear, when inside he didn’t. I came up with the bright idea that our dummy needed to have a nametape made to reflect a proper last name. In a stroke of brilliance I came up with the perfect moniker…PVT Dick.
I could now freely and without consequence say: Where is my Dick? Why is my Dick dirty? Who in the fuck has been playing with my Dick? Why did you leave my Dick in the barracks and why is my Dick not at training? You get the point and yes, I am a genius.
Ok, back to the tower.
There are a few simple things that you need to know about rappelling to completely understand the simplicity and audacity of our master plan. First, the more friction created when rappelling the slower you go. In training, we would use an additional piece of equipment called a figure-8 to increase the friction by looping the rope around it several times and we would also use multiple ropes to further slow descent. When employed, the untrained and first-time user still thinks like they are moving faster than Felix Baumgartner jumping from the edge of space—but in reality they were just poking along. In the converse, however, the less you have in contact with your rigging, the faster you go.
The other thing you need to know about rappelling is that there is an additional safety at the bottom. This person commonly referred to as a belay-man. The belay-man can simply tighten up the rope by using his weight, creating friction, and causing the other person rappelling to instantaneously stop, regardless of the rigging used by the rappeller. The belay-man is pivotal in instances when someone is injured or, in the case of new soldiers, freaks out and can’t function due to fear.
When demonstrating the rappelling portion to new privates it is broken down into different scenarios to make it easier for the dim-witted soldiers to understand. The first thing Luis and I had to do was to show the new soldiers how to get out over the edge and stand on the 4 inch wide ledge.
I skillfully toted Pvt Dick up to the top of the tower, which was a feat in itself considering the only way up was to climb a freaking ladder with 90 pounds of dead weight haphazardly tied to my back; then took a 10 minute break.
The company was gathered below the tower. The 200+ baby-faced soldiers, full of nervous anticipation and excitement as they were finally going to get to do something cool in Basic Training. Each one staring up at Luis and I, waiting for our demonstration to end so they could begin.
The first task that we had to demonstrate was getting into the starting position. There was a 4 inch wide board at the top of the wall that one could easily stand on, but we still had to show the soldiers how to get out onto it.
Of course, I had to apply a little theatrics into all of this and played the part of the fat, scared soldier. Not wanting to go out on the ledge, Luis tried talking me into the position. It didn’t work so we had to step it up a notch and Luis started acting like the uncaring Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. And so it began, we went back and forth as Pyle was talked—no, yelled—off the obstacle. Once we had moved back from the ledge of the tower and out of view of our ever-attentive audience below, Luis continued to yell and scream at me in his best Drill Sergeant “Get off my fucking obstacle, Pvt Pyle” voice as I started to moan and groan as if Gunny Hartman were beating the shit out of me.
The privates all thought it was funny until I started to scream “NO, NO!” As those little giddy soldiers were staring up into the sky at a seemingly empty tower they heard one last “NOOOO!” from me and then “Get off my obstacle!” from Luis. Then, to their immediate horror they witnessed a body flying off the tower. There were a couple of shrieks for the first couple of seconds until they all realized that it was Pvt Dick who had made the fall. Then it was all giggles and chuckles for the company and even more so when I yelled down to my platoon matter-of-factly “Don’t just let my Dick lay there in the dirt, go pick up my Dick and put him away before he gets hurt.”
The set-up is complete.
There was a couple of other mundane demonstrations that Luis and I had to trudge through, and we did, but with a little flare for the extravagant. Each time we added a little salt and pepper to spice it up just enough to keep the audience interested for our grand finale.
Then the time had finally arrived. It was time to demonstrate the fall. This portion of the presentation would represent what would happen if a soldier who was rappelling down suddenly became so frozen with fear that they could not grasp the rope, create any sort of friction, and would free-fall down towards the earth—well sort of. Remember before when I explained the principles of rappelling and that friction slows you down? Well, in this case, the soldiers would have so much friction in their mandatory rigging that it would be damned near impossible for them to fall…period. But they didn’t know that and I felt it was my duty to instill that fear of falling into them…by demonstration.
If you also recall, to gain speed during any sort of rappelling you need to limit the number of friction points, which is what our master plan entailed. Both Luis and I had spent numerous hours/days/weeks rappelling and I fully trusted his rigging of me at the top of the tower. So much, in fact, that I didn’t even look down to see exactly how he had me rigged. Depending on how you look at it, that could be good or bad.
For the final demonstration I was once again talked out onto the ledge by Luis. I was showcasing my incredible acting and very convincingly conveying fear as he finally got me out into a good starting position.
The banter went back and forth between us again. But this time, instead of me climbing back onto the top of the tower, I clung to the edge for dear life. Luis was again screaming at me to start my decent down the face of the tower and with one desperate attempt I reached out to him with both arms.
The timing was picture perfect.
Luis gave my chest a solid push and I fell backwards.
My fall began gracefully, my arms outstretched, adding a little kick-off of the tower to give me distance and a piercing, 10-year-old’s scream for added effect.
I was using all of my Hollywood stuntman skills—flailing my arms and legs as if I had no cares in the world. I could hear the collective cries of panic coming from the soldiers as my body approached the speed of sound; my body in a perfectly horizontal position with my arms and legs spread as if making a mid-air snow angel; my eyes gazing into the heavens.
Then it hit me that I was falling fast—I mean really freaking fast.
Fuck! I forgot something.
Way back at the beginning of this, I told you about the importance of the belay-man and how he has the ability to stop a rappelling soldier from falling. I also told you that in the normal, safety-conscious environment of Army training, there was so much rigging that it was damned near impossible for anyone to fall at any speed faster than turtle sex. Well, in our hastily executed plan, Luis and I kind of forgot one crucial piece of this massive display of craziness stupidity. We forgot to tell the belay-man what we were going to do.
Unbeknownst to me at the time (I was staring up into my next duty station) the belay-man was standing as usual—with a ton of slack in the ropes. When I first started off the tower he was looking up at me, expecting me to saunter down the rope and had zero idea that I would be falling at mach 3.
Luis also failed to mention to me that he was rigging me without the figure-8, on a single rope and was only using a single wrap in the solitary D-ring. For all of you non-mountaineering types, this means the only thing the rope was good for was to guide my free-fall off the tower directly into the dirt.
I was about half way down when the belay-man finally realized that I was falling a tad faster than normal. As it was recounted to me after the fact, he was described as frantically trying to bring all of the slack out of the rope and ended up jumping in the air, grabbing high on the rope, and then assuming a lying-down position to utilize his weight to bring the rope tight and stop me.
And stop me he did—about 8 feet from the ground. I went from holy-fuck-I-am-going-to-bounce to full stop in approximately 0.6 seconds. As such, my upwards-facing body bent backwards and I kicked myself in the back of the head with my heels, simultaneously letting out a very guttural and primeval groan of dissatisfaction.
My belay-man lowered me to the ground, the other cadre in the company running to my assistance, the rest of the company in complete silence and horror, their mouths agape and their eyes wide with fear.
My back was to the company when I was unhooked from the ropes. The D-ring, glowing red from the friction, burned my uniform as it was removed. I brushed off my cohorts so that I could complete my plan. My head lowered, eyes wide open and crazed with an evil sinister laugh, I turned and faced the company.
In my best “I am a complete lunatic and you had better not fuck with me…ever” voice, I slowly raised my head and barked as only a Drill Sergeant could do: “and that, boys and girls, is why you never, ever take your brake hand off the rope!”
I gave the entire company one more looking over with my crazed face then turned and silently marched away. As I walked I could already hear the comments of “that mother-fucker is crazy” and “holy shit, did you see that?” The seed had been planted and was firmly taking hold. What the privates could not hear was Luis, still on the top of the tower, howling with laughter.
I rounded the corner of the tower and out of sight of the privates, broke into a huge smile and grabbed my aching back at the same time. I thought my belay-man was going to kick-my ass but once I explained what Luis and I did, he was jealous of our brilliance.
As I look back on that day now, my back still aching, I may have not been the most brilliant, but I’ll be god-damned if every single one of those privates were not absolutely terrified of me for the remainder of the cycle. As a matter of fact, I am willing to bet I am the subject of a few “Crazy Drill Sergeant” stories.