If You Want to Be One, Act Like One
Before the Law of allurement and the Secret had infiltrated almost every nook and cranny in popular media, before the concept of Asking and Receiving… I was a a lowly Army Private First Class. This was almost two decades ago. Why I was already in the Army is a topic for a different post on another day… the timing of it all was, and nevertheless is, quite rare to me. At the tail end of my BCT (boot camp to insignificant “civilians”) Iraq invaded Kuwait. This caused quite the stir and while many were looking forward to it, many more were scared and fearful of the concept of fighting.
At that time, the men and women (yes, there were a few) I most admired were older Vietnam Vets, getting ready to retire after 20 years of service. They were themselves lowly Privates and Corporals during that past engagement in southeast Asia, and were now Sergeant First Class’, First Sergeants’, and Sergeant Majors. Some had been such troublemakers that they would get rank (be promoted) only to slide down the ladder (get demoted) for hitting officers, DUI’s, or plain disrespect to their “superiors”. During BCT and the later progressive Training (AIT) I received, I savored every story and tidbit of knowledge they would proportion with me, privately and in group settings. Smoking joints on the back of M60 tanks, Dropping science (ingesting LSD) and going out on patrols, surfing on Mui Ne Beach at night to avoid enemy fire… these men and women were rebels in fatigues. They knew the game, how it was played, and how to teach and instruct others in the game. The game was, how to be a soldier without losing your sense of self and getting caught up in the “protocol” and “official-ness” of truly being a soldier. Many of these warriors savored a chance to end their career on a high-observe, by fighting once again.
During my AIT in Ft. Huachuca, AZ I learned more from them then the stale classes I was required to take and pass to be qualified and certified to do the position I had enlisted for. I would often tease and taunt others for not “getting” the simplicity of what they were learning. Of course, this would often rule to physical fights which would then rule to me standing before my Company Commander (a commissioned officer, usually called CO, short for commanding officer) at attention (a standing position where you your knees were locked and hands stiff at your side), explaining why I did what I did. I was always accompanied by a senior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) of the Company, Sergeant First Class Hayes. He was an imposing 6’3, about 280 pounds of muscle, 40-ish, black man with a 1st of the 8th Infantry Regiment Combat Patch from Vietnam on his right shoulder. He would stand behind me and speak to the CO on my behalf usually after I would break protocol by sticking my foot in my mouth and saying something smarmy.
The first two times this happened he would assure the CO it would not happen again. Outside the office he would put his hand on my shoulder, spin me around, slap me on bald head (when NCO’s were nevertheless “allowed” to), bend down to get nose to nose with me- close enough that I could smell his rancid, kimchi-filled breath- and scream, loud enough for the CO behind the closed door to hear and close enough to cover my confront with droplets of spit, profanity spewing like groups…”What the were you thinking, who the do you think you are Private Henry, I don’t like your confront but you’re making me be in it, get your battle dress on cause I’m gonna work it!”
For those that don’t know, battle dress is the complete compliment of gear worn into battle- your rucksack, your NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) disguise, your M60 (complete auto machine gun if you were dumb or unlucky enough to “volunteer” to carry it instead of the much lighter M16A2), two complete canteens of water, various first aid pouches and ammunition clips, etc… about 40 – 50 pounds of equipment. SFC Hayes would stand in the cool shade of the building, just outside the window of the CO while I was on a concrete pad in the brutal Arizona heat- screaming various things for me to do… 100 front leaning rests (push-ups), 100 flutter kicks, 100 counts of jogging in place while hoisting my M60 up and down above my head. At times, and probably for the assistance of disinctive onlookers, he would lazily walk around me to scream obscenities and detail what a royal pain in the butt I was. Usually, after about 90 minutes of this, the CO would open his window, call SFC Hayes over, and I’d then hear “Henry- get your sorrybutt over here”. He’d ask if I was going to screw up again, and of course, to get out of the heat and physically exerting exercises, I’d scream “No Sergeant”. I’d be dismissed to my barracks to clean up and return to the training class.
What I would later discover was that SFC Hayes punishment saved me from various Article 15’s and other “official forms of administrative actions”. It was all show for the CO, something he could notate in a file to show his superiors, if the event ever arose. SFC Hayes would insert himself between me and the CO, telling the CO that he would take care of me. And he did.
The third time this happened I was expecting more of the same. However, the person I beat down, Sergeant McIntyre, a “retread”, (someone reclassifying from one specialty to another) receiving training in my class, made a *big* issue of it. Sure, he was embarrassed at having received an *** whipping from a lowly private, but more importantly, it became an issue of disrespect. To me, SGT McIntyre was just wrong in how he addressed a fellow female soldier in my class…
This time, SFC Hayes didn’t spin me around, didn’t rule me outside to mete his special form of “punishment”. Instead, we went to the local pub, conveniently behind Riley Barracks. You could buy alcohol, on post, as an 18 year old- It was allowed to prevent the young soldiers from going off post and then driving drunk. I was more scared of what was going to happen then I ever had been before.
SFC Hayes bought us a pitcher of MGD. He broke out his Newports. Took off his brown round (a distinctive drill Sergeant hat) and BDU top, then sat in silence while he stared at me and finished his first plastic cup of MGD. When he spoke, it was a lowered and hushed tone, a tone that was very private and for me alone to hear. He explained that he was for now, not SFC Hayes, but a person, talking to me one on one. He told me he was going to talk and he would appreciate it if I just shut up and listened. He began by saying he liked me. That he saw a lot of the younger version of himself in me, that he liked the fact I had balls big enough to put other people in their place when they got out of line. That his cadre of NCO’s got a kick out of my antics in the classroom and out, but they couldn’t proportion that with me as I was nevertheless in training and not however “officially” a soldier. He confided in me that already the CO told him that he saw a lot of possible in me, if my rough edges could be taken care of. The CO and SFC Hayes saw nothing wrong in what I did as Sergeant McIntrye deserved an a** beating for berating a female soldier, PVT Brown- it was not his place as a Trainee, to do so. However, Sergeant McIntyre went above the CO’s head and complained directly to the Battalion Commander. Doing physical exercises outside of that Commander’s window was impossible as that Commander wanted to make an example of me. “We’re going to war, and you’re a loose cannon Henry- he wants to make an example of you by kicking you out with a dishonorable release.”
While I really didn’t care one way or another, SFC Hayes did. In the end I did what the CO and SFC Hayes suggested, I personally apologized to SGT McIntyre in front of my training class. SFC Hayes confronted SGT McIntyre on my behalf and made it clear that if he pursued any kind of action against me, SFC Hayes would escort PVT Brown to the local EEO (equal employment opportunity) office and lodge a sexual harassment complaint against SGT McIntyre, effectively ending his career. Things worked out pleasantly.
SFC Hayes and I talked for about three hours and seven or eight pitchers of MGD that day. My Army training took on a different quality. He told me some of his most noticable Vietnam stories and how he survived as a black man in a predominantly white post-Vietnam Army. I had never known that SFC Hayes had truly obtained the rank of Sergeant Major (E-9) before sliding down the ladder to an E-7 after he lost his temper at a foolish white Second Lieutenant who made the mistake of calling him “Boy”.
Sometimes the Universe puts someone in front of you that is willing to proportion knowledge with you and teach you something about Life. SFC Hayes brought me to a realization, now almost a metaphysical reality to many in this age of Law of allurement. He told me that in the Army, what you are, what rank you are, what position you keep up, just doesn’t matter one damn bit. If you’re an E-4 and want to become a Sergeant (E-5), then act like one. If you’re an E-5, then act like an E-6. He put a spin on it, and told me whether I’m in the Army or not “What Is, Right Here and Right Now” does not matter except to those caught up in that game. If you play your own game, and can project your version of “What Is” onto the “What Is” of the real world, then your version will always win out. No exceptions.
If you get caught up in the “What Is” of right now, then you may never be in a state of mind to project your version of “What Is” onto your Life. “What Is”, is merely indicative of what’s already been produced. It’s like trying to excursion down a straight road while looking in your rear view mirror to see if you’re nevertheless between the white lines. It “works”, but what happens when you try to steer around a curve?
Wouldn’t you really rather create your OWN “What Is”? You can. Many people have. Many people are. Would you rather focus on the fact that you are not wealthy/healthy/loved, or would you rather focus on the fact that in your mind you are wealthy/healthy/loved, etc…?
If you’re not a millionaire or wealthy enough to not have to work, then find out what the attributes of millionaires are and begin incorporating them into your own life.
If you’re not loved, then find out what makes people be loved, then start acting like that.
You don’t have to be or have something to act like you have or are someone. That’s the trick SFC Hayes taught me long before the Law of allurement and The Secret re-worded it.
SFC Hayes became an E-9 (again) in 1992. I kept track of him and was proud to see his name on the promotion list in the Army Times. He retired and lived in Sierra Vista, the small town close to Ft. Huachuca, AZ. I visited him several times while in college and we’d go to the local biker bar, the Sorry Gulch Saloon, to proportion a few beers (on my dime of course) and stories. He was a great source of advice and inspiration. He’s since passed, but his wisdom is worth sharing.
Keep on Keeping on and creating all the while,