combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 06 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2008


If it weren't for the honor of the thing, I'd just as well miss it ... and almost did on a few occasions. The plaque that was shipped after I'd departed, the certificate that was laying between reassignment document folders, the knife that was handed over as an after-thought, and the perfunctory trimming of the beret tails after our first operational blooding were paltry gestures toward cohesion. Like an award's conferral, the cutting-off of the beret tails could've happened in many honorific manners, but wouldn't have happened at all if someone hadn't told a story about the last time they did it ... a grotesque tale about a ritualistic ceremony more perilous than the combat they were commemorating! It takes more foolishness, than either courage or confidence, to permit a drunken sadist, the ostensible dubber, to stand behind you with a malignant knife, and cut some ribbon streamers off your hat, with your neck completely exposed to his potential malice. Even the Prop-Blast initiation for paratroopers newly assigned to an airborne unit was a preposterous burlesque, with artificial icons and enthroned paragons. It probably was more entertaining for them to imagine new and creative ways to torment the FNGs, as there must have been a staffer's guidebook of More Nasty and Dirty Tricks for their pathetic prey. The requisite songs choked-out through shaving-cream and feathers, the compulsory gluttony and table-top PLFs, the mock inspections and inevitable skits were only preparations for the main event: escorted PT. Our splattered uniforms and ruined spit-shines would soon be our least concern, as our assigned sponsor offered us a helmet filled with a choice cocktail of mixed booze as a preliminary to running the airborne PT test and obstacle course. It didn't matter what dose you choked-down, and it didn't matter that the mix was lethal, because you would shortly regurgitate all of it back up and burn the rest off in frenzied exercise. The supervising escort for each candidate both encouraged and protected him as the staff Black Hats swarmed. We caromed off objects, ran down to our knees, staggered around barriers, fell from beams, and crawled through each other's vomit. It would've been revolting and disgusting if it hadn't been so outrageously comical. One hard-shell Baptist refused the alcohol and was therefore given a cocktail of prune and grape juices, and the poor unfortunate trooper had eruptions from both ends of his alimentary canal! No one finished the course, just as no one passed inspection, but no one was supposed to ... since the point was to build fellowship into the misery. We knew all about the so-called Stockholm Syndrome long before the analytic psychologists discovered it. When the Army realized that paratroopers could actually die from these episodes, they were officially prohibited, and the event was moved off-post. With the move away from the military milieu, the tone changed from misery loves company to voluntary masochism for a select in-group; and it destroyed the value of the event to unify the organization. A military formation cannot operate on the principle that the rules will interrupt misery and intercede with death, but that's a truth that the bureaucrats won't learn again until the next war. In the meantime, traditions are all that we have to keep the spirit alive.

by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones