For a brief period of time in 2010-11, the Army pushed the age of non-prior service enlistment from 35 to 42. For twenty years I'd found real or imagined excuses to not join up, but everything finally fell into place when I was 40.
I got a lot of advice before I left for Fort Sill, the most amusing of which was to try to be “The Invisible Man”. Be the guy that the drill sergeant looks at halfway through Basic and asks, “Have you been here the whole time?” Excellent advice, but I was 6’1” and 41 years old. They’ll know me the first day. And they did.
One thing I noticed, though, was that my age seemed to bestow upon me elder statesman status. From day one, the drill sergeants always seemed to give me the benefit of the doubt because I wasn’t some snot nosed eighteen year old trying to pull one over on them.
One day we were at the grenade range for scenario training with the blue practice grenades that popped when the fuse ran out. We went through the lanes all day in our battle rattle, lobbing them into mortar pits, stuffing them into pillbox embrasures, testing our knowledge of different types of grenades, etc.
One drill sergeant was running a lane where you lobbed a grenade into a slit trench while your battle buddy provided cover fire. Only problem was we weren’t issued blanks, so we all had to yell, “Bang, bang, bang!” I was about three from the front of the line when the drill bellowed:
“Can someone please sound off with something other than “Bang, bang”? I’m going crazy!” Noted.
My partner and I got to the front of the line and he was going to toss his grenade first. I popped up from behind cover and started making space gun noises: “Zap zap zap vip vip beow beow beow!”
The frag went out and we both hunkered down under cover until the grenade popped, right in the trench. I heard the footsteps coming before I had a chance to recover.
“What the hell are you doing, private?” he roared.
I rolled over, looked him square in his mirrored sunglasses and sounded off.
“Making a sound other than “Bang bang” as the Drill Sergeant requested!”
A broad smile crossed his face. “Well, that’s outstanding! You get a “Go”!
You don’t even have to throw your grenade!” “May I throw my grenade anyway, Drill Sergeant?” “Yes, you may!”
So my battle and I switch roles. I have my grenade out as my battle pops out from behind cover and starts making space gun noises, too. The drill looks at him, points and me and roars: “You get a “No Go” for trying to horn in on his action!”
Everyone who had witnessed the last two minutes immediately burst out laughing, including myself, which did absolutely nothing for the accuracy of my grenade toss. I missed, but true to his word, when I walked up to him to sign off on my checklist, he gave me a “Go.”
I'll be telling this story for the rest of my life.