Thursday, February 07, 2008

Chunderbucket, Sir!

In 1987, as I was completing high school, my father was the Professor of Military Science at Mississippi State University. This role as the head of the R.O.T.C. department at M.S.U. was his last active duty role in his Army career. He was in charge of recruiting new cadets and leading them to become officers in the U.S. Army.

When I went away to college at Virginia Tech, I entered school with both Navy and Army scholarships in my pocket. (Eventually, I chose the Army scholarship, but ultimately didn't even pursue that one.) As required by the R.O.T.C. program at Virginia Tech, I joined the Cadet Corps. This had me living in a quasi-military school environment, complete with mandatory uniforms, formations, and P.T. (physical training) every morning.

When my first semester break arrived, I drove all the way back home to Mississippi to see my parents. Excited to have me back, my father asked me if I would join him for P.T. with his cadets the next morning. Of course, I agreed.

I'm sure it was with some pride that he wanted to show me off to all his officers and the other cadets. I had never been an athletic kid, and here I was, "the Lieutenant Colonel's kid," home from a full-fledged military school (or pretty darn close to it). I had my scholarship, and my status reflected well upon my father.

P.T. started at the very early hour of 5:00 AM. My dad's drill sergeant was in charge, and he was absolutely brutal. We ran. We did mountain climbers. We did sit ups. We did push ups. We did jumping jacks. We did those awful things where you drop to the ground and then get back up again. We did tons, and then we did tons more.

Then I threw up.

Obviously, the P.T. program at M.S.U. was much more rigorous than the program at Virginia Tech. I was only used to doing a few push ups, a few sit ups, and then a leisurely jog around the quadrangle.

Now, I found myself behind the athletic center surrendering my breakfast onto the lawn.

As I walked back into the gymnasium, wiping at my mouth, I caught the minute gleam of victory in the drill sergeant's eyes. "Gotcha!" he seemed to say to me in the fraction of a second, before returning his attention to the sweating mass of cadets in front of him.

I felt awful. Apart from being sick, I had failed my father. I felt as though I had embarrassed him with my weakness, in front of his cadets--and worse--his soldiers. But he never spoke a single word about it.

And life went on.

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