Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Those Places Thursday - No Longer the Follower

Can you see me?  I certainly look different back then (Hint: the red hair is there, albeit dark red)

I seem to be walking down Army Memory Lane quite a lot recently, but it was a big part of my life.  A part I want to share with my children and their children as well.

I joined the Army as a Private First Class (PFC), and after a year or so of believing that I wanted to be an officer, I came to realize that I wanted to be a Noncommissioned Officer.  A sergeant.  I eventually got to my promotion board (that's another post which I plan to do in April) and then on to the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC).  I was stationed in San Antonio, Texas when I needed to go to PLDC, so I was sent to the nearest Army post which happened to be Fort Hood (ironically enough where I am now!).

I was a little scared when I went.  I had a horrible fear of failure.  I wasn't afraid of the academic learning.  I could do that, no worries.  I was afraid of the practical, field-work.  I was stationed at a unit that didn't go to the field.  While it was a great assignment to gain some very good technical experience in my job it wasn't the best job for gaining tactical experience, and that's what a good portion of PLDC would be about.

I guess I was a little insecure with my experiences, but I had great leaders and they prepared me well. I was at PLDC from the end of January to the end of February 1999.  There were three moments that stand out in my mind from my short four weeks at this school.  The first was during our field exercise. It was pretty cold out so the cadre set up fire barrels and we stood around the fire in the dark with coffee made from our MREs.  We held our canteen cups over the fire to warm it up.  It sounds like a silly, trivial thing to remember, but it was a lot of fun being able to take some time and just talk with classmates.

The second was on the last day of our field exercise.  It was the day that we were heading back in for recovery.  We had gone well over 24 hours without sleep and we were tired.  My cadre called me over and told me that I was the Honor Graduate for the class.  I just stood there and stared straight ahead and said, "Huh?"  The words weren't making sense to me.  My brain wasn't working.  They repeated it and I just said "Oh.  OK."  They told me to head back to my tent.  Like the obedient Soldier I was, I did just that.  I sat there outside my small tent with my M16 in my hands and just stared at the grass in front of me.  I stared and the grass STARTED TO GROW!  I am not joking, my mind was so tired and I was so out of it that I actually was hallucinating.  I started giggling and then a couple cadre members (after asking what I was giggling about) told me to go to sleep.  I did and it wasn't until I woke up an hour or so later that what they told me sank in.  I was Honor Graduate.  That was the #2 graduate in a class of about 100 (the #1 person was called the Distinguished Honor Graduate).  I was excited.  I hadn't let my unit down.  My fear of failure was for nothing...or at least it drove me to succeed.

The last significant memory I have of PLDC was graduation.  My Battalion Commander, the acting Sergeant Major, and my Platoon Sergeant were coming to the graduation.  There may have been one or two other minions that came out with them, but I was excited that these leaders (mostly my Platoon Sergeant, who was so awesome!) were going to be there, and I was giving the commencement speech.  There were technically 2 graduations and the way they split the graduations up, the Distinguished Honor Graduate was giving the speech in the afternoon graduation so I was giving the morning speech.  Why was this memorable?  Because the speech was written by the NCO Academy and my Battalion Commander thought I had written it and she congratulated me for giving such a great speech.  Why does this stick out?  Well, I despised my Battalion Commander and saying something along the lines of, "Thanks ma'am, but I didn't write it." just to make her seem foolish is a highlight any day of the week.  You'll discover the reason for my animosity toward this woman in the April post I alluded to.  It should be a pretty good one.

The picture at the top of the post was just of the students in my actual classroom.  Sure we had about 100 Soldiers in the PLDC "class," but we had to be separated into groups so they could teach us better.  I had fun with these Soldiers, but sadly, I don't remember their names.  Even though their names elude me right now, they were a significant part of that experience that was PLDC.  We shared experiences and supported each other during our time at school, and that school, for most of us, was the final obstacle we had to go through to become Sergeants.  No longer the followers, but expected to be the leaders.  No pressure though....

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