Monday, March 19, 2012

The Army I Knew: Light Sleeper

One thing I forgot to mention in the previous post about AIT and jump school; sleeping on the floor and burning paste wax. Both were peculiarities I encountered at Ft. Benning for the first time. They tended to reappear any time I went to an Army school, but Benning was the first.

The former was a simple expedient to having too much to do in too little time.

We learned very quickly that we were expected to keep our barracks to an IG inspection standard daily, from the uniforms on the hangers to the items in the drawers to the tightness of the bunk. Anything less meant returning from the day's training to find a nightmarish disaster that had to be repaired by the next morning.

One thing we quickly learned was that beds don't HAVE to be for sleeping. And that a tightly-made rack could easily be used as a static display whilst the exhausted GI managed to camp out on the floor using his sleeping pad and poncho liner. I don't think I spent a single night in my jump school rack until the night after the final jump. I dusted the blankets and tightened the corners, but that was all.

Let me tell you this, though; linoleum is fucking cold, and don't let anyone tell you different.

The other requirement was perfectly - and I mean perfectly - glass-like linoleum floors.

First of all, nobody - nobody who valued their lives - wore their boots into the barracks. Like little Japanese schoolboys, we took off our shoes at the door.

But the true, genuine, mirror-bright shine was only possible through the workings of modern technology which, in this case, meant Johnson's Paste WaxTM, an electric buffer, and very small private, and a selection of terrycloth towels.

Here's how it worked.

First, you set fire to the can of paste wax; this was easy to do but hard to control - the trick was to make a sort of field-expedient handle out of a wire hanger and not mind the second-degree burns you got out of the sloshing, boiling-hot liquid wax.

You poured this liquid onto the floor and then, with a miniscule troop perched on it and a folded terry towel under it, ran the buffer over and over the waxy floor.

The effect was magical. Decades-old linoleum gleamed like jewels. I remember being mesmerized by the pure military poetry of it. Mind you, it could do nothing to close with and destroy the enemy, heal wounds, defend borders, succor allies, or defeat the enemies of my country. But it sure was pretty.

I also remember vividly one of the student leaders doling out this piece of advice regarding the floors; "You-all will want to remove your footgear before walking on my floor, because whoever fucks up my floor will be fucked up in reciprocity."


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