Monday, September 23, 2013

History of the Feather Duster

Disclaimer: This is not about the history of all Feather Dusters.  This is the history of a particular feather duster.  If you are looking for the history of all feather dusters, you should go to this link.

Let's see. The year was 1986. That was the year that Chernobyl blew up.  We found out about the Iran Contra affair. "Out of Africa" won the Oscar for best picture.  And oh yeah, that was the year that I went to Army basic training.

I showed up at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri on a Greyhound Bus with a bunch of other young guys. None of us knew what we were getting into, but we were all trying to act brave and act like there was nothing the Army could do to us.  The first couple of days were pretty easy.  Short haircuts.  Bags of uniforms and Army guy stuff.  Learning how to march in a straight line.  All pretty easy.  My buddies and I were starting to think that all of the horror stories we had heard about Army basic training were just a bunch of hooey. Of course we hadn't even reported to our training unit yet.  We were just at the reception station.  But what did we know?

On the third day, we lined up in front of our barracks and waited for the cattle truck to come and pick us up to take us to our training unit.  For those of you who have never experienced a cattle truck, it is an eighteen wheel trailer with rudimentary benches and metal monkey bars welded into the inside so that you had something to hang on to.  The truck that showed up for us was rated for about 50 people.  We instead stuffed in about 100 people along with two large duffle bags each.  The drill sergeant who rode along with us was very nice.  He told us that he was happy to meet us.  He told us all about the nice building that we would be living in.  He really made us feel comfortable even though there were one hundred young men stuffed into a space designed for fifty. We noticed though that as our trip continued, the very nice drill sergeant became more and more gruff and more and more agitated.

By the time we pulled up in front of our training unit, that very nice drill sergeant was now a very angry sounding drill sergeant.  And the worst part was that apparently he had a bunch of drill sergeant buddies and they seemed even more angry than he was.  One of my fellow recruits tripped while climbing down out of the cattle truck and by this point we were so scared that each and every one of us walked right across his back in an effort to comply with the drill sergeants demands.  He wasn't hurt mind you because the large duffle bag strapped across his back provided lots of cushion.

We all ran to the front of the barracks and got in line whilst the very angry drill sergeant and his very angry drill sergeant buddies proceeded to tell us how very displeased they were by our performance.  And to drive the point home we got the opportunity to do some mandatory physical fitness training exercises.  For those of you who have never participated in army calisthenics in the middle of summer in Missouri, think hot yoga but not as relaxing.

So after the mandatory physical fitness training, we then had a shake down inspection.  This is where you dump everything out of your duffle bags onto the ground and then pick up one item at a time so that a) the drill sergeant knows that you have those things that you are supposed to have and b) so that the drill sergeant knows that you don't have any things that you are not supposed to have.  There was an entire list of contraband items.  Some of the contraband items were common sense things including knives, guns, drugs, alcohol, etc.  So after putting all of the required things in our bags, the drill sergeants then came around and inspected all of the remaining items to decide if the recruits would be allowed to keep them or not.  Personal letters and family photos were allowed.  Adult magazines were not allowed.

I'm sure that the drill sergeants had done the shake down inspections a hundred times and probably thought that they had seen everything.  There was one item though that seem to have them perplexed.  It was a feather duster.  Yes, I had to get to the feather duster eventually.

One of my 18 year old army recruit buddies brought a feather duster with him to basic training.  When we asked him about it afterwards, he stated that he only wanted to make sure that he passed the barracks inspections, and he was sure that the feather duster was exactly the tool that would help him accomplish this task. But on that day in the middle of the summer in the middle of Missouri, everything came to a stop because of the feather duster.  Those drill sergeants who could crawl through the mud with a knife between their teeth and take out a enemy sentry in the middle of the night were perplexed by the private with a feather duster.  What kind of 18 year old young man even owns a feather duster?

The drill sergeants were convinced that no good could come from the feather duster.  So they made the private take the feather duster to the First Sergeant's office and had him ask the First Sergeant if it was OK for him to keep the feather duster.  The First Sergeant said, "No" and that he didn't believe that any red blooded young man had any legitimate need of a feather duster.  And then he had the young soldier do some more mandatory physical fitness training for being dumb enough to take a feather duster with him to basic training.

Most soldiers in basic training end up with some sort of nickname from their drill sergeants.  Sometimes it is the place where they are from like "Montana" or "Cincinnati."  Sometimes the nickname denotes a physical characteristic like "Tubby" or "Bean Pole".  And sometimes the nickname that you get on the first day and keep for the rest of your time at basic training is "Feather Duster."

So, this is a cautionary tale for any young men and women who are heading off to do their initial training in one of the armed services.  Do not take any special cleaning equipment with you.  No lemon pledge.  No dyson vacuum cleaners.  And last, but certainly not least, no feather dusters.  I promise you that you do not want to take a feather duster with you to basic training.


Anonymous said...

a most funny tale, something that you did not tell your mother.

Michele said...

I really was laughing out loud!!!

T.R. Hoffman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
T.R. Hoffman said...

I had a very nice drill sergeant as well. When he picked us up he told us to bow our heads and pray because we were about to have a religious experience. Being a God-fearing, red blooded American, I bowed my head and looked forward to the experince. I've got to say... I never been to a religious experience such as that before! I'm not sure, but I think he may have lied to us because I don't think I've ever heard a preacher say some of the things that drill sergeant said!

Anonymous said...

Jack, I do remember the human cattle truck ramp. I even remember his name, Mark Verable. He too was from Pittsburgh. He processed with us at the MEPS station. I do recall another detail. We did not unload from the cattle truck to standard and the drill sergeants made everyone get back on it and do it again. I recall standing behind Mark and seeing about 50 boot prints on his duffle bags and I did chuckle a bit. Drill Sergeant Cale, also a Pittsburgh area home boy was standing beside me looking at the boot prints and also laughed. Then he asked me what was so funny? I said that I've never seen so many people squeeze into a cattle car so fast. "You know it's not the clothes you wear but the stories you tell" (Stripes).