I wasn’t a very good soldier but I was a good talker, so along with my good friend, Mike Offarrell, the army made me a recruiting sergeant. To be accurate, since I had just made PFC for the second time, I was a recruiting private; however, the army solved that by making me an acting sergeant.
Since there wasn’t a great deal of incentive to join the Army Reserve, it wasn’t easy obtaining new recruits: the pay hardly justified sacrificing a weekend per month or to put up with the army way of doing things. Without success at recruiting, we had to justify our existence—which we wanted to do, since being a recruiter got us out of a lot of duty—so we convinced our commanding officer that we needed to add “retention” to recruiting. In other words, we were charged with making sure the troops liked being in the army.
When our unit would leave for summer camp, Mike and I would stay in Ocala to attend to our recruiting duties. One year, tired of chasing after new soldiers, we drove to Kings Bay, Georgia, where our company was pulling duty, to check on morale—after all, we were in charge of retention.
We belonged to the 351st Military Police company and as recruiters we wore full MP gear: summer khaki uniform with the pants tucked (bloused) into highly polished boots; MP Arm Band; wooden baton and a holstered—unloaded—45 caliber pistol. On duty and dressed in our MP uniforms we drove an army jeep to Kings Bay. Once there, to bolster morale and enhance retention, we spent the afternoon playing poker.
Late afternoon, we decided to head back to Ocala. As we drove through Gainesville, we were hungry so we stopped into a local restaurant for dinner. Neither one of us considered the stir we would create when in full uniform and wearing a sidearm we both ordered a beer. The restaurant manager evidently had a problem with serving alcohol to fully armed—even if we didn’t even have Barney Fife’s one bullet—members of the armed forces.
Later after being promoted to the rank of specialist, I managed to make PFC for the third time when we decided to host a company party during weekend duty at Camp Blanding, Florida. We convinced the company commander that we needed help in purchasing a keg of beer at the Naval Air Station PX in Jacksonville, so he excused a friend to accompany us. Hooked to our jeep was a trailer in which we placed the keg and filled full of ice. It was hot, we were thirsty and we needed to make sure the beer was good, so we tapped the keg on the way back to the base.
It was a great party. The cooks fried fresh fish and along with hush puppies served cold slaw. There were stories, singing and a poker game that lasted long into the evening. We had raised morale and had a pretty good time doing so.
The following morning we had to return the keg to the PX. A trooper, who had overheard a discussion about our picking up the keg, begged to accompany us on the return trip. We told him no because it wouldn’t be fair to leave our friend, who had accompanied us the day before, behind. Seriously irritated about not being included, he told the “Old Man” about our tapping the keg. The next drill, I was promoted from acting sergeant to active staff sergeant and demoted from specialist to PFC. The commanding officer quietly told me that it was evident that the guy who “ratted us out” seriously lacked a sense of humor.
It has been almost 40 years since I served in the 351st Military Police Company. In the years since, the men and women of the company have distinguished themselves on active duty in Iraq; two of them sacrificing their lives for our country. We served because it was an alternative to the draft; they serve because they care. I thank and may God bless them for their service.
My time as a recruiter taught me a lesson about selling: you have to have a good product and know how to sell its advantages but part of the decision to purchase will be based upon you. Buyers pay attention to how a sales person presents himself or herself. When Mike and I would show up at an 18 year-old recruit’s house wearing our stiffly starched uniforms and “packing” a side arm, the sale was partially made.
I also learned that jealousy is a powerful emotion that can turn someone against you. It’s not wise to broadcast your good fortune. Those who are not enjoying the same, may take umbrage and seek to turn good into bad.
“A vacation in a foreign land
Uncle Sam does the best he can
You’re in the army now
Oh, oh, you’re in the army now
Now you remember what the draftsman said
Nothing to do all day but stay in bed
You’re in the army now
Oh, oh, you’re in the army now” – In The Army Now