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Yes, Drill Sergeant
By Jim Turner
Bennie was the meanest kid in the history of the world. Period. Every day he dressed
in a soiled white t-shirt and rolled the sleeves up into tight little lines that fit along his
shoulders. I guess he was somebody’s son, but in my mind he wasn’t born but rather
unearthed from beneath a moss-covered slab of limestone and something that used up
perfectly good air.
Remember Scut Fargus, the bully in the perennial favorite seasonal movie “A
Christmas Story”? Well, the Scut character was based on the real life of Bennie from
my little home town in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Like Scut in the movie, Bennie
spent his school day waiting for the afternoon bell so his fun could begin and he could
stalk somebody, usually me, on the walk from school to home.
Bennie wasn’t a very big kid, but he was certainly bigger than me. That by itself was
nothing special because everybody was bigger than me. Due to my size and dashing
good looks I was a prime target for Bennie and other bullies to practice their bullying
skills on. That proverbial 87-pound weakling in the old Charles Atlas body building
ads looked muscular compared to me. I was so skinny that there was never a childhood
picture taken of me in profile. Anyhow, Bennie the bully and his little entourage of
bullies in training liked to see blood trickle from my nose and frequently found a way
to get me mad enough to accommodate their whim. From time to time they would
push me to the place where I just didn’t care about dripping a few little red spots on my
clean shirt. Those were the days.
One interesting thing about kids who intern as schoolyard bullies is that they tend
to carry those well-honed skills with them as they struggle toward adulthood. That’s
when things can get a little more challenging for them, and they sometimes end up
doing some jail time or cooling their heels and the rest of themselves on a steel tray
in a morgue. Some are a little luckier and actually find meaningful employment
someplace where a good bully with a loud mouth is a valuable tool—somewhere like
in the military where they are given the task of transforming sniveling young boys into
lean, mean fighting machines ready to be sent into battle. I’m talking about the drill
sergeants. So it logically follows that the meanest adult I ever met in my life, ever, was
a man named “Yes, Drill Sergeant.” That was it. That was his name as he introduced
himself to his crowd of nervous listeners.
We were on a chartered bus that had departed from Raleigh and would deliver us
to the God-forsaken Army training center at Fort Bragg. I was older than the other
passengers/trainees since I had benefited from four years of college deferments before
getting my invitation to the party. Many, if not most of the others, were enlistees who
had joined after high school or as an alternative to something else they found more
During the trip there we were escorted by this smartly dressed Army executive who
sat quietly at the front of the bus near the driver. He did not speak a word to anyone
during the entire road trip ... until the machine stopped and the doors opened. He
slowly stood, slid his fingertips around the brim of his Smokey the Bear hat until it was
perfectly leveled with his shoulders and breathed fire into our very souls.
“Get the off my bus, you no good bags of scum! If you are not off my bus in
15 seconds, you will belong to me—and you don’t want to belong to me!” We would
soon learn that Yes, Drill Sergeant owned everything. Everything he touched, saw or
imagined was his. They were his barracks, his latrines, his chow halls, his rifles and his
air. When we had all stumbled over each other enough to vacate the bus, he bellowed
something that sounded like he wanted us to stand in a straight line, look straight
ahead and shut up.
“From this moment on for as long as you are alive you will address me as Yes, Drill
Sergeant! Do not call me sir! I am not some pantywaist officer. I am a real man, a
sergeant in the United States Army and you will treat me with respect or I will either
kill you or make you wish I had. Do you understand me?” AU righty, then. “Yes, sir,”
a few of us softly answered. Oops. We should not have said sir. I don’t remember how
many young guys he actually killed that afternoon, but I do know that every solitary
one of us was terrified, even me, the old guy. Bennie would have whimpered at the mere
sight of Yes, Drill Sergeant, and poor Scut would have cried in his jacket sleeve.
Bullying in the 21st century
The schoolyard bullying and Army training center events depicted above may
bring a smile to our faces, but bullying can sometimes have tragic results. Some bullies
eventually find themselves in the public arena and even manage to get elected to
represent our best interest and ensure our well-being. These people, along with Scut,
Bennie and Yes, Drill Sergeant, are folks you can see, can confront and challenge. But
there is a new kind of bully in town in the 21st century.
Cyber bullies stalk and attack their prey using cell phones, computers and tablets.
They invade social media sites, chat rooms, text message sites and websites. I read
recently that one in every four persons who use electronic devices are, or have been
at some time, a victim of cyber harassment or cyber bullying. Statistics also indicate
that one of every six of us are the abusers. The victims are our friends, our neighbors,
children or grandchildren.
The black eyes and bloodied noses they receive are from words, from innuendo,
from broken trusts and disclosed secrets. Though the blood and discolorations from
these attacks are not visible, they are no less painful, perhaps even more so. The
emotional pain and stress caused by these bullies are more harmful to our children and
friends than the physical abuse that leaves the outward evidence. Statistics referencing
suicide attempts as a direct result of cyberbullying are distressing.
Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can kill us. I mean that literally.
Too many recent news stories tell of young people encouraging suicide through
FaceBook, Twitter, messaging or email and to perform the act while connected to the
electronic audience. Can you imagine the horror of having this happen to someone
you love? The thought makes me want to snatch the phones and laptops from my
grandchildren and throw them in the dumpster. But I can’t. What I can do, though, is
help educate them and alert them to the evil that lurks in the hearts of mankind. Like
The Shadow from my youth, I can be vigilant.
We, as a society, are so totally connected to these little electronic pieces of plastic that
we feel incomplete without them. It is imperative that we maintain constant contact
with friends and share all of our thoughts, dreams and fears. I think the world needs
a new superhero who can patrol cyberspace and bust all cyber evildoers. Yeah. That’s
what the world needs: That, and a whole lot more kindness, love and understanding.
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