By Tom Hain

During the first week in the Army, we went through all kinds of testing and interviews designed to find what job we were best suited for in the service. I had always been good with my hands, so I figured I was a candidate for mechanic or engineer school after Basic. During one of the interviews, I was asked if I wanted to sign up for OCS because they saw that I had two years of college. I asked what that involved. He said that I would have to enlist (3 years instead of 2) after Basic, and I would go through Infantry training (the "NO " warnings went off in my head). After Infantry training, I would go through Officer's Candidate School (guaranteed to be the most difficult training yet), then I would be assigned to a Basic training company as a 2nd LT "Butter Bar" platoon leader (the lowest form of life in the Army, yet still able to lead trainees). Then I'd go to Vietnam where I would be in command of a platoon of guys that all had more experience than I did and would probably rather listen to the platoon sergeant then me, knowing that I would probably have to ask directions to find my own ass. I said, "No thank you."

But then he asked if I wanted to go through the Leader's Orientation Course. He described it as "Basic training in a week" without all the marching to and from the different training areas -- because of the time restraints, we would be bussed everywhere. He said that when I completed the course, I would be an "Acting NCO" during Basic; and I would have some fringe benefits. He assured me that I would have no difficulty doing what was required and that I would be promoted to Private E-2 after Basic. It sounded OK to me -- one week of hell for an easy ride through Basic, with no strings attached. But there were strings attached.

As it turned out later, everyone that signed up for LOC got orders for Infantry training after Basic. I had held out hope all through Basic that I would be assigned to Germany as a truck driver, just to find out that the decision to put me in the Infantry was made two months earlier! And, half the company made E-2 without going through LOC. Don't get me wrong, the training was a good thing; but they should have told us that we were signing up for the Infantry when we signed the papers.

During LOC, we did everything that we would be doing in Basic so that we could pass along what we had learned to the rest of the guys in our Basic training company. During Basic, we were often used as demonstrators at ranges and classes; and we got to wear "candy stripes" and march at the front of the column. LOC wasn't so bad, but it wasn't a breeze either.

There were only about 30 of us in the class, and I learned a lot about leadership and respect. I learned how to help guys find things in themselves that they didn't know they had. I learned how to find something in the tasks I was assigned that made them worth doing to the best of my ability, even cleaning latrines. I learned leadership through example, and I learned to be tolerant of people's faults. I still use those principles in my business today.

After basic training, I went back to just being a trainee. LOC or prior service didn't mean squat to the people at my next training assignment. That was fine by me. It took a lot of pressure off. I did OK in infantry training, and I was promoted to PFC (E-3) at graduation. BFD? I thought so. As it turned out later when I got to Vietnam, everybody was promoted to E-3 when they landed in-country; and time in grade as an E-3 didn't mean squat, either.

I stayed a PFC all through my time in the field in Vietnam. I made SPC4 when I transferred to Headquarters Company eight months after I got in-country; and I was a sergeant for the last three months I was there, which proves that I was miscast in the roll of Infantryman to begin with.

Copyright © 1999 By Thomas J. Hain, All Rights Reserved