Yes, Sergeant — It Is Night and I Am Jogging

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EDITOR'S NOTE: TIME Daily writer Frank Pellegrini, at a ripe 27 years, has taken a leave of absence to join the Army Reserve. He is currently undergoing basic training boot camp and then will spend several months in an Army journalism school. Given the difficulty the armed forces are experiencing in recruiting qualified young people these days, we think his experiences and impressions are worth sharing. Here is the fourth missive; others will be posted as they arrive.

I just got myself dropped. As in push-ups. As in on the floor of the drill sergeant's office while the afternoon football game — oh, the outside world! — murmured off to the left. "Ged down dere," he drawled in his Philippines twang, and we did, me and my bunkmate, the one who'd gotten us in trouble in the first place. The one I'd insisted on joining for the fun of it. To see what it was like to get dropped, or burned, or smoked, by these big scary drill sergeants who up to this point had been all bark and horror stories.

My crime? I'd been caught night-jogging. I was bored. I just wanted to be noticed.

First, some background. We were devolving here, "Lord of the Flies"-style, a platoon of 59 punks, most just out of high school but some with wives and lives and jobs, who had come to the Army for a fatherly whipping and instead had gotten Kafka's castle — a supposedly all-knowing, all-seeing complete shambles of a bureaucracy that couldn't even be bothered to take us for an occasional run.

This was Day 5, though it seemed like a month, and to make it worse, there were the fellow condemned, with a week or two or five under their belts, all convinced they were being screwed in one way or another by an Army that had them after they signed that X. One guy I talked to had failed at a rare bit of exercise and had been sent to "fat camp," whereupon he passed the test the very next day. Three weeks later he was still there, sweeping up after the other detainees and hiding from the drill sergeants' school next door (fat camp and a steady stream of newly anointed drill sergeants make for fun times, apparently).

Then there were the 77 soldiers who the chaplain had said had come to see him within just a few weeks, all begging for passage from purgatory. There was the Jamaican who affixed a padlock to his belt and started beating guards; the kid who was sleeping in the drill sergeant's office because he'd threatened to kill himself in front of a corporal.

And there were we, the 59, who had some stories of our own — the asthma sufferer who would have to wait a week before his expulsion, the guy who couldn't convince anyone higher up that a wife's recent miscarriage was reason enough for a temporary leave.

But, mostly, we were bored. We paced in our sweat suits from formation to formation and chow line to chow line, getting an errand done here and there and enjoying the occasionally "serious" outing (try putting two platoons in a classroom for a chlamydia lecture and then telling them to be quiet). We weren't allowed to run it off — there were no drill sergeants who would supervise us, and we might get hurt out there. We were government property now, after all. Meanwhile chow at 05:30, chow at 11:00. Chow at 16:30. Full, free meals, all we can eat and plenty good, too. No cigarettes to curb the appetite. This is the kind of schedule that did in Welles and Brando.

We are headed to boot camp in a week now, if the Army keeps its latest word, and we have been getting fat. Such things make a man beg for push-ups. Such things make a formerly lazy man like me sneak off for evening runs — highly irregular stuff and yet so bitterly satisfying.

I never got much of a word in during my Filipino frying — screaming pectoral muscles don't do much for the debating skills — but I'm going to keep running every night. I really hope I get caught again soon, because there are a few things I just might say. More dispatches to come

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