In Defense of Pudding

Early in the OCS process, my DH served his rotation as platoon leader. His duties kept him very busy; he functioned as the channel between the candidates in his platoon and the TAC instructors. As a result, he acquired extra demerits whenever anyone in the platoon made a mistake. Certain numbers of demerits earn him “tours of duty” (extra work details) or restrictions (periods during which he cannot leave the barracks).

The earlier you serve as leadership in the process, the more likely you are to get stuck with demerits you could not control. Fortunately, the demerits do get reset each week.

Since the TACs (Teach Advise Counsel…kinda like Drill Sergeants for Officer Candidates) control everything in the beginning of OCS (down to when you go to sleep), these tours of duty are not a huge deal. Still, we had a picnic coming up in February and I was a little anxious that he might not be able to work those off before the picnic.

DH described his physical training as “unrelenting, but not impossible.” He held up well on the five-mile road marches. Not surprising since he has always been known among our group of friends as the guy who leads us on “Death Marches” during vacation–really, a friend once had pools of blood in his shoes. I do not know why this friend didn’t ask DH to stop–I guess other guys do not like to admit weakness in front of DH. He is just that kind of guy–he makes you want to be better than you are.

During the “very fun” Combat Swim Test, DH was pushed off a high-dive, blindfolded, in full “battle rattle.” Then, he had to swim in full gear. OCS is also training him in Brazilian jujitsu. The company commander strongly believes in the idea of “every soldier a rifleman first.” In other words, no matter what your assignment, you are expected to be a competent and confident fighter.

In the classroom, DH is wrote essays, deciphered combat maps, and learned the legal underpinnings of his work as a soldier. Once again, DH enjoyed his field exercises. Even in chilly weather, DH enjoys sleeping under the stars. They practiced day and night orienteering, locating markers amidst thorns and clumps of barbed wire. DH’s hands got pretty cut up and he had to read a blood-splattered map. To make things a little more interesting, the TACs launched simulated artillery attacks on the OCs.

Mostly, the stress comes from the demerit system and from the psychological pressure. The OCs are allowed very little sleep, and they are kept busy constantly. Each day, they are quizzed on the day’s Operation Order (daily temperature, safety reminder of the day, quote of the day, end-evening-nautical-twilight time, etc.). One week, the student leadership had the clever idea to include news in the Operation Order; the men got news, but the TAC instructors ruthlessly quizzed them on the minutiae, doling out many demerits in the process.

Everything, from their non-standardized lockers to the way they fold laundry, must be exactly uniform. They even need to sleep synchronized. Every night during their lights-out procedures, they exercise, sing the alma mater, lie down on their beds, assume the position of attention, and then allegedly and miraculously fall asleep – all in unison.

This vigorous training did not sap DH’s sense of humor. Some background – at this stage of training, the candidates’ food intake is closely monitored and they are not allowed to consume “dessert.” When a fellow OC took some forbidden pudding, a sergeant asked DH if pudding qualifies as dessert. DH proceeded cautiously, offering that, as the pudding is in the salad bar, it is not dessert.

A captain jumped in, “But isn’t pudding sweet?”

DH countered, “So is fruit, but we’re allowed to eat it.” The TACs were bursting out in laughter.

The captain continued, “In the L– household growing up, did you think of pudding as a dessert?”

“We considered both pudding and fruit dessert but this is not my household; this is a mess hall with a salad bar.”

DH’s “defense of pudding” succeeded, or was at least sufficiently amusing, and his fellow OC was let off with a warning. Only goes to show–you can take the lawyer out of the courtroom, but you can’t take the courtroom out of the lawyer…or some such.

OCS is difficult enough that many of these soldiers dropped out due to injury or by choice. When an officer candidate wants to quit OCS, he rings the bell in the company area. However, there were a lot of physically and mentally fit men there with DH. He met a man who served in Afghanistan, a Citadel graduate, and a Classical history major; true, the last fellow’s from Harvard, but we’ll forgive him for that.

I am confident that most of those who eventually graduate OCS are excellent leaders of our Army.

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