“Recruit, your entire platoon just bought it! Right here, under enemy fire, because you couldn’t give an order properly.” The senior drill sergeant was leaning in close, shouting with a volume and force that blocked out any rational thought.
“Yes, Drill Sergeant,” Chess answered hoarsely. His voice was nearly gone from bellowing orders, and he could barely see the members of his platoon in the full darkness. It seemed like hours since the sun had gone down, leaving the world icy. White noise was threatening to drown his mind.
Finally commanded by the drill sergeant, he dismissed the platoon as loudly as he could manage. Miserably, he thought back on the task he had been given: he had come up with a good plan… he just couldn’t mange to get his team to execute it. Heart pounding, he stared at the ground, certain that he had failed more dismally than anyone in the entire history of army basic field exercises.
Within moments, the platoon broke up into scattered groups, and began to head back toward the barracks. Chess stood motionless and watched the dim figures walk off into the night. For weeks, he had been dreading his turn to practice leading a platoon… but he had not thought it would turn out quite this badly. And, worst of all, the thing that bothered him most was the idea that he would have gotten everyone killed. People killed: because of him. He shivered in the rapidly dropping temperature.
One thing was for sure, Chess reflected, now standing alone in the darkness: he might be good at devising strategies for himself and even for a group, but he would never be a leader. He groaned quietly. Yeah, he never wanted to have that kind of responsibility for other people.
An image of the recruit, Brandt, flashed into his mind: that guy would definitely have something to say… but it was no worse than what the voice in his own brain was saying: he was hopeless, pathetic. Well, Chess thought, feeling utterly defeated, maybe Brandt’s ruthlessness did make him a better platoon leader. Being a leader must be the hardest job in the world for a person with any kind of empathy.
“Yeah, that was pretty awful,” Mal agreed, nodding her head enthusiastically. It was after supper on the following evening. “Plus, you know, I had to pee really bad the whole time we were out there.”
At her words, all of the male recruits in the group looked compulsively down at their hands. The other female recruit laughed. “Mal, you are so foul.”
“What? It’s the truth!” Mal shrugged at Chess. “But we could tell you had a plan. I mean, everybody has trouble leading, at first. Well, almost everybody.” She leaned back on her elbows and looked up at Chess, causing his heart to start pounding. “Yeah, I think it’s a sure thing that Brandt and Ellis are going to end up being the platoon leaders for the final training exercise,” she concluded.
“Ugh. Don’t even mention that,” Dallow complained. “It’s still weeks away: don’t wanna think about it. Besides, we’ll totally jinx it by talking about it.” He looked down at his link-phone, where he had managed to download some additional texts on rifle marksmanship.
Chess let out a slow breath. The final training exercise would be the end of basic training here… and then they would graduate. And then: overseas to war. He swallowed hard as an image of his mom and sister came into his mind. He would probably never see them again. He raised his head suddenly, realizing he was being addressed.
“So, tell us some more about this game you used to play,” one of the recruits had just said, and the words still echoed in Chess’s hearing. “I’ll take any help I can get on planning strategy.”
“Well,” Chess sighed. “Uh, maybe this weekend…”
Before the other recruit could protest, someone else’s link-phone let out a burst of static-filled chatter. “Hey, I got him!” the phone’s owner exclaimed.
“Is that that Isaac Dale guy?” Dallow whispered fiercely. “Man, you gotta shut that off – you’ll get us all kicked out!”
Chess and Mal both looked startled and, at the same time, asked, “Why?”
At that moment, drawn by the noise, Ellis came walking over to them.
Continued next page...
Pvt. Joe Bowers: Why me? Every time Metsler says, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way," I get out of the way.
Sgt. Keller: Yeah, when he says that, you're not supposed to choose "get out of the way." It's supposed to embarrass you into leading - or at least following.
Pvt. Joe Bowers: That doesn't embarrass me.
Revisiting the idea of juxtaposing books in order to provide better context or different perspectives: I was reading The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria when I first heard of the book Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was the first prime minister of India after it freed itself from British control in 1947 but, like his friend Gandhi, he had been previously imprisoned for his role in the struggle for Indian independence from Great Britain. Nehru wrote many letters from his various prison cells to his daughter Indira (who would go on to be Prime Minister of India in 1966) and these letters were put together into an 1155 page book.
One of the most amazing things about the letters that comprise this book is their attestation to the author’s incredible memory, which he had to rely on most of the time because, where he was, books were scarce. Yes, I read this entire book -- some parts of it a few times -- but I really need to re-read the whole thing because I have forgotten way too much of it, which is pathetic considering the abilities of the person who authored it.
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