Monday, October 15, 2007

Part 1 of My Path to Enlightenment: The Drill Sergeant

One of the reasons for this online forum is to find release for certain things that happened in my life. I will foremost try to be topical, as I want to be relevant and part of the movement to open a few eyes. Secondly, I want to tell my story... much as we all do.

This posting is a rare moment where I can relay a short anecdote and still be somewhat relevant.

1993: The First Time Religion Really Pissed Me Off

The US Army's basic training program is a lot of things. It instills discipline, hones the body and mind, and prepares the novice soldier for the future in the world's most advanced army. I expected all that when I was barely old enough to shave, and signed up for 3 years plus training to be an Airborn Ranger. I also expected to get kicked, punched, or smacked around if it came to that, just like in the movies.

I went to infantry basic training in Fort Benning, GA, which was often referred to as the "old Army". Although they had formally stopped hitting the trainees, they still had a good amount of vicious techniques that caused great mental and physical torment. This was before the official bans on hazing was enforced, which was well after my second year in the service.

What I did NOT expect was an evangelical blindsiding, a religious shovel upside the head. It took me some time to realize the impact of what happened that evening in the barracks, but looking back I realize how completely inappropriate and outrageous the whole thing was.

For those who never were in the military, imagine combining the authority of the police, your parents, your teachers, priests, or any other authority figure. Push those into one person, and you have a Drill Sergeant. I am sure many have seen the movie's take this on, and some do a very good job. The key point is to realize how unquestioning you become of them, how you hang on their every word. Then factor in the reality that 90% of what they say is negative and insulting. That 10% of positive is really powerful. If you get praise from a drill sergeant, your chest swells with pride and accomplishment. If you are the fastest at field stripping an M-16 (or M4 now a days), then the drill sergeant may hold you up as a model for the rest of the platoon. If you max the running score in a PT test, you are held in high regard for others to rise to.

It was well into the whole 17 week process of infantry basic and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Infantry trainess do not stop and graduate from basic before going to AIT They take a weekend off then keep going, same cadre, same platoon, same everything. On a hot and slimy Georgia evening, one particular drill sergeant softly and politely called a platoon meeting on his evening shift.

The whole platoon gathered around as he started appealing to our basic need for approval. He very carefully navigated through our insecurities, our fear, and our collective need for kindness. At this point in my life I had become fairly agnostic, but was still entertaining the thought of a god and often praying in private when I felt the need for meditation. When the drill sergeant began asking if we wanted our eternal souls to be guaranteed a place in heaven, I kind of looked around and thought, "well yeah, of course. That would be sweet".

At this point my best friend in basic training at that point turned around abruptly and said "man, I can't listen to this" and walked away. I could not believe he had the audacity to walk away from the drill when he was talking to us. I continued to agree with all of the wonderfull things the drill said about our heavenly salvation. I admire his boldness to this day.

Finally, at some point, we all said "yeah sure", or some such affirmation, to his final question. It was then that he announced that we were all officially born again.

My chest filled with the distinct heat of burning rage. Had this guy honestly just swindled me into stating my acceptance of his religious beliefs? Had he actually used his authority to get my attention to hear his speil? Yes, yes, yes he had.

I have always been pretty good about sniffing out a con, but this really caught me off guard. Like the choir boy about to be molested by his priest, I accepted the whole thing on blind trust and faith in his position. Now that said, I was not physically violated. Someone tried to take something that did not belong to them. They told me, "hey, you have an eternal soul that's up for grabs. It's not yours, because either God gets it or the Devil gets it. If you say these words, then God gets it, and you're good. If not, then your screwed and your fingernails will be pulled out slowly and regrow in a vicious eternal cycle of unbearable searing pain. But hey! It's your call dude!"

Again, it took some time to realize the importance of this event in the movement away from faith. I understood more about the tactics and techniques of the relgious movements. I am sure there were Muslims, Hindus, atheists, and other non-Christians that all had to hear that asshole's speach. I can't imagine how many times this has happened, and no one said a word. I could have really been ahead of the times if I would have said something back then. I was just afraid of getting smoked (hazed), and not getting my chance to jump out of airplanes and shoot bad guys.

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