|When You Go To Sleep|
Upon completion of Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, I was assigned
to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for two months of advanced training in Artillery Fire
Direction Control (FDC). During this time, I learned all the intricacies of how
to compute firing data for artillery pieces. In addition to firing data
computation another aspect of FDC which I had to learn was that of Radio
On one occasion, my training platoon of the Battery was out all night “live firing” doing illumination and night registration. We returned to the “cantonment” area the next morning in time to eat chow and to get ready for a full day of classes. The first one of these was “Radio Procedure”. We were all “dog” tired and were not enthusiastic about any training.
Nevertheless, we filed into an old WWII style classroom for training. The instructor dutifully began his class. After about twenty minutes of lecture, the classroom was darkened and a training film on the subject was started. As expected, the room was soon filled with loud snoring. For some reason, I stayed awake. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the instructor who motioned me to come with him to the back of the room. The reason for this gesture was to become apparent in a short time.
In one single movement, the instructor pulled a cigarette lighter and two (2) M-80 firecrackers from his pocket; proceeded to light them and throw them in a “garbage can” near the door. B-O-O-M. The darkened room erupted into absolute chaos. Another loud B-O-O-M and then more chaos. The door was not wide enough for thirty trainees to get through at the same time; although the effort was attempted.
The instructor switched on the lights and blew a loud whistle. He then put us in formation outside the classroom and said “Smoke-um if you got-um”. Most cigarettes were inhaled an inch at a time by the troops in the platoon. After the “break” and some “calming” of nerves; we returned to the class. The first words the instructor, who was a Vietnam Veteran, uttered were, “You Sons of Bitches, that’s what happens when you go to sleep on duty”. Lesson learned.
Less than a year later, I was in the Republic of Viet Nam working in the Fire Direction Center of Alpha Battery 6/27th Artillery at Quan Loi as well as other locations. When the battery was split; the FDC Section would also split and each “shift” worked continuous duty. In order to get some rest; one person would stay awake on watch while the other members of the team slept. On several occasions, it was all I could do to stay awake and alert. I would then remember the incident at Fort Sill and the Sergeants statement, “That’s what happens when you go to sleep on duty”. I would be instantly wide awake and ready for anything that might occur.