Talking to others who experienced boot camp in one branch of the military or another, there was one thing they all seemed to have in common: there was always at least one person who didn’t quite fit in, and the sergeants loved to pick on. My Flight was no exception. For the life of me I cannot remember his name. He was a black kid, short and slightly built, and had a receding hairline far beyond his young age. But most importantly, and what the sergeants immediately picked up on was he had a very nervous disposition, and took everything far too seriously, not having a hint of a sense of humor. These traits showed themselves on our first day in uniform.
We were in the middle of a long march with me being somewhere near the front. I could hear the continual tirades of Sgt. Bickell behind me. “How many bleeping times do I have to bleeping say it!” he screamed. “You pivot on your bleeping right foot when you turn right! You have to be the dumbest bleepity bleep I’ve ever seen!” (There was a post at the time of this writing speaking of fighting censorship, but I have to set the limit somewhere) I will hint that the “F” bomb was used quite frequently; by itself, and in several other combinations, some combinations being quite unique and obviously well thought out.
Suddenly we heard, “Company halt! Right face! I said right face you bleeping moron! Get your ass out here front and center. Now!”
Out stepped this black kid, his eyes wide with fear. The moment he stopped, the sergeant was in his face, screaming words I wouldn’t call my worst enemy. Of course there were a couple words he used I hadn’t even heard before. Then suddenly right in the middle of his tirade someone snickered…and the sergeant heard it. He immediately stopped and charged toward our unit. “What in the hell do you morons think is so bleeping fun….” He stopped in mid-sentence and turned toward where their eyes were glancing. It was then I saw it too. This poor black kid had peed his pants, a large dark stain running down the inside of his legs. I truly felt sorry for the him.
The sergeant gave a slow shake of the head. After a few moments he looked at us and spoke. “Airmen, to you this may seem a lack of courage, a man who is not strong, who doesn’t belong in the military. What I see is a challenge. When I am done with this man he will kick any ass here.” He then looked to the the airman standing alone. “From this day forward you are going to be my hit man. You are the man I look to when things are tough.Whenever myself or Sgt. Hernandez need someone taken care of, a dirty job done, you’re going to be our man. Forget about the name tag on your uniform. From now on your name is Hatchet Man.” Sgt. Hernandez, does that sound satisfactory to you?”
“Very much so,” Sgt. Hernandez firmly replied.
We all stood in confused silence. What had just happened? Looking back I now know that they were enjoying their own amusement in one sense, but also using a strategy that eventually made a difference in that person.
The following day we were each issued a small pad of ink and a rubber stamp with the first initial of the our last names, and the last four digits of our serial numbers. After a morning of marching we were herded back to the barracks to begin stamping our military clothing for identification. Of course you couldn’t stamp your clothing in just any ole’ place. Not in the military. No siree bob. One at a time each piece of clothing was ordered up, then the sergeant would direct us where to stamp it. Our barracks was two floors with 32 airman downstairs and 32 airman upstairs. Sgt Hernandez was overseeing us downstairs, while Sgt. Bickell was upstairs. Sgt. Hernandez walked quietly among us, his silence revealing everyone was correctly following their stamping direction. It was not going as well upstairs.
Sgt. Bickell was on a rampage, his screams easily carrying down to us below. “I said the left side of the collar tag, not the right! Why you stupid bleepity bleep, the stamp goes at the top of the trouser fly! Dear God, I’ve been given a bunch of blubbering imbeciles!” I could see Sgt. Hernandez occasionally glance toward the ceiling. Finally he barked, “Hatchet Man, front and center.”
And so began Hatchet Man’s first assignment….