A Belated Thank You To Sergeant Ralston...
A Belated Thank You To Sergeant Ralston...
Circa 1980s, with a mixture of fear and excitement, I disembarked the plane and boarded a bus… heading to what was then Fort McClellan in Alabama. I could hear the voices in my head and I am certain that I saw it on my fellow Army recruits faces, ‘asking what had we done,’ in signing up for Basic Training. I do not know about the rest of my colleagues, but I was convinced that I was in Alabama ostensibly to see the world and gained the benisons of the GI Bill, which would enable and fulfill my aspirations of attending college – but more than likely, I joined the Army because of what the psychologists would have diagnosed then as a classic manifestation of the attributes of some benign envious complex because my father before me served in Vietnam.
Upon Arriving in Alabama and seeing my hair being discarded with the mandatory haircut, I felt like Sampson, only that I had this six-foot tall, bald headed man… attired in starched army green, black-spit-polished boots… shouting at me for every move I was making. This was my introduction to Sergeant Ralston, with our interaction akin to many of the scenes out of the movie, “An Officer And A Gentleman.” There was constant shouting… reminding me that, apparently, I was slower than my grandma, who was then in her early eighties. I knew the ‘game’ because my dad had prepared me, as much as he could, about what to expect in Basic Training, but by the end of the first week, I hated Sergeant Ralston. Sergeant Ralston would wake us in the middle of the night… just when we were in the sweet part of slumber to run or he would catch us off guard after we had finished eating and have us run wind sprints… which resulted in the attendant stench of vomit as our cologne and perfume. Even my palate suffered under Sergeant Ralston because he forced me to eat something call grits that the ‘mess hall’ served every morning.
Some of my Army buddies fell by the wayside, but I was determined not to go back to my father in California failing Basic Training and I wanted to prove Sergeant Ralston wrong. By the end of the first month, I was laughing in my mind when Sergeant Ralston told me to drop and do push-ups or sit-ups, or moreover, to run - but alas, there are always weaknesses and Sergeant Ralston knew many of mine. I hated pull-ups and the exercise where I had to lay on my back, elevating my feet off the ground, about six inches, and forced to move my feet from one side to the other. For me that was torture and I cursed that bald headed man, secretly, with some colorful metaphors… worthy of any sailor. It got worse… those of us who are men from the Caribbean are notoriously and chronically homophobic… and I made the mistake of ‘talking’ in formation to one of my buddies. Sergeant Ralston, along with another Drill Sergeant, made me hold hands with my buddy and had us walk through the formation. To this day, I have never been so embarrassed in my life and I could still hear the cackling laughter of my fellow army buddies echoing through the Alabama country side.
Of course by the end of Basic Training, I had much respect then and now for Sergeant Ralston and I write this blog because of Memorial Day my mind has been on my Basic Training sergeant. And it is true that I shudder sometimes thinking that Sergeant Ralston might have lost his life for God and Country in one of our wars in the interim… but I have chosen the report of the positive angels who tell me that he is retired somewhere… telling stories about the many young men and women whom in them he had stoked the fire of discipline and fortitude. Sergeant Ralston probably does not remember me, but I remember him and I hope sincerely that he had children who made him proud, along with Jesus’ longevity, mercies, and the envious blessings of the Biblical patriarch, Abraham that are ours to be had.
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