Tag Archive for Army

No One Laughed

Drill Sergeant with new recruits at Ft Dix NJ circa 1985

Drill Sergeant with new recruits at Ft Dix NJ circa 1985

What time is it, kids? It’s ‘Do Your Duty’ time. So, I enlisted in the Army on February 25, 1974.

The bus from New Haven to Ft Dix, NJ, filled up at the Port Authority Station in NYC. Two “long hairs” took the seats to my left, a semi-Italian 19-year old from Brooklyn, New York named Rios, and Keller who was fresh out of a Rikers Island prison cell.

We nodded, did not shake hands, and returned to our own thoughts while not knowing we’d become roommates in 3rd Plt, B-4-3. Madison from Patterson took the seat to my right. He was thin, 6′ 6″, assigned to 1st Platoon, and a prankster who I, weeks later, punched in broad daylight. (More later about James Henry Madison from NJ.)

The four of us glanced out the windows at the traffic, falling snow, and darkening skies as the bus rushed down the NJ Turnpike. Too soon it seemed we turned off and rolled through the Main Gate after MPs there checked the manifest. Runway lights blinked beyond the fence (McGuire AFB) outside on one side of the bus as USAF transport jets landed and took off.

We stopped at the Reception Station.

A burly, mean looking mad man in a Round Brown Hat boarded when the bus doors opened. He barked, “Listen up!” The lives of 50 ‘Swinging Richards’ were about to change.

The Drill Sergeant then said, “When I tell you to move, and not before then, you will stand up, grab your large yellow envelope with your papers and AWOL bags, un-ass this bus, line up with your toes touching the yellow line, and stand by for further orders.”


We un-assed the bus. He never yelled or screamed. He just walked from our left to right pointing down at the yellow line as we lined up.

He continued, “Hold up your envelope in your right hand and hold the handle of your AWOL bag with your other. … Move! Now, raise your envelope up and read whose name is on it. If it is your envelope, lower your arm to your side. If it is NOT your envelope, keep it up at eye level and, when I tell you to, sound off with the last name, printed in large letters, on it. … Move!”

Somehow, all of us had managed to grab the correct envelope. Yet two guys in the second row, 20 feet apart, still held up their envelopes.

The Drill Sergeant stood in front of the first one and said, “Sound off!”

“Smith, sir,” Smith replied in a low voice, as snow quietly fell, and each snowflake slammed into the cement.

“Welcome to the United States Army, General Smith!” The Drill Sergeant then marched down the second row and stopped in front of the second guy holding up his own envelope.


“Smith,” Smith replied in an even lower voice that everyone toeing the yellow line heard.

No one laughed.

“Is your first name ‘John’, Smith?” asked the Drill Sergeant.

“Yes sir,” John Smith replied in a whisper heard around the world.

“Well, Admiral John Smith, General Eugene Smith must be your older wiser twin brother, ain’t that right?”

“Yes sir,” John Smith whispered.

The Drill Sergeant leaned in until the brim of his Round Brown Hat just barely touched Smith’s forehead, and then he growled, “You will address me as Drill Sergeant. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant,’ Smith said loudly.

The Drill Sergeant then added, “I work for a living. Don’t call me sir.”

Then he said, “Now, when I tell you to move, you 50 Army volunteers will face to your left … Not yet, General Smith … and move in column by stepping off with your left foot, follow the Drill Sergeant by the door and line up standing behind the tables inside where the Drill Sergeant tells you to stand … Move! … Your other left, Admiral Smith.”

No one laughed out loud for we were too scared. But it was funny.

We followed the other Drill Sergeant into the building and lined up where he pointed, each of us behind an individual table. Then he said, “Place your yellow envelope in the slot below your tabletop and your AWOL bag on top of your table … Move!”

“When I tell you to, quickly take everything out of your AWOL bag, pockets, and concealed on your person, and place it on the table. You have 30 seconds. … Move!”

“Place your empty AWOL bag under your table.”

As we did so, Drill Sergeants moved in front of each table, surveyed the contents, and screamed at us to take everything out of our pockets, take off all hats, and removed all jewelry (except for wrist watches). They circled, surveyed, stirred each table’s stuff with a short stick, and directed those with them to place all weapons, drugs (except prescriptions), and contraband (which they pointed to) in the “large red barrels marked ‘Amnesty Box’ at the back of the room and then return to your desk.”

“Move like you have a purpose!”

A few fools actually had brought contraband. As fast as rabbits could run, they ran to the red barrels and dumped their “junk in the trunk.” It was chaos. Yet the Drill Sergeants calmly directed rush hour like the traffic squad in a Keystone Cops movie.

No one laughed.

“Now, place everything remaining on your table, except your wallet, into your AWOL bag, put your wallet in your pocket, grab your AWOL bag with your left hand, and retrieve your yellow envelop with your right hand. … Move!” … “Your other left hand, General Smith.”

No one laughed.

The next two days at the Reception Station were a blur. We were weighed, measured, issued uniforms, medically examined, inoculated, vaccinated, drilled on by dentists, had our head “shaved” by barbers using the # 1 clipper in 30 seconds flat, lined up everywhere, and hurried up and waited. I’m sure we ate three meals a day and were allowed to sleep 7 hours a night, but I don’t remember either eating or sleeping.

Then a “bus” took us 50 brand new Army volunteers to our new home for the next 7 weeks of more fun than a human being should be allowed to have, ever: Army Basic Training at B-4-3.


Tim Sumner is a retired career U.S. Army Military Policeman. His service included as a Drill Sergeant from 1983 to 1985. He co-founded 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America in 2004. And he is currently writing a yet to be named memoir.  

Blue Lights and Blood

Google map of Drausnick and Schumacher Strasses intersection.

Fall, 1975, Road bordering Ferris Barracks, Erlangen, West Germany

It started out as a quiet midnight shift. That changed when a Soldier turned east out of the Main Gate and headed our way. I was driving west in our clearly marked Military Police jeep.

Private First Class (PFC) James Scott was my junior partner.

“He hasn’t turned his headlights on,” Scott remarked.

I flashed my high beams a couple of times. The VW kept coming with its headlights off. There was no front license plate. The driver passed by us with his head turned our way and his mouth wide open. I checked my side mirror; there also was no plate on the rear of the car.

I thought to myself the Soldier was going to get somebody killed.

“Call it in,” I told Scott. “White male in uniform driving a Volkswagen Beetle, with no lights, passengers, or plates, travelling east on Artillerie Strasse.” (Artillery Street.)

He picked up the radio mike and started transmitting.

I made a U-turn.

As the VW was quickly pulling away from us, I shifted into high gear and floored it. Army jeeps were built for war, not speed; at best, they would do 65 MPH. He was running and would likely lose us. But I hoped to get close enough to spot a decal or body damage, some distinguishing information. There were no bars opened at that hour nor military bases in the direction he was headed; he had to be headed home. We’d track him down.

The VW did not slow down at the stop sign as it made a left turn and headed north.

I turned on our blue flashing police light, down-shifted, slowed, and looked left as we neared that same corner. Nothing was coming.

“Clear right,” Scott called out, so I turned.

Seconds later we saw the VW pass under the blinking red traffic light at the main intersection one block ahead. It had slowed but did not stop.

A car travelling west on that main road slammed into it.

It struck the VW’s right-front fender, tipping the VW violently up onto its right wheels and spinning it rapidly counter-clockwise, 180 degrees around. It bounced back down onto all four tires and came to rest facing south in the middle of the intersection.

“Jesus,” Scott exclaimed.

“Tell the Desk we need a German ambulance, ASAP, and a doctor, at Drausnick and Schumacher Strasse,” I said to Scott. (In Germany, doctors routinely accompanied ambulance crews to incidents when there was an immediate threat to life.)

The hospital was about a mile away.

I pulled into the intersection and stopped where vehicles could see our flashing blue light in all directions.

“Check the German, Jim,” I said. It was an Audi with German license plates, and it had come to rest on the bike path lane and sidewalk just past the northwest corner of the intersection.

I ran to the passenger side of the VW. The GI was leaning against the door. I opened it. He was unconscious and fell into my arms, so I pulled him the rest of the way out.

Blood from a deep 2-inch long gash in his temple shot skyward and was pumping out. He hadn’t worn his seatbelt. The force of the spin had thrown him to his right and his head struck the curved metal window frame just below the passenger side window. I applied a pressure bandage (we carried one in a pouch on our pistol belts), but blood kept pouring down my arm.

U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Craig (SFC, pay grade E-7) was dying. I had to take a chance.

With my fingers, I probed around on his neck, found an artery, and applied pressure. The flow subsided, yet some still drained out and on to my bare hands.

PFC Scott ran back over to us and said, “The German is okay.”

Shut off his ignition,” I said. It was SOP due to the potential for fire and an explosion.

Less than two minutes later I saw blue lights fast approaching from the west. An ambulance and German Police car came rolling in. My silent prayer had been answered.

Dr. Zimmerman, who I recognized from a previous accident, emerged and came to us.

“Don’t let go of him while I have a look,” she said sternly, in perfect English.

“Yes ma’am,” I replied.

She removed my hand from the pressure dressing, quickly examined him, and then said, “I am going to do some surgery. You must keep pressure on the artery and hold him still.”

“I got him, doc,” I replied.

She went to work.

A minute or two later she announced, “You can remove your hand from his throat.” She had clamped the artery. Thankfully, I did not see much of the “surgery.”

She told the ambulance crew to take him. They soon sped off towards Erlangen’s hospital.


Investigating the incident was not at all difficult: We found a key in Craig’s car with ‘Impound lot’ printed on a tag attached to it. Whenever a GI’s privately owned vehicle’s registration expired, the car was supposed to be immediately moved to the impound lot on base.

The base’s SDO/SDNCO office maintained a key to the lot’s gate in case a GI’s car was towed in after normal duty hours. We finished at the accident scene. I washed up, changed uniforms, and we went there. We learned Craig walked to work that day from the apartment he shared with his wife just a few blocks north of the intersection where he later crashed. His VW’s registration expired before he could get the inoperable lights fixed. He had turned in its license plates to the vehicle registration office at the MP Station. Craig was on-duty that night as the Brigade’s Staff Duty Non-Commissioned Officer (the SDNCO in charge during off-duty hours). He told the Staff Duty Officer (SDO), a Lieutenant, there with him that he was going to run home and grab some food. Craig used the key and attempted to drive home in his unregistered and defective car.

Two days later, I visited Dr. Zimmerman at Erlangen’s University Medical Center. Craig went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance. They revived him. He had brain damage caused by his head striking the metal car door.

I asked if my action added to that damage. She replied, “If you hadn’t, he would have bled to death before we got there.”