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Like the old commercial, "when you want to capture someone's attention, whisper."
Within three milliseconds of scratching his nose, Airman Thompson knew it was the wrong thing to do. He was five days away from graduating Basic Training, and he knew the rules and the consequences.
Thinking he was clever, Thompson tried to mask the brief scratch when the entire Flight – Air Force’s version of a platoon – came to a halt. Had his drill instructor been in the front looking forward, the recruit might have gotten away with it. But the drill instructor was eight or nine rows back and on Thompson’s side.
The Drill Instructor saw everything.
Then came the taps.
The metal taps on the bottom of the Drill Instructor’s shoes served two purposes. They protected the soles and intimidated nervous recruits.
This is exactly what Airman Thompson heard after the Flight came to a halt. Master Sergeant Raines was easing his way to the front of the Flight one step at a time. Thompson knew the good Drill Instructor would make a stop at Thompson’s row for a little chat.
Wearing his wide-brimmed “Smokey Bear” hat, Raines got two inches from Thompson’s ear and whispered, “Airman Thompson, you are five days away from graduating. You should know better. If I ever – ever - see you doing that again, I’m gonna break ya arm. Do you understand me?”
Thompson gulped and said, “Yes sir.”
There was no need to agree at the top of his lungs as some other branches require. No, the question demanded a simple answer, and only one answer would suffice.
Technically and legally, the Drill Instructor could not physically touch the recruit in a threatening manner.
Psychologically, however, Raines knew exactly what he was doing.
No one else could hear the warning given to the errant trainee. Given Raines’ proximity to Thompson’s face and his low tone, everyone else had a pretty good idea what was said even though had no idea what Basic Training sin Thompson had committed.
One thing’s for certain, Airman Thompson wouldn’t be scratching his nose for a few months after the warning, long after he was out from under MSgt Raines’ care. And even then, he’ll hear those metal sole taps sneaking up on him, and a face looking amazingly like MSgt Raines asking what he was doing scratching his nose.
Drill Instructor threats, even at a whisper, just have that near-permanent quality about them.
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