The purpose of drill is to enable a commander or noncommissioned officer to move his unit from one place to another in an orderly manner; to aid in disciplinary training by instilling habits of precision and response to the leader’s orders; and to provide for the development of all soldiers in the practice of commanding troops.
Department of the Army (Drill and Ceremonies, 2003)1
By Robert C. Steele, Sr.
I developed a fascination with combat and the military services when I was kid. I regularly played soldier, usually recruiting my brother Wayne and our next-door neighbor Brad Henderson to play with me. Wayne and Brad were both two years younger than me. I suspect most boys growing up in the 50s and 60s played soldier. Many of the top TV shows and movies during that time were about war, primarily World War II, but also the Civil War and first World War. So, when I was a senior in high school, I only applied to one college. It was an easy choice as I didn’t have the grades to apply to West Point and it was where my dad first went to college.
In the Fall of 1969, I started college as a Cadet Private in the Corps of Cadets at was then called North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia. The school is now part of the University of North Georgia (UNG). My plans at the time were to pursue a career as an Army Officer. And yep, voluntary service in the Vietnam War was part of my plan. Events sometimes arise that derail even the best made plans. As it would turn out, I became a sailor rather than a soldier. But that’s a tale for another day.
There are 1,700 colleges and universities in the U.S. that have Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs. Only six of these have the distinction of being classified as Senior Military Colleges.
- The Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina
- Norwich University, in Northfield, Vermont
- Texas A&M University, in College Station, Texas
- Virginia Military Institute, in Lexington, Virginia
- Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia
- University of North Georgia, in Dahlonega, Georgia
The following excerpt from Wikipedia describes the stringent requirements that colleges must meet to earn the distinction of being designated a Senior Military College (SMC) by the U.S. Government.
Under Army regulation an SMC must meet certain criteria:
- Bachelor’s degree must be granted.
- All physically fit undergraduate students must take courses in military training. Exceptions to this requirement include foreign nationals, prior-service personnel, females not participating in ROTC, and other students approved professor of military science.
- The school must establish a corps of cadets in which all cadets wear military uniforms when on campus. The corps of cadets involves a military environment in which the students live constantly, not just during the school day, and in which the students are subject to military discipline.
- The SMC must have as an objective the development of character through military training and the regulation of cadet conduct according to principles of military discipline (a cadet code of conduct).
- The SMC must maintain military standards similar to those of the federal service academies.
The 3rd and 4th bullets were the most impactful to me. Unlike traditional ROTC programs, we wore Army uniforms and lived life as soldiers 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. As soon as I got registered and arrived at my dorm room, my new Platoon Leader and Squad Sergeant had me hit a hut (stand at attention) and were screaming at me – one in my face, the other in my ear. Before I knew it, I was laying prone on the floor doing pushups. Yep, for someone who had no prior knowledge of what Boot Camp was about, it was eye-opening! I was shell-shocked. Of course, I knew I would be indoctrinated and physically trained. I just didn’t expect it to be so abrupt and non-ending.
I would soon learn that orientation was called FROG week, which stands for Freshmen and Orientation Groups. It was our basic training, aka Boot Camp. Transforming civilian college students with no understanding of military life, customs, rules and regulations in short order is a mean task. It certainly came across as mean spirited, at least initially. Not everyone was up to it. We had several Freshman leave voluntarily and one fellow left involuntarily. He frequently laughed and jeered at the upperclassmen instructors. I, for one, was glad to see him escorted back to the dormitory to collect his things. Physical Training (PT) began before dawn during FROG week. We did seemingly countless pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks before marching in formation to breakfast. The marching in formation continued perpetually on weekdays.
To ensure that we had no distractions, Freshmen arrived on campus a week ahead of the start of the Fall semester for FROG week (Freshmen and Orientation Groups). It was our basic training, aka boot camp. It was a crash course on Army history, command structure, ranks, rules and regulations. Every day began with PT and included close order drill (with or without a rifle) at the individual and organizational level.
We were organized into Squadrons, Platoons, Companies, and collectively as a Battalion. Collectively, the UNG’s Corps of Cadets are known as The Boar’s Head Brigade. I was in Company Foxtrot.
It has been nearly 54 years since I went to UNG, so I can’t remember the names of my Squad Leader and Platoon Sergeant. I do recall that our Company Commander was Dana Milner. Ironically, he spotted me waiting in line at a Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta in 1981. I was shocked that he not only recognized me but recalled my name. I hadn’t seen him in eleven years. Further, my hair was longer (as Cadets we were required to wear very short crew cuts) and I had a beard. We chatted for a bit. He told me that after he graduated from UNG that he had served on active duty with the Army Rangers for six years and had completed several combat tours in Vietnam. It really was remarkable that he remembered me. He clearly had a phenomenal memory.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I excelled in all aspects of the military training. The first couple of days of PT were tough. I had never done even a fraction of the number of pushups and sit-ups that we did during FROG Week, but I quickly adapted and took pride in completing them crisply. I especially liked marching and sounding off in cadences. One of the cadences has stuck with me all these many years later:
I don’t know but I think I might,
Jump from an airplane while in flight.
Stand up, hook up, shoulder to the door,
Chute’s gonna open on the count of four.
If that chute don’t open wide,
I got another one by my side.
Mama, mama now don’t you cry,
Airborne Rangers never die.
To your lep, right, lep…
UNG is the only SMC that does not have a relationship/program with the other Service Branches (Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard). Go ARMY! In 1991, 1995, 2014, 2017, and 2019, the school was recognized by the Department of Defense as the number one military program in the nation. The school has always been coed since its founding in 1873. In 1973, UNG became the first Senior Military College to accept women into its Corps of Cadets.
I tried and for and made the Soccer Team. As I was a fast runner, I played the right-wing position. Unfortunately, I broke my middle finger during practice in the Spring semester. It was a bad break and I had to wear a metal splint for six weeks and I missed the rest of the season.
The other extracurricular activity that I participated in was the Mountain Order of Colombo. It was named in honor of Master Sergeant Louis P. Colombo who was stationed at the U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School at nearby Camp Frank D. Merrill. The unit was created by MSG Colombo in 1962 to promote interest in military mountaineering. You had to pass a rigorous physical test to join the unit. In 1970, that included doing 40 pushups, 40 sit-ups, 8 pull-ups, a 60-second hang from a bar, and complete the 3-mile Crown Mountain Run up the side of mountain in combat boots and fatigues in less than 18-minutes. The emphasis on the run is “up-hill.” I was able to complete the requirements and attended a rappelling training class at Camp Merrill. Several Army Rangers oversaw our training. I have to say I got a little cocky after rappelling down the 30-foot tall training wall. However, when we marched up the mountain to the rappelling site and I looked over the side at the 100+ foot sheer cliff, my cockiness quickly evaporated.
Alas, the expression All’s well, that ends well (name of one of Shakespeare plays) does not apply to my Freshman year at UNG. While I excelled in my military training and played on the soccer team, my academic grades were terrible. I received an academic suspension at the end of the Spring semester. I knew I was in trouble when my Company Commander stopped by to tell me I had to go see the Commandant of Cadets the next day.
When I visited the Commandant, I was surprised on a couple of accounts. First, that he was a full Colonel in the Army. Secondly, he seemed genuinely saddened by having to suspend me. He noted that I while I had failed several academic courses, that I had an A grade in Military Science and Physical Education. He knew that I had played on the soccer team and had successfully passed the physical test to join the Mountain Order of Colombo. The biggest surprise was that he said that he could arrange to have me enlist and attend the 12-week long U.S. Army Infantry Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Candidate Course at Fort Benning Georgia. Graduates received the rank of Sergeant (E5) or Staff Sergeant (E6). I had an immediate response. “Thank you for your offer sir. But I’m 18 years old and I’m not ready (mature enough) to be a leader of troops in combat. I would have been ready when I graduated in four years.” The quote may not be exact, but it is substantially correct. I knew that I would be reclassified with a 1A Draft status and very likely would end up in the Army as an Infantryman and sent to Vietnam, but I was okay with that. For me, it was never about avoiding combat duty.
Ironically, when I checked on the Draft lottery in 1970, my birthday that year was number 310. They filled their draft quota long before my number. After returning home from UNG, I quickly found a job and made new friends in Alexandria, Virginia. None of my new friends had been in the military service. To the contrary, they were hippies. I went through my second culture shock as they and most young adults at that time were caught up in the counterculture that focused on the peace movement, civil rights, women’s rights, hard rock music, and free love. They espoused antipathy towards the “outdated social norms” of their elders. Having been reared in a traditional Southern home, I was initially shocked by the beliefs and behaviors of my generation.
I decided to grow my hair out and wear bell-bottom blue jeans. The Wurzell family lived across the street from my parents’ home. They had triplet boys two years younger than me and a boy Ted who was a year older than me. I started hanging out with Ted. He had also flunked out of college at the University of Wisconsin. The Wurzell’s were wealthy and lived in a stately home. Ted and I sat in their basement family room most nights and listened to records or the WHFS FM radio station. Although Ted had flunked out of his sophomore year, he had been a philosophy student and was very well read in classic literature. He introduced me to the alien world of existentialism via authors Herman Hesse, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Søren Kierkegaard, and Friedrich Nietzsche. We spent countless hours ruminating over various philosophies and social movements. I learned to look at the world in a very different perspective from my friend Ted. We hung out together for about four months. It ended when Ted found a girlfriend. We rarely spoke after that.
In 1970 – 1972 I worked primarily in clerical jobs (convenience store, bookstore, import store) and as a laborer for a couple of moving and storage companies. About eighteen months after I left UNG, I started taking night classes at the Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale. I got into a regimen of working full-time and going half-time to school. I continued the regimen even after getting married in 1976. My wife Diane and I had two kids, a son Rob and daughter Melissa in 1978 and 1980. Diane and I separated in 1982.
A friend and neighbor drew my interest in joining the U.S. Navy Reserves. Like me, Rob worked as an electronics technician. I saw him wearing a Navy uniform and asked him about it. He said he loved being in the Reserves. He had been on active duty for three years before switching. After mulling it over for a couple of weeks, I decided to enlist. That was in the Spring of 1980.
My recruiter was Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate J. C. Hudson. The Chief reviewed my enlistment application and noted that I had attended UNG and was close to completing an Associate’s Degree in Electronics and had been a Ham Radio Operator since the age of 13. He submitted my enlistment as a Petty Officer Second Class (E5) with the rating of Cryptologic Technician Technical (CTT). His Commanding Officer reduced my enlistment to E4. I was displeased at the reduction to E4, but I decided to proceed. I ended up being very glad that I did.
Given my qualifications, I went through an abbreviated Boot Camp for people that had served previously with another Branch of the Military. I aced all of the coursework and was the Honor Graduate of the class. The Commanding Officer of the Washington Navy Yard facility attended the graduation ceremony and presented me with a certificate as the Honor Graduate. I was beaming during the ceremony. I just learned that my mom really wished that she could have been there for my graduation. Sorry, mom!
I was assigned to Naval Security Group (NAVSECGRU) NORVA 206 and assumed my duties intercepting enemy communications. The information collected by our Unit was sent to NSA for intelligence processing. I loved the mission and planned on staying in the Navy Reserves until retirement. After three years, I had an opportunity to advance my professional career with Boeing. Unfortunately, the job required extensive travel and I was forced to leave resign from the Reserves. I had frequent doubts about that choice over the years. During my three years, I accomplished a rare achievement. I received a Meritorious Achievement Award for providing intelligence gathering that was added to the Electronic Order of Battle. I was told that that was a first for a Naval Reservist.
It feels strange sharing this level of information about my role as a cryptologist. What I did was classified top secret and above. But it has been nearly 40 years since I served.