In Charge

I’m not even sure what I did to piss off this drill sergeant on this particular day. There were only two drill sergeants who didn’t like me (out of eight), but of the two this male drill sergeant was far more vocal. A drill sergeant can make you stop and do push-ups because he doesn’t like you, and that was almost where I was with this guy.

Again, though my offense I do not recall, this drill sergeant decided to give me the worst kind of punishment a soldier in training can receive: more responsibility. The bathrooms on the second floor were not being cleaned adequately, and since I “knew so much,” then I was to come up with a cleaning roster that all of the soldiers would adhere to. Furthermore, I was to see to the adherence of the roster.

I was the floor leader.

The task ahead of me was not a simple one. I had to convince thirty-something Soldiers to listen to me, and I had to do it as quickly as possible. I took a few days to survey the climate of the second floor. A few people were adhering to the cleaning roster, but there were days were nobody would clean the bathroom at all. I very quickly discovered that the reason for this was that the roster had soldiers’ names that were no longer living on the second floor. God only knows how long the roster was like that, but screw it. I caught the mistake, so I was going to fix it.

Another thing I noticed was that a lot of people had a problem with whom they shared a room. Each of the rooms in our barracks had two beds, and though this meant far more privacy than basic training, it also meant a serious annoyance if you didn’t like the person you were with.

As my first major decision as floor leader, I appointed one of the new soldiers as my assistant. After a few discussions, he and I agreed that if the soldiers all shared a room with a person that didn’t piss them off, they would be more apt to listen to the floor leader. If we were able to give a soldier a say in the politics of the floor, maybe they would feel more compelled to help out. The drill sergeants refused to see to the adherence of floor maintenance. They only meted out punishments when the floors were not up to the standard. It was entirely up to us to make these guys listen.

When we finally agreed upon a course of action, I called a floor meeting to discuss our plan with the rest of the soldiers. I had my assistant pass around a clipboard requesting that every soldier write down who they would like to share a room with. In a stroke of extremely good luck, the list came out perfectly even. Every soldier paired off with another. I couldn’t have planned it any better. I was able to invoke a bit of a liberty by not assigning myself a roommate, something that ‘accidentally’ also fell into place.

As the soldiers were moving to their respective rooms, my assistant and I created a cleaning roster. There was still no telling at this point whether or not soldiers were going to adhere to it, but we were hoping that by first giving the soldiers what they wanted, they would be more inclined to do what we asked.

But there was a way to try and grease the wheels.

I had a few meetings with some people after hours. I passed out a few gifts of alcohol to some tired people on fire guard, and I slipped a few more to some people after the afternoon formation the next day. Since I had not yet begun my classes, I took the time to make pre-measured bottles of Jack and Coke, a fairly standard drink for young soldiers.

And wouldn’t you know it, the overall cleanliness of our floor improved greatly in a matter of days. The drill sergeant who gave me the position even made it a point to tell me that I was doing a good job. He admitted to me that he had expected me to fail, and when he asked me how I did it I just shrugged and told him I was just a likable guy.

While the drill sergeant was in a good mood, I sprung on him my idea of creating door signs for each room. I told him that it would make the drill sergeants’ job easier if they saw the name, rank and phase of each soldier posted on their door. The drill sergeant agreed. In fact, he seemed impressed that I had put so much planning into my work, so he gave my plan the green light with almost no persuasion.

The next afternoon was spent rounding up the soldiers’ information and creating the labels. I couldn’t help but laugh while I was doing the project, because this was going to be my first test to see how attentive the drill sergeants really were. My assistant and I took great care to create a clear and easy to identify format, but I purposely volunteered to make the signs myself because frankly, I felt that I deserved a promotion.

This is what the sign on my door read:

McCollum, Peter

Private First Class

Phase 5 Alpha

About a week later, the drill sergeants decided to give us identifier cards. These laminated cards were to be carried on us at all times. This was both a safety precaution and a way to know which soldiers were breaking their phase rules. That Friday the drill sergeants lined our entire company up outside of our barracks to hand out the new cards.

I definitely did not expect for my plan to be tested in this manner, but there was no taking it back now. I tried to imagine what the consequences would be if I were caught, especially since I was AFI for failing a class and still not so great with my PT. I braced myself as the drill sergeants went through the roster.

Phase IV cards were given out first. I winced as they called every name. I was supposed to drop back down to Phase IV after failing my class, but none of the drill sergeants ever took notice. The drill sergeant moved on to calling out the Phase V Soldiers. My name was not called. This meant one of two things: I was somehow overlooked while the roster was being created, or I had successfully given myself a promotion.

“McCollum, Phase 5 Alpha.”

Yep. The Drill Sergeants had set their roster to my door signs. From that point on I was considered Phase 5 Alpha.

Holy shit. This was so easy.


I was fired from my job as the floor leader after only a few weeks. It wasn’t because I did a bad job, either; my time was up and another soldier took my place in the hot seat. I surprised the drill sergeants by not only how well my plan worked, but how proactive I was when given a task. I think this might have bought me some leeway, but I can never be completely sure. All I know is that I made a drill sergeant eat his words, and he was not slow to inform me of how much I surprised him.

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