The day finally arrived to start the training programs. I was really looking forward to it and anxious to get things going. We were more than ready. We had hand picked, vetted and trained the staff specifically to work with the cadets. We had prepared the barracks and training facilities. We had arranged for all the various support that would be needed, everything from haircuts to medical exams to recreational activities, even special church services had been made available. We had thought of everything, nothing could go wrong. (-Yeah, right)
My first day went very much like the man who decides that it is such a beautiful summer day he puts on his short pants and sandals and goes for a hike, enjoying nature. Along the trail he steps over a log into a mud puddle then has to jump for his life to avoid getting bitten by a rattlesnake enjoying the same trail -only to discover that he has jumped into bushes made up of poison ivy.
The first sign that things were not going to go quite as I had planned happened with the arrival of my 2nd in command, our scrounger, "Larry". As the cadets were being organized into training platoons he came driving up, standing up on the passenger side of his green army jeep, in full dress blue uniform, wearing a gold sash and naval sword and sporting an old style officers hat that looked as if it had been worn by Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. The young cadets took one look at him and our highly organized operation descended into uncontrolled laughter and chaos, which was shared by cadets and staff alike. It took half an hour to regain the seriousness and remind everyone that this was supposed to be a 'boot camp".
The next crisis came a little later when I was called to the base sick bay. We had only been in operation an hour and we already had our first casualty. It seems that a cadet had broken his ankle. Upon arrival at the small emergency room I was immediately accosted by a medical officer. He was appalled at the idea of these young boys being in uniform. He felt that having a 'boot camp' for kids was like throwing them into a Nazi concentration camp and that my "instructors" should have been wearing black uniforms with swastikas. He actually yelled at me the moment he was introduced, asking me "just what the hell we were doing forcing a child to run until his ankle broke?" Since I had no idea what had happened I was forced to submit to this tongue lashing and could only keep repeating that I needed to speak to the people involved to find out what happened. Cooperation was not on his agenda. He said that he would only let me see the cadet in the presence of a medical staff member. Apparently he was afraid I was going to commit some further abuse. By this point I was getting pretty angry and was having difficulty keeping my tongue in check.
After several attempts, I finally saw the cadet and asked what had happened. He said he had been told to run from one building to an assembly area (a distance of about 50 yards) and had fallen down. I then told the doctor that I needed to interview my staff and that I would get on the phone to notify the appropriate people of the situation, including the parents. The doctor took great pleasure in informing me that he had already called the parents, that they were extremely upset and would be arriving in about 2 hours -there was already talk about a law suit.
I returned to the training area and talked with the staff. Their story matched that of the cadet. He had simply fallen while running a short distance across level ground. There was simply no good or obvious reason for it. It was just a freak accident -one which was going to get us in trouble.
When the parents arrived, I went to pick up the cadets personal property to take to them. There were several of his fellow cadets present and one of them said to me: "It's too bad about Charlie, but he should have never come to boot camp. We told him not too." This little comment really got my attention. I asked why and they said that he had broken his foot playing football and had only gotten the cast off the day before coming to boot camp. He had not told any of the cadet staff and had lied on his medical form because he knew we would not have let him take part in the training.
Armed with this knowledge I went to see the cadet, the doctor and the parents. Upon arrival I listened to another tongue lashing, this time by both the doctor and the indigent parents, which I allowed to go on for several minutes. When they had finished I turned to the cadet and said "I am sorry you are going to have to have a cast on that foot. I must be disappointing after just having had to put up with one for 6 weeks". -What followed is what writers call a pregnant silence. For the next 30 seconds you could have heard a pin drop. Then the doctor said "Another 6 weeks?" At this point I took great pleasure in returning the tongue lashing. I informed him how he had exceeded his authority, acted without checking his facts, went outside the chain of authority in contacting the parents and was generally a pompous ass. I then told the parents that any talk of a law suit was nothing short of extortion and that I was considering contacting the base security office and referring everybody for legal action. This resulted a lot of apologizing and a major fight between the parents, attempting to fix blame for the incident on each other.
By the end of the hour I had agreed it was in the best interests of all if the incident was allowed to pass. The cadet would be allowed to return to a future training program and I would make special arrangements for him to do it on crutches, as long as the parents signed the needed waivers. As for the doctor, I told him I did not want to report him to the chain of command as such things were always bad for everyone in the end - but I wanted no more interference and I wanted a corpsman assigned to the training program full time, starting that day. He immediately consented and a fully equipped corpsman returned with me to the training area right then.
Thus endeth the first day... but there were still 45 more and this day turned out to be just a warm up for what was coming my way....