What Time Is The Selection Show For College Football Boot Camp: Character Discovered Daily

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Boot Camp: Character Discovered Daily

Your fellow veterans get it. Unfortunately, your loved ones, who have never shared the experience, simply do not understand boot camp. What happened there? Why did you change? The following is documented to help you start that conversation. They’ll never really know. Maybe at least they can understand.

“The content of one’s character” is a phrase we hear often. Each of us has a character; some simply have more content than others. Or so we are led to believe. How do we know how much character content we have? At what point do we hit rock bottom? How do we react when we stare into that abyss? These are the questions that basic military training, affectionately known as ‘boot camp’, allows each of us to answer for ourselves.

During the summer of 1989 I had the distinct pleasure of serving as the Cadet Training Officer for the Air Force ROTC at Dover Airport, DE. This was a six-week boot camp designed to mold both students into American warrior leaders and weed out those unable to meet the exacting demands of USAF officers. Along with the rest of the staff, I checked in a week early to review the mission and develop the plan.

Just a few hours before the cadets arrived at dawn, my true mission was fully revealed. After spending the evening together as R&R staff, I looked around the room only to realize I was alone with the cadet commanding officer, a lieutenant colonel of impeccable credentials. He asked me to sit near him and began to speak in unusually low tones, “Civilians will be here in a few hours. Expecting this to be a complete thought, I responded with the usual “Hooah” to confirm that I understood my mission and accepted her challenge. But he continued.

As he spoke, I felt his intensity increase. Although he was never loud, his passion and sincerity caught my attention and filled me with great anticipation. I no longer made casual conversation. I was experiencing one of the most memorable moments of my life that would lead to a significant emotional event in the coming weeks. “I want you to break every cadet that walks through that gate. Break them mentally, physically, or emotionally – but, break them! Then they will know the depth of their character.” I sat there, mouth agape, clearly surprised and thinking deep thoughts as he finished: “They can’t rebuild the Air Force… They can’t take Airmen to war… Until they find what they have deep inside.”

It was almost four weeks later before I internalized his words. I checked the barracks at 30.00, expecting all the cadets to be asleep; yet, knowing that they may be shining their shoes in the moonlight or studying by flashlight. These things had to be done at night. In the daily routine, the cadets were not allowed time to complete all the assigned tasks. Still, as a night stalker, it was my duty to punish anyone caught. It was a game. They had to do whatever it took to pass courses, inspections and physical fitness tests; I increased the difficulty level. There was only one cadet that night. He was out in the open scrubbing the floor to a high shine when I came upon him.

Within minutes I had him outside to do push-ups. As he counted them off, “1, 2, 3, 1, sir… 1, 2, 3, 2, sir,” I noticed a comic levity in his cadence. He’s done it before. He knew the game by now and was willing to wait for me to come out so he could go back to his barracks and feign sleep until I left the area. The commander’s words came back to me. I didn’t really know how to accomplish my mission. I did not know: failure was not an option.

This was a huge specimen of man before me. If he hadn’t decided to defend freedom, he could have easily decided to spend his time chasing the football while snapping linemen in half and eating quarterbacks for a light snack. He passed over 50. I gave lectures. I told him that he was now government property and that he was not taking very good care of that property. When he turned 100, I extolled the virtues of sleep and the body’s need for rest. It wasn’t until he had done close to 200 four-count push-ups that he started to slow down. But, until 250, it was mine. I didn’t have to shout. I learned that a whisper is much more powerful. I put my lips so close to his ear and questioned his masculinity. As his arms began to shake from lifting his huge frame so many times, I knew his strength was leaving him. A few more and he physically couldn’t continue. I pushed him to the end of his physical limits. He tried to rise; but, his hands were no longer cooperating.

“Have you had enough?” I barked loud enough to change the mood; however, not so loud as to wake those sleeping inside. “No, sir,” he retorted sharply, now with serious desperation in his tone. I urged him to quit, “Maybe my Air Force isn’t the place for you, Cadet. Say the word and you’ll be back in your mother’s arms tomorrow before this time.” I barely finished my sentence when he belched, “I won’t give up, sir.” His body didn’t agree. He was done. I called his attention and stood nose to nose with him. “This isn’t a job for you,” I urged him softly, “why don’t you come home to mommy. I’ve got enough air force in me for the two of us. Say the word, cadet.” His face began to tighten. His muscles, though tired, became trained. His eyes pierced me like daggers. His look was creepy.

I was no slouch either. At 6′ 5″, 220 lbs I was not only an athletic training officer, I was also a martial arts fighter with the state record for the fastest knockout in Pennsylvania history and soon to be an Air Force athlete for the sport. Although I faced big men in the ring, it what stood before me was more than a man. He was a giant of epics – a voice given to a mountain. As I noted the muscular definition of his wood – trunk-like arms, I believed I could almost feel his anger.

Just as I was bracing myself for the worst, I realized it wasn’t anger in the air. It was the content of the character of the man I witnessed. A tear rolled from his right eye. “I won’t give up, sir,” he shouted as his voice cracked, “there’s nothing you can do to me…” Both eyes were watering now. “Nothing you can tell me…” Determination returned to his voice. “…to make me quit, sir.” He straightened his shoulders even more, clenched his fists, stood perfectly still, and finished, “We can stay here as long as you like, sir….as long as you need…’til you understand, that I WILL NEVER GIVE UP!” We didn’t have to more to stay My work is done He found his bottom and saw the contents it contained.

Weeks later, at the graduation ceremony, he saluted smartly and then extended his hand in friendship. “I’ll never be able to thank you properly for that night,” he said as his eyes dropped from mine. I took his hand and shook it deliberately, replying, “And you’ll never need it, Hooah?” His gaze locked firmly on mine as his grip tightened and he ended our time together with one parting thought. Because there was only one thing he could say to show his complete understanding: “Hooray.” This was the leader of the warriors.

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