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Paul Burri: Lessons from My Army Education, Part I
I was drafted and served in the Army for two years during the Korean War — er, Korean “police action.” (War was never declared by the United States, and to this day no peace agreement was ever signed.) Those two years were full of interesting experiences.
The first started in downtown New York City immediately after I was sworn in. As soon as that brief ceremony was concluded, we were all hustled on to buses and driven to the induction center at Fort Devens, Mass., 200 miles away. It was the early part of February and it was bitter cold, but they soon issued us our summer uniforms. (That should have been my first clue.)
From that point on, the next two weeks were a blur of confused activity. Orders were barked at us from all directions, and we were continually ordered from here to there and then back from there to here with seemingly no reason or logic. By the time I had served my two-year tour of duty, I had finally realized that this sort of random activity is what is referred to as Army logic. It is similar to the oxymoron Army intelligence. But I digress.
Once we were somewhat settled into our temporary barracks, we were ordered to take a battery of oral and written tests — supposedly, we were told, to determine in what capacity you could best serve your country. Among other things, the written tests were interested in what sort of work experience you had, whether you could read and write (don’t laugh), how much schooling you had and how smart you were based on an IQ test. Those took about two days to complete — mainly because a day and a half of that consisted in waiting in line to take the tests.
After the written tests, we were each interviewed by a specialist of some sort to be classified and assigned an MOS — short for Military Occupational Specialty. (Sounds pretty scientific, doesn’t it?)
Almost every guy was in and out of the oral interview in three to five minutes. That’s how long it took for the specialist to determine how you were going to spend pretty much of your next two years in the Army. Still, it sounded like a pretty scientific way for the Army to use its manpower in the best and most effective way. The operative words here are “sounded like.”
When the interviewer got to me after I had waited in line outside in the bitter cold in my summer uniform for pretty close to a whole day, he must have been impressed by my scores because he spent more than 40 minutes with me. I remember him saying something like, “We need to find a special place for you.” I naively thought that was a good thing.
After asking me what I was interested in and looking over all the various categories, we determined that my first choice was camera repairman (a good, safe, behind-the-lines occupation that would be useful later in civilian life). Then for my second choice he suggested that we find something “more military,” so we chose anti-aircraft battery electronic technician.
Then they shipped me to Fort Bragg, N.C., and made me a demolitions expert.
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