Monday, August 17, 2009

I Broke the Drill Sergeant's Nose

There I was, a young private in the Army at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, daily thinking to myself, "What did I get myself into?" It was quite a transformational experience for the long-haired, non-conformist I was prior to enlisting.

The scariest experiences of my young life happened there. One was climbing that giant ladder and sliding down the rope at the confidence course. That thing was a hundred feet tall if it was an inch. And, this was no ordinary ladder - the "rungs" were about 5 1/2 feet apart and one had to really climb to get to the top. "Confidence course" was right - I was confident I never wanted to climb anything that high like that again!

The second scary experience was when I broke the drill sergeant's nose.

My platoon was at the hand grenade range running through a scenario where we would practice running from place to place, shoot covering fire, and throwing a practice hand grenade at an enemy bunker. We walked through the task a number of times, practicing throwing the grenade into a bunker situated the end of the course. Then, in pairs, we ran down the course "for real" to be tested and evaluated by a group of drill sergeants.

There was on particular sergeant who didn't like the way I threw the grenade. Each time we walked through it, he was highly critical that I did not lock my left knee when I leaned back to throw. Try as I could, my left knee wouldn't quite straighten out all the way. Though I was able to toss the grenade with a fair amount of accuracy, he was still not satisfied with my performance.

When it was my turn to run down the course my partner and I were "moving and shooting" (which consisted of us taking turns yelling "moving" and running while the other yelled "shooting" and "bang, bang, bang" until the other person ducked behind something and yelled "shooting"). We were in lock, teamwork going between us. There was no enemy to stand against us - except the ones in the bunker at the end of the course.

I was the designated grenade thrower on our team. I got into position, pulled the pin, released the safety and counted. When my counting was complete, I yelled "GRENADE!" at the top of my lungs and let my arm fly to loose the instrument of death onto our hapless foe. But, our enemy was not vanquished - the only casualty of our mock battle was the sergeant who didn't like my left knee.

Just as I was letting loose with my throw, he ran to me, bent over to yell at me about my knee and caught my closed fist with grenade inside it right on the side of his nose.

He fell to the ground yelling and holding his face. I stood, transfixed, probably with my eyes wider than wide open and my mouth gaping. He stood with the assistance of the other drill sergeants, holding his nose while blood gushed out.

The only thought going through my head was, "Oh man, I'm going to jail." I took out the obligatory handkerchief we all carried and offered it to him stammering, "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were there." Anger showed in his eyes as he was led away to seek medical attention. His nose was broken, he had two black eyes coming and I was scared to death.

Our platoon's drill sergeant took me by the arm and led me behind a nearby shack. I don't remember the conversation too well other than I remember he told me not to worry because it wasn't my fault and to stay there and collect my thoughts for a few minutes before joining the rest of my group.

When I did emerge from behind the shack, I remember all of my fellow platoon members looking at me as I imagine one might look at a condemned man getting ready to go to the gallows. It seemed they were all afraid for me just as I was afraid for myself.

Thankfully, it really wasn't my fault. It was an accident, nothing more. Nothing more was ever said about it.

Still, it remains as one of the scariest things I ever experienced.


  1. I call bullshit especially since I've been Range Cadre on range 31 for a year and a half...if a DSGT broke his nose we would have known about it. Also you only use the "training" grenades on the first two points....we teach you NOT to "cook off" the hand grenade because they go off early sometimes.
    Prove me wrong...what unit you in? C 2-10? A 787? B 3-10? I of the engineer units...don't post bull****...especially when it comes to how you are trained.

  2. First off, thank you for your service to our Nation. Working where you do is tough work and I commend you for taking it on. I firmly believe that those who train our armed forces are among the least thanked among the least thanked.

    My story was not intended to cast any group in a bad light. This was certainly an isolated incident and not a reflection on the professionalism of those working in your area - past or present.

    I don't doubt you hadn't heard about this incident because it happened over 25 years ago. It's merely a memory, probably long forgotten by most.

    Belief or disbelief is up to the reader. I may very well be wrong about the "cook-off" part as 20-some-odd years later some details, no doubt, escape me. You are correct to point out that training grenades were used in this particular exercise - a detail I might have been wise to include.