Cassidy went on sick call that morning, talked like he had laryngitis, so Prado had to take the platoon. Prado had been waiting for a day like this. He knew exactly what he needed to do, and he figured it would take him only one day.
In the RFA training platoon, besides the Regular Army sergeant, McCune, there were the trainee non-commissioned officers. There were four trainee squad leaders. Cassidy was the trainee platoon sergeant, and he always took the platoon in the field. Prado was the trainee platoon guide which meant he carried the guidon at the head of the platoon, on the right, keeping the distance between his platoon and the one ahead. Being platoon guide also meant reports, paperwork, and making unpopular decisions. Everything had to be assigned daily: Four men for fire watch and four men to the mess hall every night to start their next day’s KP, and every fifth week when the platoon had Charge-of-Quarters duty, four men in three-hour shifts every night to the orderly room. There were only 42 men in the platoon and the assignments took a lot of juggling and justification to the men.
He had been nominated to be platoon guide at the beginning of the Basic Unit Training cycle. He had accepted because he knew he wouldn’t pull KP, fire watch or CQ duty, and because he wouldn’t have to sleep in the platoon bay but in a room that he shared with Cassidy. Also because he knew he’d get a pass every weekend.
The day wasn’t going to be easy. The training was Platoon Combat Formations. Besides taking the platoon out and bringing them back in, he’d have to lead them through formations all day.
It was more than four miles out to the training area, so they weren’t supposed to double-time. Just a nice brisk pace. Prado walked at the side of his platoon, which was in the middle of the column. Every so often he yelled at them to line it up. When they got off the paving, onto the dirt, they had to work a little harder to keep up. It took effort to walk fast in the sandy loam. Being in the middle, they started falling behind. That was always the way, the platoon in front had it easy while the platoons to the rear had to do a lot of running to stay caught up.
Prado started bitching at them, yelling at them to get up to within three paces of the leading platoon. They stumbled forward and got caught up, and then he yelled at them to guide right and line it up. They looked over at the man on their right and covered on the man in front, and then they got behind again and Prado told them to get caught up and they stumbled forward again. He was on the right side, running up to the first man, telling him to keep three paces distance, then walking backwards, moving with the column, yelling at the rest of them to stay caught up and to line it up and to guide right, and then running up again, his rifle at sling arms, crossing in front of the platoon and yelling at them from the other side. Pretty soon he started jumping in among them and running up through and around them, yelling at them, then standing at the side and watching them go by, and then running ahead of them and bitching some more, stay caught up, guide right, cover on the man in front of you.
“AW FUCK YOU PRADO!”
He had wondered when it would start. He looked over at Max on the other side of the platoon, and then ran up ahead of the men, jumped over across, and ran alongside of Max, they were all running now, they’d fallen way back, and shouting in Max’s ear, what’s the matter can’t you take it? You’re a big boy now, you haven’t long to go, what’s the matter, too tough for you Max boy? He was sure Max was about to try to hit him, but then they all started in.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP, PRADO!”
“COME OFF IT, MAN!”
“WHAT’CHA TRY’IN TO DO, MAN?’
“CHINGA TU MADRE, PRADO!”
“FUCK YOU, PRADO!”
He jumped through them over to the right side and started in, smiling his words at them, asking if they were getting tired of it, maybe they’d like to stop and rest, candy asses, pussies. Even after they grew quiet and sullen he kept it going, shouting at them to stay caught up, guide right, cover. He ran back to the last men, struggling, and told them to get caught up and they mumbled for him to get fucked as they fell forward into a run.
By the time they got to the training area they wouldn’t even look at him.
The rest of the day was the same; he never stopped riding them. When they’d move from one formation to another, he ran them as fast as they’d go, staying on top of them, keeping them tight. Of course they wanted him to ease off, but he wouldn’t; he just smiled through his teeth and kept it up. He never stopped.
They had to wear their ponchos going back because it looked like rain and the lieutenant didn’t want to stop on the way. It was hot under the ponchos. Prado had to carry two rifles—a man had passed out in the field—and he carried them on his shoulders, slung butt up under his poncho. The pace was a half run all the way. Wolters wasn’t keeping up and when he complained about the weight of the machine gun, Prado took it from him and carried it on his shoulders over his poncho and told Wolters to stay caught up. He was beginning to feel pretty good; Wolters was a lot bigger than he was.
Chogying along, Prado felt a pleasure from the feeling of his feet plunging deep into the sand with each step. He knew now that he wouldn’t let the weight of the machine gun and the rifles slow him down. Wolters had to stay caught up now; they both knew it. He almost sensed that Wolters wanted the gun back, but he left Wolters and moved up the platoon, yelling at them to stay caught up. They were all silent now, panting and slogging and shuffling along at a half run. Prado felt good, in charge, running along with them on the right. He didn’t have to yell at them much anymore. He let himself slow down and as the rear of the platoon went by, Wolters asked for the gun back and Prado gave it to him and told him to get caught up. Wolters took the gun and ran up to the man in front of him and stayed there. Prado didn’t have to say another word to any of them all the way back to the barracks.
That night, McCune came to his room and told him that the officers were impressed and to keep up the good work.
Cassidy was OK the next day and from then on everything was easy. The training cycle lasted five more weeks and Prado concentrated on his reports and the detail assignments and keeping his boots and belt buckle shined. When they gave him a police detail to lead around the barracks, he let the men go through the area quickly and then told them to disperse and go hide somewhere. In the field, he let them smoke and sleep whenever the coast was clear. Once, when they had to stand for inspection before getting to go on leave for the weekend, he went through the ranks in fifteen minutes and passed them all including three with filthy weapons. It wasn’t long before he was playing poker and blackjack with them again. They got back to trusting him and there was hardly any complaining about the detail assignments.
Two days before the end of the cycle, he was told to report to the orderly room. When he got there, the First Sergeant handed him a letter commending him on being the Outstanding Trainee of the Company. The attached citation read:
“Fort Ord, California, 3 February 1961 — Private Miguel E. Prado has been selected as the outstanding National Guard Trainee during the Basic Unit Training Cycle of the RFA training program of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battle Group, 1st Brigade (RFA Training) because of his excellent attitude, military bearing, willingness to cooperate with his superiors and contemporaries, enthusiasm in training, and his constant demonstration of leadership ability.”
It was signed by the Company Commander.
He’d been right. And it had taken only one day.