Now that may seem ridiculous to you. It seemed so to me at the time. Only later did I learn the lesson. An infantry officer has to be detail-oriented. For example, we were provided with a detailed diagram of every drawer and shelf in our rooms. We had to roll every t-shirt to a specific width and diameter. Socks and undershorts were similarly described. After we finally got everything just right, the Tactical Officer would shift one thing just a little, maybe a quarter of an inch. If he came back the following day and found that we hadn't corrected it, we received a demerit. Demerits accrued like head lice and just as welcome. There were consequences for collecting too many.
When we became infantry officers, we were responsible for details that meant the difference between life and death. Were our men servicing their weapons properly? Did they have enough food, water, and, most importantly, ammunition? The six months that we spent in Officer Candidate School were dedicated to teaching us about weaponry, tactics, and communications. These lessons passed in their time. However, conditioning us to be detail-oriented never ceased. Everything, including what we ate and the way we ate it, was part of that conditioning. I've never lost it.
Those of us who successfully completed the first seven weeks of OCS and became intermediate candidates could look forward to an occasional weekend pass. I was about to receive my first when our Tactical Officer decided that I should paint a picture of the U.S. Army Commissioned Officer's Head Badge, on the transom window above the door to his office. (I had a reputation from decorating our platoon halls with my art.) I demurred inasmuch as I expected that I would be off base that weekend. However, I would be happy to do it the following weekend. He looked surprised. “You don't have too many demerits this week?” he asked.
I found my room papered with demerit slips when we returned from training the next day. A signed blank check sat on my desk with a note to use it to buy whatever supplies I needed. I spent excessively, but he was pleased when he saw the result on his return to duty the following Monday. I believe that my Tactical Officer, Lieutenant John Robb, was somewhat intimidated by me. He was a college graduate as was I, however, I held a post graduate degree in law and he only had a bachelors. Of course, I was older. Maybe “intimidated” isn't the correct word, but I did get away with taking certain liberties. For example, he announced one day that he wanted us to paint our latrine. Candidates were famous for decorating their barracks competitively with other OCS companies. I have heard that some OCS platoons had paneled their Tactical Officers' offices and installed stereo systems. However, this practice was frowned upon by our time at OCS.
Lieutenant Robb put me in charge of the project in recognition of my supposed decorating skills. He told us that we could paint the latrine with any color scheme we wanted so long as I approved. He made a point of telling me that his favorite colors were blue and gold. Ghastly! Another weekend was ruined.
I had to smile when I saw all of the company cadre standing outside the barracks with their mouths hanging open when they returned early that Monday. The sun hadn't risen yet and our latrine glowed with an unearthly orange light. I had selected a tasteful combination of peach and cream. We even painted the inside of the light globes peach to accentuate the effect.
I couldn't wipe the smile off my face even when I heard my name echoing throughout the barracks.
Read Jack's novel, Rebels on the Mountain, the tale of Nick Andrews, an Army spy, who has Fidel Castro in his sights but no orders to pull the trigger. The mafia as well as the American business community in Cuba will pay a fortune for Castro's assassination, but Nick has his career to consider, his friends to protect, and a romance to sort out in the chaos of a revolution.