You’ve got to be kidding me!?
That’s what I said when I was told that I would be in charge of about a dozen medical students for three weeks of training. I’m relying on my crummy memory about the time and number, but I think that’s about right. Here’s what I’m talking about: there’s this program (I think it’s still going on) called the Health Professional Scholarship Program. In return for a free medical education, these students would serve a certain number of years in the service. Part of their training involved getting a very basic understanding of military life, which included learning military customs, saluting, marching, wearing a gas mask, etc.
And I was chosen/cursed/trusted with this task. I was stationed at Ft. Meade, Maryland. Well, it turned out to be one of those things that I’ll never forget! They were all really friendly, fun to be around, and wereeager to learn. Although at the time I was a Staff Sergeant, I wasn’t trained as a drill instructor, so I was sorta winging it. Together, we made quite a crew. You should have seen them trying to march! Or put on their gas masks. It was quite a scene, and I loved every minute of it. So did they. They learned what they needed, though. I was a stern but fair trainer. At the end of the day, we would go play softball and drink beer. They were great people, and I always wondered if I would ever bump into them in some clinic or hospital somewhere.
At the end of their training, they got to put on their uniform. An Army custom was that the first enlisted soldier they saluted would receive a silver dollar. On their own, they arranged for us all to go to the Post Exchange (PX). They had me stand out front, right outside the doors, and they went inside and got silver dollars (this was 1978). As they came out, I saluted each one of them, and they each placed a silver dollar in my hand.
I wish I could say I still had those coins, but I don’t. I was always short on money then, so I probably bought cigarettes with the money. Still have the memories, though! It would be really cool if somehow, someday, one of those students could read this post. If you are one of those students, I salute you again! But this time, I owe you. I know I didn’t make you a better physician, but you made me a better soldier!