Thursday, June 29, 2006

US Army Basic Training: A Learning Experience

Well, as I have told many people, one of the things I want to talk about is those opportunities to improve ourselves through "learning experiences" that change our lives.

This is how I learned about the value of learning. And realized that becoming the best of the best was nothing more than having the desire and energy to learn how to become the best of the best.

By the time I entered the work force, I knew I wanted to manage and lead people. It had cost me time and money to learn, but I was ready at age twenty-eight. Because I was terrified to speak to groups, after six years in college I still hadn't completed Speech 101. Seven times i had dropped out of the class. So I volunteered for the draft and after a week in Basic Training I knew I was going to learn how to be a leader. Despite my begging to, as I had done all my life, just blend in, the Drill Sargeant made me the Platoon Guide (Platoon: 48 soldiers). I was the oldest, biggest, and, while he didn't tell me, he knew it was time for me to grow up.

A week later, the day I grew up, I was calling out commands, marching all over the place, and listening to every word that came out of Sargeant McClellan's mouth. He told me he was going to tell me how to become a leader and he did. After years of playing sports, including four years of college football (Pacific Lutheran University), I finally had a mentor that who interested in helping me determine what I was going to do with my life.

Actually he was the first person I truly, truly listened to when they tried to help me. My parents were educators so I got a lot of advice. But, of course, I knew it all. I had been the Principals kid in a small logging and farming town, so I had to resist learning or get my butt kicked every time (seemed like everytime) my Dad disciplined someone.

Sargeant McClellan was about a foot shorter than I am, but it took me a month and a half before I realized he wasn't towering over me. He drilled into me that it's "all about being the best of the best and the only way to become the best is learn how to do it. Every day, one by one, keep learning. I'm in the Army helping idiots like me because I flunked out of high school, but until I am the best Drill Sargeant I am going to bust my butt to learn how to become one. And you, Mr. Sovde, are going to learn how to be the best Platoon Guide (of 5 platoons). We are going to be the top platoon and we can't do it without you being the best."

We were number one, he was number one, and the learning experience was number one.

After two years in the Army, I went back to Pacific Lutheran for a year to complete the speech course (it was painful-learning how to speak came later) and raise my GPA so I could get into Law School. I took a heavy load and made the Deans List with a 4.0 GPA.

My teachers, parents, and friends were somewhat surprised, to say the very least. If they had met my Drill instructor, my first mentor, they would have expected nothing less.

He was an awesome individual. I am so fortunate I met him.

He's right. The best of the best is what it's all about. Doing it right is what that's all about.

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