State of the Art

‘I will punt you through the goal post of life!’

Now that’s an inspirational message if ever I heard one. And it’s about the kindest thing I remember reading in “Awesome Sh*t My Drill Sergeant Said,” a short humorous book by Dan Caddy (Dey Street Books, $16.99) taken from his Facebook page of the same name.

My dad was in the Marines, serving at Parris Island as a corporal, when they ran out of drill instructors in the late 1940s. The unit commander temporarily made him a D.I. with the idea of promoting him eventually to sergeant, but he couldn’t see himself screaming in recruits’ faces all day. (He ended up in the Air Force as an air traffic controller and eventually became a tower chief.)

I would guess he heard some of the timeless comments in this book: “You’re about as sharp as the leading edge on a bowling ball.” Or “I don’t care if a snake is biting your testicles. You do not move at the position of attention!” Or (my favorite) “Private, I can eat a bowl of alphabet soup and ---- out a better question that that!”

Yes, U.S. Army drill sergeants frequently require exclamation points to get messages across.

I enjoyed this book because it made me laugh in recognition: Some of these comments could justifiably have been fired at me throughout life, and a sergeant in my Air Force ROTC unit did apply a modified version of one of them. (“You’re down to two brain cells, cadet. One is lost, and the other one’s looking for it.”)

But “Awesome” also reminded me of two things. First, tough love is sometimes the only love. A drill sergeant could be sending recruits into the most dangerous situations on Earth, where only superb reflexes and ingrained training may save them. While this kind of training wouldn’t work on, say, jazz musicians – which is why the movie “Whiplash” seems bogus to me – it may be necessary for guys going into firefights.

Second, many people tend to think of soldiers as machines. They aren’t, as the sergeants’ inventive insults and Caddy’s humorous framing of them reveal. If William Wordsworth was right that poetry consists of emotion recollected in tranquility, these guys might just be vulgar poets.