Thursday, March 4, 2010

Big Daddy Baker

I run now and for some strange reason I enjoy it.  Yeah, it is a crazy world, I even braved the freezing temperatures a couple of weeks ago and completed my third 5k event.  It was a combination 5k/Polar Plunge being held on the hallowed grounds of my beloved NC STATE University.  No, I did not do the deed and take the plunge...that is for a younger and more chemically altered crowd.  I fared well, 28:35 considering it was a stupid grand prix event that I totally ignored when I registered.  I was looking for a nice little fun run to challenge myself but I ended up on a "race" course where the other 600 participants were there to "rub paint," and I'll go ahead and accuse the organizers of conspiring to have 3/4 of the course uphill!  Least wise, it felt that way.  Anyways, the overall winner clocked in at just under 16:08.  That's 16 minutes and 8 seconds to run 3.15 miles!  That dude was moving out.  I'll just give you a little perspective for those not familar with running:  That's a 5:12 per mile pace.  The famed British runner Roger Bannister was the first person to break the sub 4 minute mile barrier back in 1953.  I'm willing to bet that Forest Gump could have been a great Olypmic Mile runner.

There was one thing in the Army besides freezing my ass off in Graffenwohr, Germany, that I absolutely despised:  Running.  I know, your saying, "Mark, Running is as much a part of the Army as Cholesterol is to the Hardee's Hamburger chain."  Yes, I am well aware of a soldier's need to be able to run, but the Army never showed me how to run, they just told me to run.

I was horribily cursed in the Fall of 1981 to have as my Drill Sergeant for US ARMY Basic Training at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, one SSG Cecil Baker.  Ok, it's not like I went straight form the country club righ into wearing Army fatigues, on the contrary I was well versed on how the Army was going to I have so eloquently stated in one of my previous posts I was blessed to have as a father, none other than SFC Henry C. Laugisch.  An Airborne Jump Master and veteran of that little conflict our country has a hard time coming to grips with, Vietnam.  I once saw a commedian talk about his days growing up in an Army family, he stated, "Never sneak up on a Vietnam Veteran trying to take a nap."  Words to live by my friends. 

I'm thinking that Drill Sergeant Baker and I didn't get along very well because he couldn't pronounce my name.  His dislike for me usually occurred at Mail Call as he attempted to pronounce my fine Prussian title.  Moreso than anything Drill Sergeant Baker was more embarrassed at his inability to command the English language and decided to make an example of yours truly by having me do pushups until he pronounced it correctly.  I learned real quick that regardless of what configuration of "LAUGISCH" that came out of his mouth and him asking, "is that how you say it?"  My response was always, "Yes, Drill Sergeant."  There I was for eight weeks answering to "Lanquish," "Longish" or "Lugnish."  I've been dealing with that my entire life, except now I had  "Rambo's Hell Spawn Father" threatening me with bodily harm.

His nickname amongst the other Drill Sergeants was "Big Daddy Baker" and they too, were a little wary of this guy.  If I had to point to what was wrong with the man, I would suggest that during his tenure in 'nam he got to close to the areas where they were spraying Agent Orange and it affected him mentally...he was that unstable...perfect for being a Drill Sergeant.

One particular morning while we were having PT, Drill Sergeant Baker decided he wanted to test the mettle of our platoon and have an extended run...a 5 mile run to be exact.  Now, for all of his psychotic mannerisms, Baker could flat out run.  It was the damnest thing to see this guy smoke 5 or 6 cigarettes and drink 4 or 5 cups of java and proceed to run the majority of us 18-20 year olds into the Oklahoma ground.  On this morning he adds a caveat to our adventure:  "Anyone who falls out of the run will suffer severe consequences."  I had visions of being strung up in the laundry room by this crazed Vietnam Vet and having my toenails pulled from my body.  We start running and I'm feeling good up to about the 4 mile point. My disdain for running in the Army stems from the fact that your always running at someone else's pace.  Who's brilliant idea was it to have the 6' 4" former cross-country star at the front of the formation?  Not to mention, while we're trying to keep up with this gazelle, Drill Sergeant Baker is keeping us in running fromation with cadence songs.  How it works is that he'll call out a verse and we repeat it back...only thing was that when this man sang cadence he sounded like a drunken sailor making his way back from liberty...I had no idea what he was singing at times.

Here I am running at someone elses pace and trying to keep up with Drill Sergeant Baker's sing along and then it happens...disaster, my impending doom...whatever you want to call it...we had almost finshed the run with our barracks compound a mere 500 yards away but the guy behind me inadvertly trips me.  I try to right myself by falling into the guy in front of me and turned my ankle in the process.  I pulled myself out of the formation and rolled into the grass on the side of the trail clutching at my ankle, which was already starting to swell...I could tell it was sprained. 

Each Basic Training platoon is assigned several Drill Instructors and on this occasion all of ours were present for this run.  Drill Sergeant Baker instructed one of the others to take over and he proceeded to make his way towards me.  Have you ever starred into a pair of eyes that intended to kick the ever living crap out of you?  I can honestly say that I was physically afraid of that that moment.  He leaned over me and put his palms on his knees like a football coach and calmly said, "What can I do to motivate you to finish this run, son?"  I really didn't know how to take his calmness as it was down right frightful, I said, "I don't know Drill Sergeant, I was tripped in formation and turned my ankle real bad.  I just don't think I can finish the run."  There is a specific language that Drill Sergeants use to inspire individuals in the Army and most of it is unsuitable for all you fine folks reading this blog.  let me paraphrase his response, which by the way was still a very calm, even tone which made him even scarier, "Well, son, I saw you fall and I know it hurts, but if you don't get up and catch the platoon before they reach the barracks compound, I'm going to insert my foot in your rectum so far that you'll be wearing your glutius maximus for a hat!" 

I could smell my own fear lingering in the air.  I knew that if I didn't get up off the ground in the next few seconds that this man was going kill me.  I wasn't quite at the age or the rank to openly challenge anyone and knowing that he already had a particular disdain for me I quickly made it to my feet and started to limp-run to the compound.  I assumed he was just wanting me to start moving...he wasn't joking about catching the platoon and he screamed in my ear, "I said catch up to the platoon LUNGISH!!"  I took off into a sprint and the pain in my foot subsided only because this friggin lunatic was running stride for stride with me and I could smell the coffee and cigarettes as he exhaled.  I made it to the platoon as the other Drill Sergeant who was in charge ordered "Quick Time...March!!" which signaled an end to the run.  I have never felt so relieved as to hear those words.

I knew that wasn't going to be the end of my ordeal, it was a Friday and that evening everyone in the platoon was awarded off-post passes except yours truly, sadly I was restricted to post and given extra duty by "Big Daddy Baker" to paint the laundry room.  To be quite honest I was in no mood to go downtown with my foot; I avoided going to sick-call only because I knew it would take a about a week in a soft cast to recover.  That meant one thing:  Recycle my training.  I wasn't about to take that chance and potentially endure the madness of being in Drill Seageant Baker's platoon again. 

I think about that nightmare all the time as I struggled with the runs and PT tests...lets just say I was able to pass them but I could have done a whole lot better.  I later discovered what was really hindering me was my inability to control my breathing.  Remember, I said the Army told me to run, so I decided when I began this weight loss program that I was going to figure out this whole running and breathing thing.  The internet is an amazing tool and I found a breathing technique that really works for me. There are a hundred different methods to use and I could write about it forever.  My advice is to find one, try it and see if it is for you. As for myself, I have come to grips with my past running failures and now, truly enjoy the experience.  Hope to see you all out there running...except "Big Daddy Baker."

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