Allies Well I thought it was funny!

Confessions of a Marine Corps Sensitivity Trainer by PHILIP GOLD

1973 was not a good year to be a Marine. Nam was over. Rebuilding hadn’t begun. And an awful lot of us, myself included, just wanted out. I opted for grad school. But on three occasions in those final months before returning to the halls of ivy, I almost left via the brig.

First came the Inspector General’s (IG) inspection. IGs are the guys they send out from D.C. to see if you’ve complied with the accumulated tonnage of orders, regulations, requirements and general odiosity from the Corps. Usually IGs were bearable, since the inspectors knew they would eventually go back to the operating forces and didn’t want to annoy their once and future comrades too badly. In fact, I wouldn’t have worried at all, except that I’d recently disposed of several hundred classified documents by shredding, and had inadvertently shredded the destruct roster as well, and had no way of accounting for anything.

Fortunately, I did have my master sergeant, aka “Top,” a gent whom nothing had bothered since the Korean War, not even getting invited to those up close and personal “tactical” atom bomb tests of the 1950s nor two subsequent Vietnam tours.

Inspection day dawned with visions of Portsmouth dancing in my head. I sent my scuzziest lance corporal out with a six-by (truck, to you) full of unauthorized gear, with orders to drive around the base until the inspection was over. He returned two weeks later and, when asked about the truck, replied, “You mean I had a truck with me?” But that’s another tale.

The IG team”all friends of Top’s”skipped the crypto vault and headed straight for my field radios: the old AN/PRC-25 backpack variety. You see, the telephone-style handset had a couple connectors inside. Upon sufficient bouncing about, they’d come loose, touch, and short out. So the Corps had issued a technical instruction to epoxy the connectors in place. Unfortunately, there was no epoxy in the supply system, and no one was allowed to spend the 89 cents or whatever on their own. So the IG team set to unscrewing mouthpieces. If you hadn’t epoxied the connectors, they wanted to know why you’d violated the order. If you had, they wanted to know where you got the glue.

Top offered to explain it all to them over a liquid lunch at the staff club. Apparently, he did. And I was safe … until getting stuck at the VIP table at the Camp Pendleton Passover Seder.

Now, as you can imagine, Jewish Marines weren’t all that common back then. Originally I’d had no intention of making the Seder, but the base Jewish chaplain importuned, and I figured the Reb, as the other chaplains called him (not always respectfully), had enough tsuris without hosting yet another unattended gala. As it turned out, a couple dozen folks blew in, including the base commanding general and the First Marine Division commanding general, and their ladies … two couples with even less desire to be there than I.

A few minutes into the pre-meal rituals, I noticed that the generals and their ladies were imitating everything I was doing, liturgically meaningful or not. So I started making up traditions. They kept copying. Why, they asked, are we doing it this way and everybody else is doing something different? Oh, I assured them, that’s the Ashkenazic custom. We’re going Sephardic. Up at the officiating table, the Reb was turning colors, red to yellow to green, and back again.

We came to the commemoration of the Ten Plagues. Usually, you either dip your finger in your wine glass as each Plague is named or you spoon a bit of wine onto your plate. I started us on finger-dips for two Plagues, then shifted to spoons for two more, then had them banging spoons on plates for two Plagues after that. At this point, they noticed the Reb choking on Plague No. 7 and realized what was going on. Fortunately, generals can never admit they’ve been snookered by lieutenants. That, or they were at least as dinky dau … and/or far more gracious … than I.

Probably just as well that it ended when it did. I was getting ready to walk them around the table for Plagues No. 8 through 10.

Several weeks later, I did have people walking around a table.

Back then, there was racial tension. Lots of racial tension. So the Marine Corps decided that everyone should have Human Relations (HumRel) instruction, 20 hours worth, spread over five mornings. Unfortunately, I was hanging around the battery office, looking for my early-release papers, when the quota for a HumRel trainer came in. So they shipped me off to a weeklong instructors’ course. I graduated first in the class, having gotten a 98 on the true-false test, and they sent me back to teach the gun bunnies what was to become known as sensitivity.

We had a text. Actually, an “Our American Values” quasi comic book. In the 1960s, most basic manuals had gone comic book, including the M-16 rifle disassembly and maintenance guide (Chapter One: “How to Strip Your Sweet 16”), but that’s another story. First four sessions, we sat around a conference table and reacted to the drawings and balloons.

“What do you think, Private Smith?”

“Dunno, sir.”

“What do you think, Corporal Jones?”

“Oh, I agree with Private Smith.”

Fridays were different. That’s when we discussed conditions at the local base, including self-segregation, interracial sex, dapping (elaborate black-power handshakes), et cetera. When we got to the dating stuff, the scrawniest brother at the table made a comment about white male sexual prowess, as explicit as it was uncomplimentary. The nearest Caucasian immediately reached over and began acquainting his head with the tabletop, and there ensued several minutes of mass violence and general bad manners.

Once was nasty enough. When it happened the second cycle, I figured there was a pattern emerging. So did my captain. So did my colonel. So did a general or two, who suggested via the chain of command that a bit more decorum, and no more incident reports that had to go to headquarters, might be nice. Especially if I wanted to avoid being held on active duty for the investigations, which might take forever. So Thursday evening before my final class, I called the area guard shack.

“This is Lieutenant Gold. I’ll be teaching sex education tomorrow and would like the reaction force standing by.”

Next morning, 20 or so Marines sat around the table, revving up. I announced the subject, then opened the door. In marched a dozen Marines in riot gear. They surrounded the table and made not a sound, save for a discreet tapping of their batons on the wall behind them.

We had a fascinating seminar, an open, genuine, and informative exchange of views. I subsequently spent 14 years as a college professor. Would that all my classes had been so … well received. L&P


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