ReWard: “Singin’ lo-righta-lay-ho…”

Earlier this evening, I Tweeted about the sauna that was my daughter’s Taekwondo dojang:

The A/C at my kid’s Taekwondo studio is broken. The main room smells like parboiled armpit, with a hint of old jockstrap.

This generated a handful of comments from my friends on Twitter and Facebook, including this one from friend and fellow word-pusher Rich White:

I was thinking that should make you nostalgic for boot camp.

To which I replied:

I can’t imagine anything making me nostalgic for boot camp. When folks say they’d do it over again given the chance, I just look at them and imagine what they’d look like getting a 2×4 across the face.

So, nostalgic for boot camp, I ain’t. 🙂

However, I’m often nostalgic about other aspects of my time in uniform, which made me think of a post I’d written a couple of years ago. In this case, I had been asked a question if there was something particular I missed about my military days. After pondering that query for a short while, I offered up my thoughts in a blog entry originally posted on May 22, 2011 on my old LiveJournal blog: “Singin’ lo-righta-lay-ho…”

I had an interesting conversation today with one of my Facebook friends, during which the topic of my time in the service came up. She asked me a question that I’ve fielded more than few times: “What do you miss?”

The answer varies very little; I missed the travel, of course, and the opportunity to learn and do things I likely would never have done had I opted to pursue a different path than joining the military. First and foremost, though, I miss the people with whom I served. Well, most of them, anyway. Military friendships are an odd thing, given that most of the time you go in knowing that it’s understood to be — in large part, at least — temporary, and I’m not even talking about one or both of you dying in combat or anything like that. Sooner or later, one or both of you is going to be transferred somewhere else, and though you might end up at the same place at some point down the road, more than likely you’d never see each other face to face again. Back before the internet, e-Mail, webcams, Skype, and all that jazz, the latter scenario was the more prevalent one. On the other hand, the introduction of those things into the mix have allowed me to reconnect with people I’d not talked to in years. Another thing about military friendships? When you do finally get back in touch, it’s like no time at all has passed.

Anyway, those were my answers, but my Facebook friend wasn’t letting me off the hook that easy. I couldn’t get away with the simple, predictable answers. She challenged me to name something else – something unexpected – and I had to think about it for a minute. Then it came to me.

I miss the singing during formation runs.

If you’ve never done it, you’ve likely seen it on TV or in a movie (the boot camp scenes during Full Metal Jacket, for example). A group of soldiers or Marines is running in a group, with one guy singing a ditty (or song, or chant…whatever you want to call it), one line at a time, and the group repeats what he says. Repeat. The whole idea is to provide a cadence to keep the unit in step, running at the same pace, and motivated throughout the run’s duration. If you were able to take your mind off of maybe puking all over your shoes, that was a bonus.

I used to love that shit.

Not always, you understand; it was something I learned to appreciate. During my first duty assignment at Camp Pendleton, I would be running with the group while senior NCOs sang the cadence and we barked it back as loud as we could. By the time I moved on to my next assignment on Okinawa, *I* was one of the NCOs expected to do that sort of thing. So, I learned fast, taking pointers from those who did it better than I did, and in short order I began piecing together my own little batch of songs to sing as we did our regular early morning runs. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I really wasn’t all that bad at it. More importantly, I really dug doing it.

As I moved to later duty stations, my relative seniority among my unit’s NCO cadre saw to it that I was one of those tasked with leading PT (physical training) sessions, and if I wasn’t the one who started us off on one of those runs, then it didn’t take long for me to get called out to sing my little songs. By this point, doing the cadence on a run was something I anticipated and even relished. A typical run of this sort normally was three miles, and I had enough material to cover about half that distance if push came to shove. The idea was to spread the wealth, though, so I’d sing for a bit then call someone else. Still, there were occasions where I’d be called out again during the same run.

What I really got a kick out of was when I’d get tapped to lead things as the unit ran into a populated area like down the main street on base or in public as we took part in some kind of parade or other function. For whatever reason, I was always able to kick things up a notch and really get the group singing loud and ornery, to the point where I’d swear we were rattling windows as we ran past. Though our specific unit never numbered more than 50-75, it was when we got to run with the company or battalion that the fun really started. There’s a definite rush to having your every word repeated by several hundred Marines as you run down the road, the songs echoing off buildings or hillsides or whatever you happen to be passing.

Yeah, that was a lot of fun.

I’ve given thought on more than one occasion to assembling some kind of book filled to overflowing with such chants, with sections for each of the services (as much as typing that might make me twitch ;D). I’ve seen one or two such books over the years, and found them lacking. Then the idea gets filed as I move on to something else, and I forget about it. Ah, well. Maybe one of these days.

Anyway, there’s a bit of ramblin’ for a Sunday night.

5 thoughts on “ReWard: “Singin’ lo-righta-lay-ho…”

  1. Read this last night… Tonight, I took my daughter out for her 19th birthday; when-the gals brought her cake, they sang a military cadence-themed birthday-song. My daughter, instead of being embarrassed, thought it was ‘cool.’ So did I…


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