“This has got to be the sorriest sight I have ever witnessed in my long and storied military career!”
Drill Sergeant William F. Dulles surveyed the latest batch of recruits, his narrowed eyes scanning the rows of slouched, dejected figures that would soon comprise the 98th Millennial Airborne Division. It was a cloudless day at Fort Benning, the merciless Georgia sun almost raising steam from the asphalt. The Sergeant wiped a rivulet of sweat from his brow, took one purposeful step forward and clapped a sullen-faced youth along the back. “You, Private Shit-for-Brains,” he barked, lifting the girl’s misfolded ripcord in his palm, “do you expect to float back to Earth on your delicate wings, like Daddy’s little angel? Pack your fucking chute correctly!”
“Sir, yes, Sir!”
The Patriotic Service for Student Loan Forgiveness Act had been intended to kill two birds with one bill: the armed forces would get their badly needed soldiers, and freshly minted college graduates would escape from under a mountain of debt.
And it had worked.
With glossy diplomas in hand, millennials from across the nation had flocked to their local recruitment centers, swelling the Army’s depleted ranks beyond all expectation. The military brass were ecstatic; the young debtors, less than enthused. But three years of reserve duty were nothing in exchange for instant repayment of their loans — all interest included. As Sergeant Dulles would have explained: it’s a no-brainer, you little shithead.
And then the Big War broke out.
“And you, Private, how deep are you in for…” Dulles growled, swinging on a terrified recruit up front, “A hundred grand to study Marxist basket-weaving?” He doubled up in a fit of laughter at his own joke. “Not so smart now, eh?”
“Bro, uh — I mean, S-sir,” the bright-eyed boy stammered. “Sir, it was Miscellaneous Fine Arts, Sir!”
The Sergeant slowly shook his head, leveled a penetrating glare. “You make me sick.”
In their short time on base, the trainee paratroopers had cliqued tightly around their various fields of study: a solid contingent of literature graduates, smaller clusters for art history and interior design, a smattering of religious studies here and there. Fiery skirmishes became commonplace. One spectacular squabble had erupted between the New School and NYU philosophy clans, some debate over the proper framing of consciousness in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. A vigorous discussion on the merits of Cubism had almost come to blows before one brave art historian jumped into the fray with a steadying hand. Of course, such competition was expected and encouraged during the heat of combat training.
“Oh, and one more thing…” Dulles said, jabbing an accusatory finger at the troopers, “We don’t hand out participation trophies around here.” His face twisted into a sideways grin. “This jump you’re rehearsing today, it’s so we won’t have to scrape your ass off some godforsaken hillside a few months from now.”
If these sorry specimens are ready to drop onto a Chinese beachhead within six weeks, Sergeant William F. Dulles thought to himself, then I’ll eat my hat. The grizzled man smiled. From behind him came the familiar roar of the C-17’s turbofans burning to life — all four glorious engines now spewing dust across the runway. He turned to face his 98th Airborne. There was a war to win, and he’d be damned if some weak-kneed wimps were going to slow him down.
“I hope you didn’t scarf down too much avocado toast during mess,” he screamed over the turbines, “because we’ll be jumping from 1,500 feet today!”
“Sir, yes, Sir!”
“Come on, move! Let’s move!” The Sergeant waved his troopers through the gaping jaws of the cargo hold. “You fuckin’ snowflakes wanna live forever?!”
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