This story, depending on whom you ask, may or may not have happened. More than likely, it is classified information, locked away somewhere in a top-level government office. But for those of us in 4th Platoon, the “Maddawgs” of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, we knew the truth.
We knew because you could see it in the steely blue eyes of our drill sergeant – I’ll refer to him as DSV – as he spun his tale that cold December morning at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.
Standing at a commanding 6’6 with his brown round hat and weighing a healthy 230 lbs., DSV looked like he could wrestle bears. His thick Bulgarian accent was raspy on a good day, yet he didn’t have to yell. His physical presence alone and the killer look in his eyes was more than enough to command the attention of any soldier in training (but what’s a drill sergeant that doesn’t yell, right?). And as much as he was skilled in pushing our bodies to the limit, DSV was equally strong in educating our minds, teaching us valuable lessons for the battlefield and in life.
Our lesson that morning was about honesty. That morning, DSV addressed a platoon comprised of men and women from all over the country, including other countries, and took us on a journey to the sun-drenched deserts of Iraq. As a member of an elite Special Forces unit stationed in an undisclosed location within the country, DSV found himself on the back of a truck en route to the nearest forward operating base, staring into the eyes of two bound prisoners. His captives, who had rained down gunfire on DSV and his squad just hours earlier, stared back at him in defiance.
“Something clicked inside of me,” he said, his eyes fixed on the cold concrete floor in our bay. “These men had killed my best friend less than an hour earlier. So I did something terribly wrong out of sheer emotion.”
DSV went on to explain that he got up and pushed the men off of the speeding truck, most likely severely injuring them if not killing them.
In a time when you see headlines about people going to trial for murdering their wives or their children – think Casey Anthony – and grasping at anything to escape punishment, DSV could have easily said that one of his captives tried to escape or offer any number of excuses to avoid a court marshal. But in telling the truth, that an emotional switch inside of him flipped, causing him to do what he did, well, for DSV the truth set him free.
He avoided serving any jail time. But DSV went on to tell us that he was demoted in rank, pay and was ordered to attend drill sergeant’s school, which is like doing basic training all over again, so that he could spend the next three years of his life molding young men and women to be good soldiers in the United States Army. He was there to help others learn the importance of doing the right thing, righting wrongs no matter whether those wrongs were caused by others – or personal wrongs. In DSV’s case, with every class of soldiers he taught and trained, telling his story was his way of trying to right that wrong.
The 4th Platoon Maddawgs were DSV’s last class; as we packed our bags to go to our next phase in training from Ft. Jackson, DSV couldn’t contain the child-like giddiness he felt knowing that he was now free to fight alongside his buddies in the Special Forces.
Right now I have no idea where DSV is. I’d like to think he’s safe and sound but chances are pretty good he may not be. Ironically, it’s the danger that propels him to be as good of a soldier as he is.
As we head towards the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country, you’re going to hear a lot of stories of bravery, loss, patriotism and true heroes. We’ll all say our thank you’s and perhaps even buy a soldier a beer. My thanks go out to DSV and the rest of 4th Platoon, who hopefully continue to learn from that lesson.
And it was a lesson from a story that may or may not have happened – depending on what your security clearance level is, I guess.