Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Lamentations of a Squad Leader

A funny thing happened when I was going out of the mess hall this evening. I saw one of our new secondclass cadets shouting at a plebe in complete anger... and then I waved at her... she lost her concentration and started to smile.

I will have to explain. In April 1 of every year we have new plebes who go through the summer camp training. For most of those who have been cadets, this will become the hardest test they will have to go through. Those who will do this job are those that we call as the Plebe detail. The common practice now is that the plebe detail are the secondclass cadets (third years). It is from this experience that we get to derive the reason why the mess hall is mess hell for plebes. And so in the span of two or m0re months, the PMA cadets are divided into two groups, the regular corps which composes the upperclass cadets and the Plebe detail. The mess hall is then divided into something that is the perfect illustration of the difference of being an upperclass and a plebe. On one side (the upperclass side) the cadets are eating comfortably, talking and even smiling at each other. On the other side are stiff plebes who shout at the top of their voice when answering questions. The members of the plebe detail bark out orders while the plebes had to maintain an exaggerated posture of heading up, chinning in and bracing up. To an unexperienced spectator, it would seem that the two sides are on the extreme parts of a spectrum... the perfect contradiction. But of course, all of these are parts of the PMA training that has been their since the Academy's conception. In reality, each perform a task that they had to do as cadets. The task of the upperclass cadets on the other side is simply to eat since they have been through plebehood already, while those on the other side are the plebes and their tormentors (I couldn't think of a better term... sorry)

In reality, the shouting on the other side are roles that the second class cadets had to take. Instead of simply telling the plebes what to do, it is their job to do it in a manner that will not only be loud and clear but also something that will shake their disposition. It is intended to really confuse them and make a hell out of their life. Last year when I was a member of the plebe detail, my already loud voice had to be louder and it had to possess that certain characteristic that will confuse the plebes. So going back to my story, it was funny because I destroyed the whole act of that secondclass cadet shouting at the plebes by simply waving at her from the other side (sorry mababaw lang talaga ang kaligayahan ko).

Anyway, I wrote a second part to an article that I wrote for the Corps Magazine (Incorporation Issue) last year. It's still about roles that we play as cadets but I place a more personal touch. This is unpublished and this is the first time that this will appear to the public... Enjoy

Me and my three stooges... Plebes I mean: more lamentations of a Squad Leader

There are a two things that I learned from the time I started to wear my second stripe: first, I can only do so much for my plebes what will become of them will be their own personal decision; and second, it is not because of that limitation that I will stop being a squad leader to my plebes, I will persist until I am relieved of my duty.

In a similar article that I wrote for the Incorporation of my seven plebes as a member of the plebe detail then, I tried to understand what it entails in being a squad leader. This time around, after becoming a squad leader to another set of plebes (three this time), I learned anew and had an experience that has made me realize more things in my journey towards a better leader. These are my lamentations.

When the plebes were incorporated to the Corps last June, I saw my seven plebes distributed to the different companies. The days of summer camp are finally over and the regular academic term began. They had their new squad leaders while I was also given another set of plebes to take care of. With the same attitude I embraced the responsibility promising myself that I will exert the same effort in doing what I know I should do to these young cadets. I thought that it will be easier since this time around there are only three of them… so I thought. It seemed that I was in unfamiliar territory. It seemed that this was a totally new environment and I had to learn again.

My three plebes are the tallest ones in the crop of plebes that are in my Company. Each of them had different backgrounds and like all plebes, forced into the reality of cadetship, this time around not just to adjust to military life (which was one of the main thrusts of summer camp) but also to reach the standard of excellence that is expected of a cadet of PMA.

Unlike the situation in summer camp, I wasn’t the boss. As I was trying to do my job as squad leader, I also had to deal with new set of company mates because of the recent company realignment. I had to adjust not just to being a squad leader to three plebes, but also a member of a company with new faces and different culture. There were things that had to be done and just as always, expectations that had to be met.

My plebes were not that different really (except that they were tall) they were ordinary plebes who like me three years ago also struggled at the adjustment from being carefree to regimented. They had a hard time coping up and I also had a hard time trying to think of the best way to teach them what they have to learn. From the uniform that I had to scrutinize up to the last crease, to the shoes that do not shine the way it should, all of these things were not easy to teach. And then there is also the much compliance that they had to do. From those that were given by the firstclassmen, to offenses that they had to compensate, all of these were parts of a confusing scheme that will definitely shake a person’s identity.

One of my plebes, the youngest in the bunch, was from a family that we can say as sheltered. Not that they were rich it’s just that his family raised him in a way where he was not given much pressure. His family did everything to keep him away from life’s problems. He wasn’t hard headed; he was just someone who was not used to being ordered. Here comes his squad leader (me) who would shout at him at the simplest wrong move, give him a long lecture on why things had to be done in a certain way and then punish him severely after wards. It took sometime for me to realize why he is like that and again, talking to his parents (and writing I should say) proved to be useful. From the bits and pieces of the stories that I gathered regarding his family, I was able to understand why he acts the way he acts. His response to my methods was something characterized by fear. He would practically do everything to escape my wrath, sometimes to the point of lying. More than trying to make him “snappy” I was more concerned in making him understand the importance of facing our fears and doing what has to be done despite these fears. That was my first struggle.

In dealing with these three, I had to teach them teamwork and at the same time make them understand the value of the things that they are doing. Unlike in summer camp where their entire world somewhat revolved on what the squad leader teaches them, they now enjoyed more freedom and with it they are also able to interact with more people. I have to deal with establishing a reputation so that my word will have more authority than the others, which was the second struggle.

I can not overemphasize more the role of the squad leader in training the plebes. The struggles that I faced, I believe were not just personal struggles but I guess in some way are also the same struggles that my classmates were facing in going about their roles as squad leaders. When I look back now, I still wonder how I have endured all those times when I just felt I had the worst job in the world. When I first see them in their civilian clothes during reception, I thought changing them was impossible. Now, almost a year after, they smile at me when they see me. Not because I was very kind to them, but because we have come into terms with the reality that our jobs, them as plebes and mine as a squad leader, was part of a glorious scheme that has endured and stood the test of time. More importantly, all of us have gone through a sacred rite of entry that nobody will be able to understand unless he or she has gone through it themselves.

Today is four days before graduation. The day after that, my seven plebes in summer camp and my three during the regular corps will have their first stripe as new thirdclassmen (yes, I am proud to say none of them resigned or got discharged, its not because I am just good, it’s simply luck). One will be taking the removal exams but I am confident he will pass it. In 01 April, another set of plebes will come and a new cycle begins. I will move on to become a firstclass cadet. There will be new squad leaders and when Incorporation Day comes, my then plebes will become the new tigers. I will see them with their buddies (the new plebes) and will just hope that what I taught them will have some reflection in the way they will handle their new role. I am hoping that at some point, I have become a part of the person that they will become. Well, I could just hope and as I end my lamentations, I look up to God and thank Him for everything.

The life that I took is not simple, yet it has revealed to me facets of life that I will never encounter have I lived my life differently. I guess in the end the person that we become is still a result of the experiences that we had. Definitely, as I put an end at being a squad leader, the experience has made me a better person and I hope the ten plebes that I encountered also changed for the better

1 comment:

Prudence said...

You lead an interesting life, something that perhaps I'll never have a chance to take a peek into, let alone experience. Thanks for sharing your stories.

And, yeah, thanks for linking to my blog, too.