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Today's Post on the NY Times "At War" Blog is Me Bitching about Marching Songs


Or the text is here:
In January the U.S. military and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary. Sort of. I am one of those modern soldiers with commitment issues. I enlisted in the Air Force Jan. 31, 1972.
My current and final enlistment in the Army National Guard will end May 31, 2015, the month I turn 62. In between, I switched to the Army in 1975, the Army Reserve in 1981, then I took 23 years off between 1984 and 2007 before re-enlisting in the Guard.
To say a lot has changed since I flew to Lackland Air Force Base 41 years ago hardly begins to describe the difference between serving at the end of an unpopular war and serving today.
My military career started with a wicked hangover from pitchers of beer in Boston bars the night before an early flight to San Antonio, Texas. My shoulder-length hair was shorn by a gleeful redneck. My first drill sergeant was what the Air Force called a BB Stacker. His Vietnam War service had been in Thailand loading bombs on B-52s and living off base in a hooch that came with food, laundry, housecleaning and companionship for $50 per month.
This married-with-kids master sergeant loved telling us stories of loading bombs and getting loaded himself. Though I can’t remember that drill sergeant’s name, I thought of him several times during a 90-day military school I attended at Fort Meade, Md., from August to November of last year. The majority of the soldiers in the Army Student Company had just finished basic training. The rest of us shared their training schedule and their leaders.
In 1972, when we marched in formation, we sang songs about killing Viet Cong. We sang songs about the sex and heroism in our future. Most of all we sang about Jody. Marching songs used to be referred to as Jody Calls. Jody is the guy who is back home sleeping with your wife, eating your food, driving your car, emptying your bank account and, in the saddest versions, turning your own dog against you.
Mr. Gussman on the airfield at Camp Adder, Iraq, in 2009 after a flight to Al Kut.U.S. ArmyMr. Gussman on the airfield at Camp Adder, Iraq, in 2009 after a flight to Al Kut.
The songs we sang at Fort Meade during this summer and fall were more thoroughly bowdlerized than Sunday school stories. Cub Scouts could sing these songs in front of their mothers. No sex. No death. No cheating, lying, drinking or drugs. Certainly no songs with refrains like “Jody got your girl and gone” or “Napalm sticks to kids.”
When we ran in formation at Fort Meade, we almost always sang:
When my granny was 91, she did PT just for fun
When my granny was 92, she did PT better than you
. . and so on up to age 97. The song is clean, affirming of 90-year-old women, and mildly insulting to the wheezing 20-year-old struggling to keep in step at a run.

We also sang Airborne running songs:
C-130 rollin’ down the strip,
Airborne Daddy gonna take a little trip
Stand up hook up shuffle to the door,
Jump on out and count to four. . .

The songs we sang at Fort Meade never varied.
In Army tank training in 1975 we sometimes sang the version above and sometimes this:
C-130 rollin’ down the strip,
Blew a tire and the [two-word expletive deleted] flipped. . .

We were really loud on the second line of the verse. This version goes on to insult the Air Force.
When my daughters were in preschool, I taught them some very sanitized marching songs. The girls learned “They Say That in the Army” which is a complaint song about food, coffee and Army life in general. It has many verses such as:
They Say That in the Army the coffee’s mighty fine,
It tastes like muddy water and smells like turpentine. . .

Each of the various verses ends “Gee Mom I wanna go, but they won’t let me go.”
The girls also learned the “Yellow Bird” song:
A yellow bird,
With a yellow bill,
Just landed on,
My window sill,
I lured him in,
With crumbs of bread,
And then I crushed his (Slam left foot to the ground) little head.

The word emphasized with a stomp was not “little” when we sang the song. And just that one word makes a lot of difference.
A decade later my youngest daughter and some of her high school friends saw the movie “Jarhead.” Lisa came home and said with a smile, “Dad, you never told us the real words to those songs.”
Lisa also wanted to know who Jody was. The older guys in the audience were laughing at places she and her friends did not get the joke. I explained Jody. Lisa and her friends went back to the movie now that they had Jody decoded.
Most of the soldiers I marched with at Fort Meade were in their early 20s, around the age of my daughters are now. They had no idea who Jody was and had never sung a marching song laced with sex, violence and words they use every five seconds in the barracks. Those words make for very loud cadence. But we sang no bad words at Fort Meade.
When the Army fights wars without enemies, we have to sing about running, old ladies, jumping out of airplanes, bad food or wanting to visit Mom. Winning hearts and minds may be good policy, but it makes for lousy marching songs.
Sgt. Neil Gussman enlisted in the Air Force in 1972. He first served on a live-fire missile test range in Utah until he was blinded in a test explosion. When he recovered, he re-enlisted in the Army in 1975 serving as a tank commander on active duty and in the reserves until 1984. He re-enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in 2007 serving with 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. He deployed to Iraq in 2009-2010 with the 28th CAB and still serves with the unit today. He blogs about life in the Army. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pa.

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