Daily Archives: 27 March 2007

Good Soldier Outlier: Student Teacher

The only reason I ended up in the Army in 1969 was because I had dropped out of college while the draft was still on. But I quickly resumed my formal and informal education as soon as I finished boot camp. After my idyllic nine months of formal but fun Romanian language study at the Defense Language Institute–West Coast, I was assigned to the do-nothing 95th Civil Affairs Group at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia.

At Fort Gordon, I initially spent a lot of my off-duty time at the small public library near my barracks and even took a couple of on-base extension courses from Augusta College: physical anthropology and “humanities” (mostly Greek classics). But as my language skills atrophied from disuse, I began spending time at the language lab on base, where I tried to refresh my childhood Japanese by plodding through Eleanor Jordan’s Japanese language textbooks—listening to the audio portion on vinyl records!

The language lab didn’t have any Romanian materials, but it did offer occasional introductory classes in languages soldiers might expect to encounter when posted abroad. I signed up for a short introduction to Korean, taught by a ROK army officer who might have been studying at the Army Signal School. He managed to teach his class of beginners a few very formal phrases, the rudiments of the most excellent Korean alphabet, and one version of the national folksong, Arirang.

The director of the lab (and its sole full-time employee) was a friendly DoD civilian from Puerto Rico. I spent as much time chatting with him as I did trying to study Japanese on my own, and he recruited me to teach a few English conversation classes, one to a group of lovely GI wives, mostly from Thailand, and another to a rather tougher group of officers from South Korea, Turkey, and possibly Iran.

By that time, my civil affairs unit had transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, leaving me behind with the base Personnel Control Facility because I was due to get out soon. In order to escape my boring new duty of escorting would-be deserters to their military tribunals, I had signed up for a six-week, full-time cement masonry class under Project Transition, designed ostensibly to help us become productive civilians.

One problem for me was that both my daytime class studying cement masonry and my evening class teaching English to foreign officers were a long way from my barracks, and I no longer had a car. I had to wear my uniform during Project Transition, but there was no way I was going to appear in my enlisted man’s uniform in front of a class of status-conscious foreign officers. So I had to hike a long way back and forth to my barracks at the far end of the post every evening in order to make the transition from student soldier to (ostensibly) civilian teacher.

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