My Army Days – How I got to be the Chaplain’s Assistant

Written May 20, 2011

For most of the time I was in the US Army, I was a Chaplain’s Assistant. By rights, I should have been in an Admin Company but in fact I was attached to a Medical Company. Here is how that happened.

I attended the chapel service nearest to my company area. At that time, President Kennedy wanted to prove he could train a division in six months. The division was to be trained at Ft Carson near Colorado Springs. Much of Ft Carson had been shut down for 20 or 30 years. But when the 5th Division was going to be trained there they opened up many buildings that had been closed for decades. Our chapel was among those that had been shut down all that time. It was not an attractive  building at all. It looked like it had been built cheaply because the Army felt it would soon be torn down.

The floor of the chapel was made of a soft wood and had been heavily worn. The Chaplains thought there was no way to make it look good. However, I had a plan born out of the years I had spent as a janitor while I was in school. I told my chaplain that if he would get me ten gallons of a buffable floor wax and a buffer I would make it look a lot better. The wax and buffer soon arrived.

I got up early one Saturday and started in on the floor. I mopped down a coating of wax, let it dry then buffed it. I did that over and over all day. It turned out better than I had hoped. It had a beautiful dark sheen on it. The next day the Chaplains went crazy over what I had done and soon had me transferred to them but I still lived in the my same company with the medics even though I should have been transferred to an admin company.

Over the next month or two a steady stream of high ranking officers, including the Division Commander came through just to see what I had done.

The chaplain I worked for was a genius politician. In time the base commander came to consider my chaplain as his personal pastor. Chaplains have no command power, but my chaplain had what amounted to command power because everyone knew he had the base commander’s ear.

One Saturday morning, The Army Chief of Chaplains was scheduled to visit our chapel.  His name was Charlie Brown, believe it or not. The Chaplain told me he wanted me to be at the chapel by 6:00AM to make sure everything was ready for the the Chief of Chaplains who gave oversight to every chaplain in the army .

At 5:30AM, I was dressed, shined boots and ready to go. I started to walk off my company compound. A Lieutenant stopped me and said, “Caywood, where do you think you are going? We have inspection every Saturday morning.”

I told him the chaplain had asked me to be at the chapel by 6:00AM, because the Chief of Chaplains was scheduled to visit. The Lt. responded angrily, “Private, you are not going anywhere until after inspection. Get back to your area until after the inspection. I answered, “Yes Sir” and walked back to the second floor of the barracks where my bunk was located.

Within a few minutes, I heard a jeep roar up and screech to a stop. I was pretty sure who was in that jeep. In a few seconds, I heard heavy boots running up the stairs. Then I knew for sure the chaplain was coming to bawl me out for not being at the Chapel. That is exactly what happened.

When the angry lecture was over, I explained that I had been ordered back to my bunk to stand inspection. The Chaplain said, “You come with me” he went to the company headquarters and burst into the room with me close behind.

The Chaplain screamed “Attention” which he had no right to do except for his political clout. Even the Company Commander was standing at rigid attention. Then the Chaplain said “When I tell this man to be at the Chapel at a certain time, you do not stop him. Is that clear?” Then he walked out and told me to follow. From that time forward, I did not have to train with the company. If training was scheduled I simply walked out of the company area. I knew that no one would  stop me. I particularly hated the marching drill and gladly did not participate in that training.

One time I did have to do the marching drill because I had been too slow getting away from the training area. I was marching along staying in step with everyone else. In my row of marchers I was on the far right. The Sergeant wanted the company to turn right.

There are two ways for a marching company to turn right. I think the order for the first method was “Column right march.” That meant we all marched straight ahead until our row got to the point where the first row had turned right.

While the company is turning right it looks like an “L” until the last row turns right. Then the entire company has turned right and is marching in that  direction in a straight formation.

The second right turn command Is “Column right… March!”  then the whole company turns right at the same moment so that the company is formed from the front rank being five or six soldiers wide to a formation where the front row is much longer but is only five men deep.

My problem was that I could not remember which command was which. The command was given for the column to turn one row at a time but I guessed that it was the one where we all turned at once so I turned right  so that I was marching all by myself away from the formation. I turned and ran back to my place feeling scared and  thoroughly  embarrassed. The Sergeant yelled “Caywood! I see months of not doing the marching drills has not effected your marching at all”.

Another time, I was ordered to work in the unit medical clinic. I knew I did not know enough about being a medic to treat the men. A soldier came in with a huge strawberry skid mark on his leg. I set about to treat it. By mistake I grabbed the Tough Skin which is about the same as nail polish. I applied it all over his wound.

The man was reacting loudly to the pain he felt. I thought it must have been a painful version of some disinfectant. The commotion brought the Doctor right in. When he saw what I had applied to the wound, he shouted, “Caywood, get out of my clinic and never come back.” I was motivated not to return and never was asked to work there again.

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