Phyllis Puffer
Trust Me

The Women’s Army Corps basic training unit was marching to class at Ft. McClellan in Alabama. We had been in training for a few weeks already so our own fellow students, instead of “real” army personnel, were leading the march, and a student was calling the commands. As a person of medium height, I was in the middle of the formation, with increasingly taller uniformed bodies ahead of me, similar sized uniforms around me and smaller uniformed women behind me.

We were pretty good marchers at this point. We were all in step and kept our lines pretty straight. We marched along the paved road in the rhythm of centuries.

The leader called, “Column left, march!” Obediently, row by row, we marched forward, came to the designated spot, pivoted left and continued marching.

I was a relatively oblivious recruit and back then much better at following directions than I am now. On top of it, I couldn’t see anything at the moment but other recruits. I followed the others in the pattern set by those ahead of me without a second thought. Then without paying too much attention to what was going on, I was vaguely aware that we had left the pavement and were going through grass and down a slope. Then immediately we were going upward rather steeply, and then forward on flat land. Our leader eventually called, “Company, halt!” We halted and were allowed to relax and look around.

Our two, “real” platoon leaders were jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, and shouting. It turned out that unknowingly we had performed magnificently as soldiers. We had blindly followed orders even though they were stupid. Thankfully in this case there was no harm.

The road we marched along several times a day was separated from the classroom building by a ditch. Getting from the road to the building required going over a bridge. It turned out that our student leader had called the turn command too soon. We had completely missed the bridge.

Our company of recruits, following the orders given to us, had marched straight down into the ditch separating the road from the classroom. Then we had marched straight up out of it without turning a hair. At the time, no water lay in that ditch, but if there had been, we would have gone right through it.

Now, whenever somebody says, “Trust me,” I think of the time I was marched into a ditch.

Phyllis Puffer received her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and her Ph.D. from Michigan State University, all in sociology. She has traveled in over 40 countries, mostly in the Third World.



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