Don’t always say what you want

In 1981-2 I was going through basic training and then Military Police School in beautiful Aniston AL (in the middle of summer). I will never forget one guy who really did not want to be there.
Steve was from a very wealthy family. Partially for adventure, partially to annoy his parents he joined the Army. Within minutes of his arrival he knew he had made a major mistake.
Now this guy wasn’t a wimp. He was tough and he was in great physical shape – the guy played a mean game of Lacrosse. But, Steve had literally been in private boarding schools or vacationing in the Hamptons his entire life and consequently the Army and especially the MP Corps was not for him.
So he called his dad. He didn’t cry and he didn’t whine – he just told his dad “well I blew, how do I get out of wasting three years of my life?” I don’t know why, but his dad didn’t use political connections to get the son out – he just gave him some very good advice.
“Go out and be the absolute best soldier you can be. When you get to a critical task that you must successfully complete, fail miserably. Then they will let you out. If you are marginal, they will send you someplace worse, like cooking school.”
So Steve became “Super Soldier.” He was already smart, and a good athlete and he put on the whole warrior look. However, there was one skill that every MP had to master and that was to qualify with the .45 caliber pistol. This actually was not necessarily an easy thing to do. We lost about 10% of the class (mostly the bottom 10%) because they could not qualify. But we also “lost” Steve.
You see all the people who really were not all that qualified were mocked by the Sergeants for not making it and wimping out – and every single one were reassigned to the cadre of Army cooks.
Except Steve.
The Captain, the sergeants, everyone worked with Steve trying to help him to qualify with the pistol. And Steve looked like he was on the verge of tears when he explained that whole reason he had joined the Army was to be an MP like his grandfather who died in WWII (which was a complete lie, his grandfather made a fortune in contracts to the government during WWII). If Steve couldn’t make it in the Army as an MP, then he just wouldn’t be in the Army.
Somehow Steve never could qualify with the .45. And the Captain released Steve from service with an honorable discharge. I didn’t see Steve break his cover until he was in the limo, on his way off base, and then he gave us all the finger.
And the sergeants and Captain never caught on. They were dang near crying, saying what a shame it was to lose Steve.
A couple of lessons here:
First – Steve was brilliant in his tactical execution. This went way beyond reverse psychology; he got his enemies on his side. He didn’t just play along; he excelled, until the critical moment. Sometimes it is a good idea to fake enthusiasm when you don’t want to do something, so when you “have to” disappoint, they feel bad for you and forget that they are actually hurting you.
Second – Steve’s superiors never caught on. They were fooled by someone who looked like everything they wanted in soldier. When someone is looking too good to be true, it might be wise to check with those under you to see if what appears to be true really is.
If you think this type of treachery doesn’t happen, think again. What’s amazing is people who are marginally involved can see it way before you can.
I wasn’t worried about Steve, I am sure he thrived in whatever environment he was in – I was worried about Steve’s future bosses. I suspect that when Steve stuck the knife in their back, they were probably thanking him for doing it to them.

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