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How I Became an "Old Man" MAG
“Sir‚ name and rank‚ sir.”
That was my most frequently used phrase during my first month in the United States at the Culver Military Academy. I was a second-class man (junior) but also a new cadet.
As a Chinese student who had never been to America before, it was painstaking to memorize the names and ranks of the “old men” (branch-qualified cadets).
“Sir, good morning, uh – uh – First Ser – Ser, uh, Sergeant uh – Puc, uh, Puccia, sir.” It took me forever to greet them in the hallway.
Feeling embarrassed, I wrote down the names and ranks of all 47 “old men” in my unit and sat on my bed for hours each day, reading my list and whispering, “Lance Corporal Turner, Color Corporal Weber ….”
“Tuck in your shirt! Don’t talk in the hallway! Square your corners when you march!” they would always bark at me.
Waking at 5:30 each morning, I put on my uniform, shined my shoes, swept the floor, and made my bed so there were absolutely no wrinkles. Then I stood outside my room, waiting for inspection. That was the reality of my career as a new cadet.
Because of my superior performance, I was the first cadet invited to Boards, the rigorous testing and inspection for a new cadet to become a branch-qualified “old man.”
The most important part of the process was the room preparation, so I needed to thoroughly clean my room and make sure every nook and cranny was spotless. I woke up at 6 a.m. that Saturday and got to work. To eliminate the dust bunnies hiding in the corners, I bought two bottles of Lemon Pledge. I pulled out the drawers of my desk and crawled underneath. Lying on my back, I sprayed and wiped every inch of the desk, including the underside, the drawer slides, and the legs. I did the same to my wardrobe, bed, and lamp; I even polished my room key.
The hardest part of the preparation was the floor. Dragging, pulling, hauling, pushing, I moved everything out of my room and into the hallway. Piles of dust hidden for years lay where my desk, bed, and wardrobe had stood.
After I had swept up the dust and mopped the floor twice, I opened my second bottle of Pledge. On my hands and knees, I polished the floor one section at a time. By the time I had backed into the hallway, my shirt was wet, my knees were numb, and sweat dripped down my cheeks faster than I could wipe it away. But the floor shone, almost too much. I soon realized how smooth, even slippery, my floor was – I had cleaned it with furniture polish.
“Hey, what’s up, Wu?” a friend asked as he stepped into my room. “When are you– aagh!” His feet flew out and
he fell flat on his back. I can hardly remember how many other boys fell. In a while, my room was filled with cadets in socks spinning like ice skaters.
I lay on my back in the hallway outside my room. “One‚ two‚ three … Go!” Jason pushed my feet and I glided into the room, staring up as the ceiling sped by. Wham! My head slammed into the heater.
Back to work, I shined my shoes until I could see my teeth in them. I folded shirts for five hours, kneeling on the floor with a steel straight-edge: “No, it’s still not exactly 8 by 10 inches.” I folded them, unfolded them, folded them again.
I spent 17 hours cleaning my room. I passed Boards.
I keep two empty bottles of Pledge and a steel straight-edge on my desk to remind me of that day. When I face huge academic and emotional pressures, the sight of the bottles keeps me motivated; when I feel contented and sated, I turn to the steel straight-edge, which inspires me to seek perfection. I bring this motivation and perfectionism with me as a member of Squadron Staff, supervising 138 cadets, leading my unit to be the best in the regiment, and getting straight A’s.
I keep two empty bottles of Pledge and a steel straight-edge in my room to remind me that I can accomplish great feats. .