Despite the old saw about the road to hell, I was raised to believe good intentions were what mattered most. “You meant well” defended the most egregious conduct, as well as: “He thought he was doing you a favor” and “I was only trying to help.” Good intentions didn’t count for squat at Officer Training School (OTS), only results. We were responsible for the quality of our judgment.
My brothers, having discovered sarcasm at an early age, used to call me “Miss Coordination.” On the OTS parade ground, she was alive and well, the remedial student who found it difficult just swinging her arms naturally when she marched. As a future officer, I was expected to keep in step, make sharp turns look effortless, salute, and do an about-face without tottering, all the while holding my rounded shoulders back and my chin perfectly parallel to the ground. Even worse, I had to do all that while leading my troops through a military drill.
At OTS we marched in formation everywhere and took turns as flight leader, the one responsible for calling the commands correctly, for “driving” the thirteen flight members like a sleek machine from place to place. Don’t think sports car; think Winnebago with a boat trailer, a car, and two motorcycles attached. Like any anxious driver I tended to make sudden stops and wide turns, drift all over the roadway, nearly collide with other flights. I hated it more than I hated running. Running was my personal failure, but screwing up as flight leader affected the whole flight.
One day I was in charge of the formation, responsible for getting everyone to fall in, then marching the flight down to the parade ground. We were all present except Officer Trainee Claren. Claren was so laidback he kept no account of time and was constantly late. I’d already sent someone to find him, who’d reported that he was in the library and would be with us soon. As 1 waited nervously outside the classroom building, the other flights steadily formed up and marched away. I didn’t know what to do. Wait for him and make everyone late? Or abandon the no-show—who’d been warned several times before—and go on?
Like any nervous driver, I was slow and needed to give myself extra time. As flight leader of the moment, I had the final word, so despite heated objections from the other members, I chose to leave him. We marched down to the parade ground, slowly but without incident, one member short but on time.
A few minutes later, Claren showed up. Fortunately, he’d been able to attach himself to another flight to get there. “How could you leave me!” he said.
“You were late. The flight couldn’t wait any longer,” I replied.
I felt wretched however. I’d gotten the flight there. I fulfilled my responsibility, but at the cost of abandoning one of our own. I’d jettisoned him like unnecessary ballast. It all worked out okay, so there was never any fallout from my decision—except that Claren wouldn’t speak to me for a few days.
This is a good time of year for shriving the soul, so today I confess that I decided to leave Claren because I was thinking of myself, not the flight. I sacrificed part of my team so I wouldn’t fail. I’ve done worse things, but this one continues to nibble at the edges of my conscience. So to the person I’m calling Claren, I ask forgiveness. Despite the results, intentions also count.
By the way, Officer Trainee Claren was never late for formation again.
[Officer Trainee, 1980]