Colonel Delbert suddenly brought his swivel chair back up level and scooted it up to the desk. He spoke sharply, "Now tell me, Captain, just what are your prospects for next year...?"
"I have one new man, sir. Name is Prewitt. Fought for the 27th.... Runnerup in the welterweight division. He was transferred to my Company from the Bugle Corps."
"Remarkable," the Colonel said. ..."You've talked to him?"
"Yes sir," Holmes said. "He refuses to go out...."
Colonel Delbert turned his head on stiff shoulders. "He can't refuse to go out.... You just think he did. It's your job to see that he goes out."
—Excerpt from From Here to Eternity by James Jones.
"I have heard stories like that and a lot more," Colonel Miller says. "I won't say there wasn't some truth to some of them. There were commands where sports were overemphasized. There were abuses, examples of favoritism, cases where sports actually hindered a unit's primary mission. That, however, has been pretty much done away with by AR 28-52."
Army Regulation 28-52 was circulated in 1964. In effect, it de-emphasized what might have been called the Army's varsity-sports program. Games like inter-post football, which was taken in some commands as seriously as it is in most colleges, were simply scratched. (Except at overseas posts, the Army now almost exclusively plays touch and flag football.) All commanders were told to cool their hot varsity bloods, put most of them back on straight duty, and were reminded that the U.S. Army wanted hundreds of thousands of moderately fit, happy, orderly soldiers rather than just a few hundred super fit, super happy, super athletes.
AR 28-52 aside, the Army is still as big as ever on corralling, training and supplying athletes who can represent the United States in international competition. This is regarded as another of the semi-sociological, semi-self-serving missions of the military. "World-class performances by Army athletes naturally are good for our image," says Colonel Miller, who once was the U.S. Olympic boxing manager, "but it goes beyond that. It behooves us all to realize that sports have become a political football. We cooperate with the State Department and AAU in putting together representative teams. Let's face it, our adversaries have developed a line of propaganda to the effect that the United States is a soft, decadent country. If we send weak teams overseas we tend to confirm their propaganda, but a strong, winning team refutes it."
To keep the old international political football in the air, the Army has established two permanent sports training centers, one for prospective pentathloners at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and the other for biathloners at Fort Richardson, Alaska. In moments of athletic crisis, such as during an Olympic or Pan-American Games year, the Army does its bit by establishing temporary athletic outposts. This year, for example, some 42 Army track and fielders of Olympic potential were gathered together at Fort MacArthur in California. (From the group came two Olympic medals.) Twenty-six boxers were "assembled" for training at Fort Campbell, Ky., and a scattering of sharpshooters, basketball players, canoers, cyclists, fencers and wrestlers were told that their principal military mission in 1968 was to make themselves Olympian. Also, at any given time, the law of averages and those of the Selective Service System being what they are, the Army will have a few sporting exotics. This year, for instance, First Lieut. Arthur Ashe and Pfc. Charlie Pasarell have both been "made available" to go off to various parts of the world to win tennis matches.
Though the military careers of such competitors are different, they are not necessarily easier than those of less muscular and less coordinated GIs. Being an international winner, which is in essence what these athletes are under orders to be, nowadays takes more sweat, more discipline, more sacrifice of creature comforts than most people, including soldiers, find attractive.