SI Vault
 
PLAY BALL, YOU ?!¢%&*#/S!
Bil Gilbert
November 25, 1968
Army officers (repeat: officers) are still convinced that soldiers stay in shape and out of trouble if they are kept busy at games
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 25, 1968

Play Ball, You ?!¢%&*#/s!

Army officers (repeat: officers) are still convinced that soldiers stay in shape and out of trouble if they are kept busy at games

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

"This is not something we like, and I wouldn't want to be quoted directly," a Pentagon man said one day, "but one of the problems of the sports operation is getting and keeping good officers. A hotshot, a career man, doesn't want to get stuck very long handing out soft-balls. He wants to get himself a unit, get a gun, get over to Nam where he can do himself some good."

Captain Barton, the Fort Campbell Special Services officer, is probably a case in point though the Pentagon man was not referring to him specifically. Barton, a recent Yale graduate, who was once a shotputter for the Old Blue, seems to be a good man in most ways, but he would never be mistaken for a military hotshot. He is a very large, bulky youth, faintly disheveled in his appearance, who has trouble remembering to wear his hat and who is made uncomfortable whenever an eager enlisted man salutes. "I am a natural, instinctive civilian," Captain Barton explains. "And in a few months I am going to be what I was intended to be."

Off his performance at Campbell, Barton would obviously make a thoughtful, progressive city parks commissioner. He is full of enthusiasm, and he has ideas about the significance and social value of his present job. They are not, however, conventional military enthusiasms and ideas. For example, at the moment he is badgering colonels about building a semiwilderness campground on a TVA lake just beyond the unoccupied boondocks of Campbell. "I'd like to put in a few cabins, some stoves, make a beach where people could go for a weekend, get away from all this military stuff for a few days."

Or take the matter of the Fort C mp-bell golf course, a pleasant, lush layout. "They're always bugging me at the Officers' Club about jazzing up the golf course. I can't see it. Last month about 2,500 rounds were played out there, only 700 by enlisted men. If participation is the big deal, I figure there are better places to spend our money than on the golf course." This is, of course, how a Yaleman, a progressive park commissioner would figure, but not how a military hotshot who wanted to do himself some good would view the situation.

Elmer Blair, who directly oversees the Campbell sports program, is technically a civilian but he is a more traditional military type than Barton. "I guess times change," the Campbell AD says, smiling wanly, "but it seems to me what I'd call the good old American games are losing out, like football, baseball, basketball, boxing. Like that boxing team working out here now. You know they got only one heavyweight. One heavyweight out of the whole Army. That's not the way it used to be. Somebody, somewhere, would have turned out a few big boys for them."

"What Elmer means," says the flack light colonel, "is that there is a lot of emphasis on participation at all levels now."

"Colonel, I couldn't agree more about that participation stuff," protests Blair. "I've been in sports all my life, and I'd like to see every boy out playing something. But I'm just not sure that cutting off the top helps the bottom. I know it was easier to get touch-football leagues going when we had a good football team here at the fort than it is now. The big team drew crowds, got people really interested."

"Before my time, Elmer, but so far as I'm concerned there's plenty of interest in sports left," and the PIO colonel begins a diversional story. "You know that general I was playing tennis with this summer? He'd call up a couple times a week, want a game. I like tennis fine, but some days I'd be up to my elbows in work. I tried to back out—just once—and he shot me down fast. He said if a man couldn't find an hour or so a day for recreation and exercise, he figured the man's job was too much for him. So I went out and played tennis with him and came back at night to clean up my desk."

Though it was perhaps not intended that way, the colonel's anecdote was illustrative of a curious phenomenon—the higher you go in the military hierarchy, the hotter they are for games, and the lower you descend, the closer you get to playing fields, the cooler they seem to become. "Wherever I have commanded," says Major General K. L. Reaves, who commanded Fort Campbell at this time, "I have encouraged the sports program. It is an excellent outlet for the men, so long as it does not interfere with the primary military mission of a man or a unit."

"Unless we are really in a bind we release everyone but a skeleton staff to take part in athletics on Wednesday afternoon," says Colonel Joe McDade, who commands the 68th Maintenance Battalion at Fort Campbell. "I expect everyone to take part—play Softball, bowl, swim, jog, I don't much care what. I tell my company commanders that in the long run this improves the efficiency of every unit. It gives the men something to look forward to, a break in routine, a chance to relax, let off some steam."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7