Many of us recall a single action, seemingly insignificant, that changed everything that followed for us thereafter. World history has often been similarly affected by simple events, triggering actions that changed everything that followed.
On a personal level, I can recall several such events. One of the most significant events occurred during Army basic training at Ft. Dix, NJ. During a training session, the drill instructor in charge received a hand-delivered message. Looking at me with an appropriate level of disdain, he growled my name, and ordered me to fall out and report to the office of the First Sergeant. Following his order I ran back to the barracks admin area and to the office, dreading an unknown problem that would result in some kind of punishment.
Tentatively entering the First Sergeant’s office, I was relieved to meet a man in civilian clothes, who had the casual manner of a college professor. I learned that he was a DOD (Department of Defense) civilian employee assigned to an organization called DINFOS. His organization was responsible for training military journalists and broadcasters to serve in each branch of the services.
Introducing himself as Mr. Mathews, he read from a file folder that contained my personal information. Because of my education, civilian experience, and testing results, he said that I qualified for DINFOS training at the DOD campus of Ft. Benjamin Harrison, IN. The training there would be six months long, six days a week, and often as long as 12 hours daily. It was immersion training in journalism, and would cover the equivalent of a four-year major at a neighboring university. After graduation, I could be a writer, an editor, or information coordinator working with civilian media.
As with most Army opportunities, there were strings attached. I was a two-year draftee and would have to extend my Army obligation to three years. All I needed to do was sign a few forms, and Army bureaucracy would handle the rest. Just sign, add a year to my active service, go back to my basic training company, and trust that I would be assigned to journalism training after basic training.
In my mind, I imagined that “Mr. Mathews” might actually be the Devil, and was offering the classical “Deal With the Devil.” I imagined being mired in a Vietnam rice paddy, explaining to the Viet Cong that I didn’t really belong there, that I was supposed to be a journalist. I had heard many scary stories of recruits who had encountered bureaucratic surprises. I could only hope that there would be no such snags to derail me.
After quickly weighing potential scenarios, I realized that there were two possible answers for Mr. Mathews. One was to say “No Thanks, sir.” That might get me into the war as an ammo-bearer or infantryman. The alternative response was, “Thank you sir, where do I sign?” That could produce a series of results, ranging from bad to good to great.
So I signed. I went back to the rigors of basic training, marching, running, and learning to handle various weapons. I had little time to think of Mathews, DINFOS or journalism. But when I graduated from basic training, I received written orders to fly to Indiana, and report to Ft. Benjamin Harrison for training. I was happily surprised, and never looked back. Following my six months at DINFOS, I spent a short stint at a post in the Mojave Desert, and then went to Hawaii as a newspaper writer and editor.