Sergeant Albertorio was a fit and trim man in his early thirties, I would guess. It was he who yelled at us in Army basic training. It was he who instructed us ... how to march, how to shoot, how to put our packs together, and even, from time to time how to remake our beds properly after he had dumped the mattress on the floor in what seemed to be a profound disgust at our inabilities to make things right in the first place.
Sgt. Albertorio was the object of our grousing and grudging admiration. We were new and he was not. We were inexperienced and he was not. He was our guru and father figure and as with all gurus and father figures, there came a day when we decided to put him to the test ... to, as we hoped, run his order-giving ass into the ground.
We were marching back from the firing range -- over the gently-rolling hills along a road that cut through the scrub pine of South Carolina. We were all carrying rifles, wearing helmets and carrying some sort of pack, when Albertorio called from the head of the column of perhaps 200 men, "Double-time, march!"
Double-time is a kind of dog trot -- not as fast as running, but faster than walking. We were used to double-timing. By that time, we had all gained muscle and endurance and our expertise was growing.
Over one hill and then the next we double-timed. It wasn't easy but it wasn't hard either. Up in front, Albertorio, wearing a forage cap rather than a helmet, and carrying neither rifle nor pack, set the pace. And after three or four of the low, rolling rises, Albertorio called out, "Quick time, march!" And that's when it happened...
Either I or one of the other co-conspirators called out something like, "Come on, you pussy! Let's see what you've got!" And sergeant Albertorio was up to the challenge. He didn't say anything about disrespect ... he just began to double-time ... and he didn't stop. The rolling hills came and went and came and went and came and went ... and he kept double-timing and we, like obedient ducklings, kept double-timing too. Our packs grew heavier, our helmets pressed down like boulders, and our rifles, which weighed something more than nine pounds, tipped the scales at about 250 pounds. On and on and on and on ... until finally, Sergeant Albertorio called quick time (regular marching speed) and then halt.
Several of us stood gasping at the front of what we imagined was the column behind us. But when we turned to see how the rest of the 200 men had fared ... well, they hadn't fared well at all. Several were passed out by the side of the road. A bunch of others were puking. Others looked like cattle stunned in a Chicago slaughter house. Of the 200 men who had started out in a cluster of military orderliness, there were eighteen of us left.
And at the front of the column (what was left of it) Albertorio stood calmly, his creases intact, his neatness unruffled. He just looked back at those who had fallen. Then looked at those who remained. And the look said clearly but without venom, "I guess you won't fuck with me again anytime soon."
I've been with Zen Buddhist teachers who can look calmly on similar carnage. And be thanked profusely for the carnage of the endeavor. But I didn't know anything about Buddhism when Sgt. Albertorio showed the way.