Columnists Bob Sanders and Jody Fuller have written about their military experiences, so I decided to write about some of my own.
My first was when I was an Auburn student and was required to take basic ROTC. For several reasons – first and foremost of which was having to don that hot wool uniform each week, even during sweltering 80-plus degrees in April – I thought, what the heck, I’ll just take my chances as buck private in the rear ranks and nixed the idea of enrolling in advanced ROTC.
Fortunately I received an extended deferment, allowing me to pursue a Master of Science degree in entomology.
A few months before I was scheduled to graduate, I mentioned to a friend that I anticipated being drafted. He said that with my education I might be qualified for a direct commission.
I asked the ROTC folks about the possibility and they said, “No way.” Next I wrote the Secretary of the Army and queried him. I received application forms, to be completed and submitted, in quintuplicate, along with my academic credentials. I was required to certify that I had never belonged to any of a long list of organizations, beginning with Abraham Lincoln Brigade and ending with Workers of the World, Unite.
I sent the completed application and the requested documents and shortly afterward received a response instructing me to get a physical exam at Ft. Benning, which I did and forwarded the results. I was then instructed to report to the ROTC office at Auburn to be interviewed. I was interviewed and about two weeks later received an envelope addressed to Second Lt. Robert H. Mount. It contained a certification of my commission and an order to report to Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
There I and about 25 other newly commissioned officers, all of whom except for me were physicians or dentists, underwent a five-week course on how to perform as Army officers and were issued uniforms.
My first duty assignment, as a medical entomologist, was to a preventive medicine company at Camp Stewart (now Fort Stewart), Ga. There, in addition to conducting mosquito surveys, inspecting mess halls and writing reports on the health of the post’s personnel, I was appointed custodian of the Post Nursery and Kindergarten. The company CO said,”I am assigning Sgt. Peterson to assist you.”
Neither I nor Sgt. Peterson had any idea about what our duties would entail, so for a while we were “flying by the seat of our britches,” as it were.
My responsibilities included mastering a double-entry bookkeeping system and reporting to the board, the president of which was the post commander’s wife.
The company commander was pleased with my performance but told me to stop saying ‘sir’ to the sergeants, most of whom were old enough to be my father.
“I realize that growing up in the South you were taught to use sir when addressing older men, but in the Army sir is used only when addressing superior officers,” the CO said.
I complied but would often have to bite my tongue to avoid saying sir to sergeants.
At Camp Stewart I lived in a BOQ along with several other unmarried officers, most of whom were Yankees. At night large cockroaches would often be seen scurrying around in our quarters. “Mount, you’re supposed to be in charge of insect control,” they’d tell me. “Can’t you do something about these roaches?”
I would tell them, “The roaches are harmless, and any poison applied to kill them might be hazardous to your health. Just be sure to brush your teeth before retiring and try to sleep with your mouth closed. That should keep the roaches from bothering you.”
Next to the BOQ was a depression that would fill with water after heavy rain. During warm weather the rain-filled depression would attract an assemblage of breeding frogs, whose calls would be quite noisy. Some residents would complain saying, “Mount, those damn frogs are keeping me awake. Can’t you do something to get rid of them?”
I would respond, “Those frog calls are music to my ears. You’ll get used to them. Besides, the frogs perform a valuable service by consuming the bugs you keep complaining about. Be thankful for the frogs and other insect-eating critters inhabiting these premises.”
My next duty assignment was to a preventive medicine company in South Korea. I’ll write about that in a subsequent column.
Last week I stated that the county may now be spraying for mosquitos or contemplating doing so. County Commissioner Sheila Eckman informed me that the county was not now and never has been engaged in spraying for mosquitos. That’s good news.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.