* exposure

Of course, we immediately recognized the story as plagiarized from Starship Troopers

AN ARMY OF NONE

The creators of Strangers With Candy introduce us to Russell Hokes, the most important resident of their new book, Wigfield

PRINT   (Editor's note: Russell Hokes is a fledgling journalist and the author of the new book Wigfield (written by Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Sedaris), which tells the story of a small town on the brink of extinction struggling for one last chance to survive, Hokes is happy to be contributing to Spin and hopes it will lead to other writing jobs where he might get paid a lot for writing a little.)

There can be no doubt that the American military is a brave group of well-trained, heavily armed, fit young men and women who know how to achieve a goal. But how do they get that way? To answer this question, and to have a topic to write about, I decided to enlist in the armed forces.

After an extensive question-and-fibbing session at my local recruiting station, I was set to be shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for nine weeks of basic training. As I am roughly twice the age of the average recruit, I was sure this would mean I would do twice as well.

When the bus of recruits pulled up to Fort Jackson, I eagerly anticipated what the training would do to our soft, shapeless bodies. I imagined how, over time, we would ripen like avocados on the vine, our haunches becoming firm, our buttocks transformed into taut and undaunted man flesh! Our abdomens turned into third-world Laundromats of rippling muscle waiting for village washer­women to come scrub their soiled linens upon! I would have a discernible jaw! There was no telling what the next few months would bring, but if one thing was certain, it was two things: I would have the body of an underwear model, and I would have access to things that explode!

As my big toe hit the dirt, my drill instructor, a compact juggernaut in khaki, unleashed a torrent of abuse and spittle. Many of the new recruits fought back tears, while others fought back me from climb­ing back onto the bus. After checking into the barracks and shedding our civilian skivvies for our basic-training costumes, we were ordered to fall in for a ten-mile march with full pack. Finally, a chance to show my mettle.

The word blister is thrown around far too casually these days and cannot do justice to what erupted around what I will refer to nostal­gically as my "feet." By mile three, it was as if my feet were fetuses inside a warm womb of wounds. I was hesitant to lance the offend­ing boils for fear that all that would be left, after they drained, would be sacks of wrinkled skin, like empty scrotums attached to my raw ankles. Back in the barracks, I lay on my cot openly sobbing, comforted only by hoots of derision from my fellow trainees.

That afternoon, we were ordered to report to the obstacle course. Was this the chance to redeem myself-and my feet? The sergeant hit the stopwatch and I was off, through the tires, over the log wall, across the rope swing, then onto my belly, staying low in a reptilian elbow waddle underneath the fence, ignoring the warning shots, past the barbed wire, into a ditch for cover, and then onto the highway where I flagged down a beer truck.

I'm sure some people-specifically the United States Army-might consider this going AWOL, but do they really want the expense of finding somebody who has plenty of time to hide? But then another thought occurred to me: What about my piece for Spin? If I were ever to finish it, I would have to go back - or forward - to a video store. Hasn't basic training been covered in such films as An Officer and a Gentleman? Would Spin pay me for a piece I didn't complete? The answer was clear: I had to go back to Fort Jackson and finish basic training, not the video store. To repeat, I did not go to a video store.

When I returned to Fort Jackson, I was assigned a new drill instructor who looked a lot like Lou Gossett Jr. We clashed from the word go, but I think he respected me, even though I'm a loner and this rubbed the drill sergeant character the wrong way. At the end of my nine weeks at Fort Jackson, I walked into the factory and picked up Debra Winger in my arms. She put on my hat, and we walked out to the soulful sounds of Joe Cocker's "Up Where We Belong."

I will never forget my experience at boot camp. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I hope it never happens again.

Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert


© 2003 SPIN