They warned me about Reorganization (Reorgy) week at West Point, but there was no way to have a real sense for what was coming.
The week before Reorgy was the last week of basic training or “Beast Barracks” at the Academy, and believe it or not, it was as close to any vacation as I had known thus far. It was hardly basic training, taking place about 10 miles from the West Point grounds at a camp on Lake Frederick. There were leadership exercises during the day, a little boating if I remember correctly, and evening rallies and movies and lots of time to write letters – overall, a general relaxed feeling. It was during this week that West Point Firstie Bob Maruna dropped by my tent and changed my forever.
But we were told what was coming – Reorgy – the week when ALL the sophomores (Yearlings), juniors (Cows), and seniors (Firsties) descended on the West Point campus from their various summer assignments and made life for us Plebes a living hell. Previously, during the summer there were a few upperclassmen around who would haze us, mostly Firsties. The ratio was maybe 10 plebes to every 1 upperclassman. But now everything was about to change. The Yearlings, Cows and Firsties all had the right to haze Plebes, and most didn’t seem to hold back. That reversed the ratio: 1 Plebe to every 3 upperclassmen. Life was about to get tough.
We still had no idea.
I met my two new Plebe roommates at the start of the week: first, there was hapless Jamie, who had trouble labeling and putting his dirty clothes in the bag for the laundry service to clean (actually going to the cadet store to buy new underwear). The dear chap would flunk out at the end of first semester. But the other guy in our three bed room was at the opposite end of the spectrum – Rocky – who would go on to complete West Point and become an Army neurosurgeon. Thinking about it years later makes me laugh – the phrase oil and water comes to mind.
The three of us returned from our 10 mile forced march with dirty everything from bivouacking and set about to organize our room for the start of the academic year.
Before too long, our new assistant squad leader dropped by to introduce himself. He was a Yearling, a friendly sort, and I got the impression he was on our team. Before he left, he said nonchalantly, “You guys smell. You’d better keep the door open and air things out.”
And soon we had another visitor: A particularly nasty Cow, a member of our new company (and apparently our new neighbor down the hall), he had walked by our room with its open door and didn’t like the odor. “Hey, you plebes, you smell! Keep your door closed!”
Yes sir. We closed the door. (Maybe we weren’t too bright, but I can only say that speaking up to this guy didn’t seem to be the thing to do.)
And then there we two strong knocks at the door. “Enter sir!” one of us bellowed. It was Friendly Yearling, frustrated. “Hey you guys, I thought I made it clear that I wanted you to air things out. Keep this door open.”
Do you know where this is going?
The Nasty Cow came back, loudly and very unpleasantly from the hallway: “One of you Plebes, post out here pronto!” Of the three of us, I volunteered (never do that in the Army) and thus began a couple of weeks of required visits to the sadist’s room for an extra helping of hazing. It remains one of my worst memories of the Academy.
I share all this to give you a glimpse of a particularly terrible week in my life. And yet, God was at work in my life, moving and drawing me. I had just heard the gospel the week before, and had been invited to a retreat at the end of Reorgy for Cadet Chapel Sunday School teachers. And yet, as the end of Hell week approached, my attendance at said retreat was in serious question, at least according to another young man who was my new squad leader, again an unforgettable and seemingly unkind Firstie Cadet named Zunde.
To this day, I remember the three of us, Jamie, Rocky and me, standing at attention in Zunde’s room, waiting his word on the fate of our upcoming weekend. I so wanted to go on that retreat, but would Zunde give his okay?
And as we stood stiff in his room, waiting for his judgment, fearful of his final word, in one glorious moment, I sensed something wonderful. There were not just four of us in that room, the hazer and his three hazees. No…there was another.
Jesus was there. Really. He was. I could tell. I was not alone.
I was going on that retreat.
I’ve never had the same sense like I did that week some 32 years ago, but it doesn’t matter. He has been with me ever since, just like He promised to be with all those who follow Him:
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (ESV)
Inspired Readers: Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 10 – we begin the book of Acts, chapter 1.