When we returned from our 10-day break after basic training, we all were wondering what would happen to the 'distance' between ourselves and the commanders. We were asking each other whether or not the squad commanders, the lowest level of commander, and the guy you refer to as "my commander," would open up and tell us about themselves, their lives, and all of that. Would they be like friends, we asked, because many of them are just obviously great guys and you can't help but want to talk to them as human beings. They are 19-year-old kids, after all.
My commander was fairly slow on revealing his last name (which we already knew anyway) and his family story, but the day we got back from our break he instituted a new policy. Let's say his name is Eitan.
"Anyone that calls me Commander Eitan, as we did in basic, is going to buy me a can of soda," he declared to us while in our room.
"Seriously," I asked?
Do you have any idea how hard it is to go from three months of getting in trouble if you don't say commander this or commander that, to all of a sudden getting in trouble for saying it? That's the hardest reversal of reinforcement ever! It turned out to be a crazy first few days, with many a funny incident that I can't really relate.
At the end of the first night, Eitan came to our room with an empty plastic bag, and left with about 10 cans. We all messed up so badly with the first new rule of advanced training that he decided to just make us all buy him one can each. It was really pretty fun.
Honestly though, I'm personally just not sure how all this 'breaking distance,' as it's called, is working. You see, all the squad commanders are still very much authorities, but they walk around being so much more close to us. This one lanky guy from a different platoon always talks to me about some current issue, and then this other guy always teaches me new close quarter combat strikes (chokes, hand twisting, karate chops, etc), and yet another wants to try his English on me - or rather make fun of American accents, I think.
But yeah, what's up with me and Eitan? He's such a great guy. He looks out for me and my rights as a lone soldier, makes sure I'm doing ok, and all that. I love him to death. Sometimes he just smiles at me, and that is one of the best feelings in the army, to know that you're human and looked at as a peer. But all of this is strange, because all of the closeness is always a one-sided initiation. The commanders initiate the personal connection, not the soldier.
What that means is that it's still a little strange, and maybe frowned upon for all I know, for a soldier to just go up to a commander and ask him what's up. "Hey, how you doing?," for example, is something that I only ask when I'm trying to push the buttons a little. I know who to do that with, and who not. I asked one of our new commanders that the other day, a meathead kind of guy, and he just looked at me blankly and walked away. I really just don't know our standing with these guys on an official level.
And maybe the entire point is that there is no official stance. Everything seems so up to the interpretation of the commanders at this point. Two commanders have said to me in private after yawning and rubbing their faces, "ugh, so exhausted," and that's fairly unheard of from a commander. Those little glimpses of imperfection are so encouraging. Even those guys get tired. I just wish they would be so personal and honest with us as a group, instead of those rare moments alone with them when they let down their guards (generally when you have guard duty together at 4am).
I'll keep you updated on all this, if you're interested. I am constantly pushing the boundary on this, so it's a fun part of my current life in the army. A sergeant of another platoon in my company (you're al in the same area all the time, by the way, so you interact occasionally) is a funny looking little guy, and so I like to just walk up to him and stare at him. I'll go up, look at him, and say something like, "Hey. Nice weather, yeah? How's your group doing? You need a real soldier like me to help them?"
He can't help but smile that goofy crooked smile of his. If I have to wake up at 5am, I'm gonna have some fun with it!