I didn’t put on fatigues for over four months while I was stationed at Ft. Bragg. I got paid to play basketball. It seemed surreal at the time.
We had a new first sergeant. He was an airborne ranger. He wanted to turn our company of misfits in First Psyops at the JFK Center for Military Intelligence into a lean, mean fighting machine.
He had us doing calisthenics in the parking lot and running several miles in formation five mornings a week.
I developed a very painful case of shin splints. Climbing steps to the 3rd floor of the barracks hurt like hell. Running was out of the question.
I went to the infirmary and got what the Army calls “a Profile.” It qualifies a soldier in six areas: physical condition, upper extremities, lower extremities, hearing, sight, psychiatric.
My lower extremities were not good. There was swelling and pain.
The six month Profile exempted me from the calisthenics and the running,
When “Profiles fall-out” was called at morning formation the group included me, my friend who told me to get the Profile, and several over-weight lifers. For the next hour, while everyone else worked up a sweat, we went on “police call” i.e., we picked up litter.
After a few weeks with no running on concrete, my shin splints were healed, but I decided that I would milk the Profile.
However there was a downside: I had to stop playing basketball on the court next to the barracks. If I was seen shooting hoops, my early morning strolls would be replaced with jumping jacks, squat thrusts, push-ups, and 4 mile runs.
I stayed off the basketball court as long as I could.
I finally decided it was safe to do some shooting by myself early on weekend mornings.
One Sunday a guy came out of the mess hall and came over to talk.
First words out of his mouth: “Nice shooting….are you trying out tomorrow for the team?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. What team??
I asked him some questions. He answered them all. Turns out that Jack was from Kansas City…and he was the assistant coach.
He was optimistic that I would make the cut.
I told him about my Profile.
“If you make the team, head to the Infirmary and ditch the Profile.”
“But then I’ll be back to push ups and road runs!”
“Nope. We skip morning formation and head to the gym.”
I made the team.
The doc did his thing and toasted the Profile. It was a miracle!! Shin splints gone just as basketball season was about to start!
I told my friend the company clerk that I was on the battalion team.
We came up with a plan, and the scam began.
Jack was married and lived off base. After practice he and I would go to his place to shower and eat lunch. Then he would go to work.
The plan and the scam: I had Jack drop me off at the USO after lunch for the next month. I would read newspapers and magazines, shoot pool and play ping pong all afternoon or head to the PX to see if there were was any new vinyl.
That scam only lasted about a month, but it worked like a charm.
And then my not having to “break starch” became legit.
The battalion season ended.
I tried out for…and made…the brigade team.
I didn’t have to hide at the USO anymore. My full-time Army job was now playing basketball.
I was the only guy on the brigade team who hadn’t been on a college team. Our best player, Vann Williford, had been on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He played at NC State and had been named MVP of the ACC Tournament the year before.
The brigade season ended and the next step up was the Ft. Bragg team. Vann talked me into trying out. I didn’t make the travel team, but being a practice dummy was my job for another month or so.
By the time the season ended the first sergeant had given up on whipping First Psyops into shape.
I went back to work as a process photographer in the print shop, locking the door to my darkroom and replying “I’m developing film” anytime there was a knock.
That scam worked well too.