I Used To Be by John L. Neel by John L. Neel

"Taps Will Sound in One Minute" ~ The VMI Officer of the Day

The young man in civilian clothing lay on his back on the corner of the Parade Ground, spread eagle, either, passed out, asleep on a cold fall morning, or dead.  I hoped it wasn't the latter.

Kady, E and I were on our way home from a Bridgewater College football game.  E's best friend, Brittany was a cheerleader at Bridgewater, Brit's boyfriend Coley was the kicker, and Brit's mom was Kady's hairdresser and a family friend.  When asked if I wanted to go, I agreed, always ready for a good football game and, knowing that we'd sit in front of the cheerleaders, I thought that looking at pretty girls for four quarters might be fun too.

It was.  I don't think I watched any of the game, except when it was time for Coley to kick or punt, which he did well.  I was much more interested in the large number of pretty girls on the cheerleading squad.

Having worked the whole day before the game, I was exhausted by the time the game was over and we started home.  It was well after midnight.  I fell asleep in the back seat of E's 4-Runner during the hour-long drive back to Lexington.  We got back about 2 am.

It was a Saturday night.  On most Saturdays, all Cadets not on restrictions may go downtown on General Permit (GP).  GP allows them to stay off Post on Friday and Saturday nights until Taps, which is midnight on these two nights.  At Taps, they must be on Post, in Barracks, and in their Room to be "Alright."  If not Alright at Taps, a cadet has 48 hours to report themselves by Form-24, called a Self Bone.  Failure to report "Not Alright at Taps" is an honor violation subject to dismissal from the Institute, never to return.  At no time are they allowed to wear civilian clothes in Rockbridge County or Downtown.

Since Tabs is an Honor thing, it is taken very seriously by the Corps.  If you'd like to gauge how seriously, sit on one of the benches along Letcher Avenue, a few minutes before Taps on a Friday or Saturday night, and watch the drunken members of the Corps attempting to sprint across the Parade Ground to make it to their room before the last note.

As Kady and E turned left on Parade Avenue off of Letcher Avenue,  they noticed the body on the grass, stopped, and woke me up.  I got out to investigate.  When I got to the body, I gave it a swift kick to the ribs, checking responsiveness and consciousness.

The kid opened his eyes and looked up, recognition of my face coming slowly.  "Are You OK?" I asked.

Yes, Sergeant Major.

Young Man, are you a Cadet?

The young man gave a great sigh, realizing his predicament, and said, "I used to be Sergeant Major."

I stood him up, had him try to walk,  Finding him unable to do that, I sat him down on the curb, called the Guard Room.  I had them call the Post Police and asked the officer to take the young man back to Barracks and turn him over to the Officer in Charge (OC).

While we waited for the Post Police, he attempted to explain how this happened, incriminating himself further.  I finally had to tell him to shut up before he told me something that actually would get him suspended or dismissed.

Monday afternoon, the Cadet faithfully Form-24ed himself to the Deputy Commandant, COL Levenson (The L-Train), for missing Taps.  Waiting on him were a number of Specials from me for Running The Block, Wearing Civvies Up Town, and visiting a W&L Fraternity House.

The L-Train, feeling that missing Taps was probably enough, only boned him for that and for "Loitering in Civilian Clothes on Post."

The young man remained a Cadet and, as far as I know, graduated.

I bet he tells and re-tells his version of this story just like I tell mine.  I hope he has learned to laugh about it.