Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Army Basic Combat Training: The End of Sir/Ma'am

This was prompted by Susanne's love of cultural...snippets, I guess. I totally forgot the word (sorry, Susanne!), but it's a funny story. I'll continue them if you guys are interested. Feel free to ask me any questions you have about "the Army way". Chances are pretty decent I'll have a story for it. : P

Basic Combat Training: The End of Sir/Ma'am

My whole life I'd been taught by my mama that men and women who are older than me and/or in positions of authority are to be addressed as sir or ma'am. It's a Southern thing. (Yes, I am totally Southern, although maybe a little teensy more "redneck" Southern (thanks, Dad) than Scarlett O'Hara Southern.) It's The Rule and if I was a rude little brat at times and wouldn't say it as a kid, she'd tan my hide when we got home to adjust my attitude.

Anyhoo, by the time I enlisted in the Army I had over two decades of Sir/Ma'am ingrained in my brain. This would put me in an uncomfortable spot a time or two come Basic Training. Let me explain just why.

In the Army, Sir/Ma'am is a title of respect reserved strictly for officers and warrant officers. You never EVER call an enlisted person sir or ma'am.

Particularly if said enlisted person is a drill sergeant.

The general response of a drill sergeant to being called sir or ma'am goes something like as follows:

Dumb-private-who-knows-no-better: "Yes, sir/ma'am!"

Drill Sergeant: "What did you just call me, Private? What? You see any bling on my uniform? My name is Drill SERGEANT! I work for a living!" ** (The shouting gets a little louder as he/she goes on.) The joke in this is that there is a popular belief in the Army that officers don't work -- the enlisted do all the work, the officers get the pay and the recognition. Thus, by calling an enlisted Soldier "sir" or "ma'am", you are implying that they don't do any work. ** As this line was used by every single drill sergeant I've had (roughly 10 of them, at least) , I think they teach it in Drill Sergeant School as part of the curriculum. "Drill Sergeant One Liners 101".

Now, if said Private is too dumb for words ups the ante.... well. This is hilarious for everyone in the general vicinity who is not the unfortunate private with the drill sergeant's undivided attention.

Dumb-private-who-just-keeps-digging-the-hole-deeper: "Sorry, Drill Sergeant!"

Madder Drill Sergeant: "WHAT? So NOW I'm a SORRY DRILL SERGEANT???" This is usually accompanied by more shouting and general DS grumpiness and push ups for the hapless private who has drawn the drill sergeant's ire, as well as the battle buddy of said private. (Soldiers - especially in basic - never go anywhere alone, particularly to see the Drill Sergeant/Platoon Sergeant/First Sergeant/Commander, and will suffer the same punishment as their idiot buddy.)

Needless to say, a Southerner will often get in a lot of trouble for saying sir/ma'am. I had the worst time trying to break myself of the habit. : P


  1. *lol* I love this story. I can imagine how hard a time the Southerners have adjusting to this. It's so deeply ingrained that sir and ma'am is the polite address and then you're in a situation where it's not and they get to yell at you about it!

  2. There's this southern guy at work and he's only 2 years younger than me (i'm 18, he's 16) but he always insists on calling me ma'am. I love it! Such a southern gentleman. So sweet. :)

  3. Great story! I'm so glad you shared these cultural tidbits from the Army! Hehehehe. I sometimes find myself even using sir or ma'am for people I know are YOUNGER than me that are like working in a bank or whatever. :D

    Loved the "sorry drill sergeant" bit!

    Really enjoy your blog! :)

  4. Salam,

    Just started reading your blog... You were in the military!!! Did you revert to Islam during or after?? I was in the Marine Corps and then the Army. I have been out for 2 years. I reverted to Islam 1 year after I got out Alhumdililah!!

    Went to Marine Corps Bootcamp You brought MEMORIES!! lol