The changing attitudes and values isn’t something that takes place overnight. A shift in this area of human nature usually takes place over an extended period of time, if at all. That’s what the experts tell you.
Regarding values, I have to differ with the experts. I know that shifts in values can take place in a manner of weeks. I’ve seen an individual’s whole outlook on his worth to society change drastically – I do mean drastically. Sometimes I have seen these changes take place almost over night and sometimes I have seen it take just a bit longer. I’m gonna relate to you the story of one particular individual where I observed a change that was so miraculous that his supervisors had trouble fathoming the change.
In the first section I ever had the chance to lead during my tenure in the Army, I had an individual named PFC Conway. PFC Conway was a draftee and was going nowhere and getting there very fast. My guy Conway was a young black kid from the area known as Upper Harlem, a impoverished district of New York City. He came from nothing, had nothing and was headed toward more of the same. His attitude wasn’t especially BAD, but it wasn’t the BEST either. The NCOs (two white and one black as it just so happens) in the section sorta tolerated Conway. He received more than his share of the shit details and slogged his way through them as best he could – not great results, but just barely getting by – sorta really flying under-the-radar.
A little background is relevant here. The platoon my section was assigned to was authorized thirty-seven vehicles. My section had five of the thirty-seven (1, ¼ ton Jeep [incidentally the oldest military vehicle in the state of Alaska], 2, ¾ ton Cargo Truck (pick-ups) and 2, 2 ½ ton Cargo Trucks (box trucks). At I have mentioned before in other correspondence, only five of the thirty-seven vehicles would start and run long enough to move to our new motor pool – a travel of less than ¼ mile. Not one of the vehicles assigned to my section would even start. It was late November, almost December, when the occurrence that I will relate took place. We had a mission to perform and vehicle maintenance wasn’t getting the attention it deserved – this was my thinking at the time.
Having just been attached to a Transportation unit, I knew this wasn’t gonna go over well and figured my best bet was to get ahead of the problem. My section had been allotted a commercial vehicle from the post transportation motor pool for our daily travels – re-supplying the brigade. I decided it was best to turn in that vehicle as soon as I was sure two of my own vehicles were consistently running, one of the 2 ½ tons for sure. I then spent some time at the unit maintenance shop seeing that my vehicles received some attention. Within a couple of days the maintenance officer had two running. I was now ready to try to get by on my own with my assigned vehicles – sorta novel approach, don’t you think?
I ask who had driver’s licenses and not one of those assigned to my section had a military license. I directed the NCOIC to send some of the guys to get a license as soon as we could possibly do so. You might already guess who got selected as the first to be the first tested – someone who would not be missed – ever-dispensable Conway.
The next afternoon Conway came back in from driver’s school. Actually the classes were taught by several of the transportation platoon NCOs and there wasn’t very much to it as I later learned. At any rate Conway had passed and had been issued a military driver’s license – a surprise to all. I called PFC Conway into my office and discussed the situation with him. I laid it all out: “Conway. I am assigning you to be the driver of the 2 ½ ton Cargo Truck we just got running yesterday.” I sat back awaiting his response.
Conway replied: “Sir, I’m from New York City and I ride either the subway or the bus. I’ve never driven a vehicle before in my life until this morning. And then I only went around the parking lot just once.”
“Well Conway, now you’re it. You’re our driver.”
You might guess what kind of look I received. He wasn’t happy – not in the least. You could see the gears turning, figuring. He was now gonna spend more than his share of time in the Alaskan cold. There would be a lot of early mornings - cleaning off his truck and performing on-your-back maintenance in the snow under the truck. It just wasn’t gonna be pleasant any more. He had had it pretty good up to that point – shit details notwithstanding. He was the goof-off that got by because of the perception of a bad attitude.
He had never fit in with the rest of the section; eleven other guys, none of which were black – a mixture of white or Hispanic. Now his role was changing. He might no longer be under-the-radar.
A couple weeks after our discussion and into PFC Conway’s new responsibilities, the section was detailed to send a contingent of four on a huge winter exercise in the Fairbanks area. Well, as Conway was the only driver I had and our mission had to continue at Fort Richardson, Conway could not go – somebody still had to make the daily resupply trips. This one condition seemed to light just the slightest fire in Conway’s eyes. The guys deployed north would have a pretty rough time. They would be sorta step children to the rest of the unit deployed - but would survive. Conway had a pretty easy two weeks – picking up supplies and delivering them here and there while he was inside his toasty warm 2 ½ ton three hundred miles south of the harsh times of his section mates.
A couple of months passed by and Conway with HIS vehicle were available every day. Oh, others eventually got their license but Conway was always the first out to get HIS truck every morning and ready to go.
I eventually had another occasion to sit and discuss with him how he and HIS truck were doing. Right outta the blue he said: “Sir, I never had my own car. Man, if the guys on the block could just see me now.” He was as happy as any one individual could be. He looked different; his uniform was sharp and pressed everyday. He was proud of what he was doing; particularly when he was driving HIS truck.
Within the next month, I managed to get Conway promoted to Specialist Fourth Class. This brought a fairly significant pay increase to boot – not a whole lot you realize; after all it was the Army in the early 70s. But you couldn’t touch SP4 Conway with a ten foot pole. I’m serious.
Conway’s values had changed for the better, first by changing for the worse. But they had changed. Right along with his values, his attitude had improved just as fast.
I can go on and on relating situation after situation and troop after troop; civilian workers also who’s values were changed by just the slightest bit of responsibility.
Long story short, values can be changed right along with attitudes and beliefs. All things considered, values may actually be the easiest to change when the right circumstances present themselves. The right guy and the right set of circumstances.