The Ministry of Funny Walks is Real!

Did you know “pace sticking” is a real thing?

I guess it makes sense, when you’re doing precision drill – someone who steps farther than everyone else is going to throw the rest of the unit off. So, naturally, we need a measuring tool to do it.

When I was in basic training (Ft Dix, summer class of 1983) the drill field had marks along one edge, which showed the correct pace distance. Ssg Flores, who managed our drill classes, simply had us march down that and if we weren’t able to adjust our pace to the marks, we got to do it over and over and over again while Flores yelled at us and made us do pushups. Those of us who got it right away had the opportunity to lounge about in the shade while the others suffered.

The British solution is much more typically British. Though I suppose the fellow is Scottish, actually. …? I can’t read British regimental bling.


  1. crivitz says

    I went to basic training twice, in 1983 with the USAF and in 1988 with the US Army. As weird as this UK Army drill looks, it’s still kind of impressive. Between the USAF and US Army, the USAF to my mind did a better job in training the recruits to march. No cadence calls either, but they emphasized the left heel strikes to maintain rhythm. Don’t recall any markings, let alone calipers, to maintain a regular pace in either one.

    For an interesting look at a slice-of-life in the Royal Army in Scotland, check out Tunes of Glory, a movie from 1960 with Alec Guiness and John Mills. While it’s an entertaining, fictional dramatic story, one of the things that struck me was how much time is spent in drills and training for a local folk dance compared to combat training. Maybe things have changed in the intervening years.

  2. says

    It’s things like these that made me avoid the military draft even though it was in peacetime. I have always had problems with artificially imposed authority, even as a kid. I have to respect someone’s ability to accept them as an authority, a mere power over me does not suffice. I would suffer mightily in the military because I would refuse to do imbecilic things like these, I would be shouted at and disciplined and it would lead to nowhere.
    In case it is not clear, I hate the military, everything about it, and everything it stands for. It is one of the most depressing things about humanity that militaries are still necessary. They should not be. Not even those silly guards with stupid hats standing in front of public buildings. There simply should not be a need for them. But there is.

  3. seachange says

    I read your description and the comments. I still have no idea what I just watched. There was some hilarity there for me where the closed caption had a lot of trouble with what he was saying and substituted its own reality instead. Needless to say this didn’t help. :)

  4. crivitz says

    Charly, I wish I had the same convictions in my youth that you had regarding the military. Your attitude is one that I share, but it took me many years for me to understand this, while you’ve probably had this viewpoint since your youth.

  5. johnson catman says

    re seachange says @4: OMFG!!! The attempt at closed-captioning was HILARIOUS! Sometimes, even the same word repeated in a sentence was captioned as a different word. I couldn’t understand what the officer was saying a lot of the time, but the captioning was MUCH worse than me at capturing the words.

  6. antaresrichard says

    A conscientious objector (Status 1-0) [as was my dad in 1944 (Status 1-A-0)] I have never been able to wrap my head around codified carnage. Anyway, just yesterday I was at a Christmas concert when a sentimentalized account of the 1914 WW1 Christmas Truce was sung. It moved the audience, many of whom were veterans and people still in the service.

    I, on the other hand, thought the “feel-good” absolutely obscene. How I hate these maddeningly wistful lip service to peace. Token gestures that ring so monstrously hollow when we blindly continue to throw countless lives into harms way. For me, I can find nothing honorable anywhere – just regrettable.

    My father especially detested military ritual and fanfare. For him Charly, the emperor had no clothes. War is Hell and hypocritical, no matter much spit and shine one applies.

  7. lochaber says

    Marcus> I’m sorta impressed you can remember your drill instructor’s names, I went through boot camp much more recently than you, and I’ve already forgotten most of that (although, some of that may have been intentional, I hated those four years…).

    I was so bad at drill… part of it is because I never properly learned all that kindergarten stuff, you know, like the difference twixt left/right, colors, the number of days in a month, etc. About half the time on a “Left/Right Face”, I’d find myself to be staring into another recruit’s face.

    I did well enough on the PFT stuff, could remember the stupid details we constantly chanted to score well on our periodic written tests/quizes, and I could keep my footlocker in decent shape, as well as help my neighboring bunkmates to get their boots on the right damned foot, so I imagine that kinda reduced how much they noticed me. Was rather proud about them rather periodically forgetting my name (not terribly uncommon/difficult), as I felt I must be doing okay if they can’t even remember who I am enough to yell at me.

    Once I hit the fleet… Holy fuck, did whoever was marching us around love to go on about how wonderfully useful “drill” is. And, I get it, it is actually useful for moving large groups around in an orderly manner. But, that’s like, probably not even ~5% of the time you are having to move people around? And the general military method of just shouting and pointing seemed to work almost as well when we were boarding commercial airplanes and busses and such, so….? But they always liked to talk about how useful it was for “combat”, and I couldn’t help but think “not since gunpowder? which predates the U.S. by quite a bit?” Closest was a brief bit of training on riot control, and a couple hours of riot-shield/baton, but even so, that was more “shield wall” and less “about face”

    Recently had a coworker ask about veteran’s day in regards to my prior enlistment, and I was just “hell no, that was just another shitty job that I had for four years, it’s not like, part of my identity or anything…”

  8. photon says

    Quick translation of the bling, for those interested in such trivia:
    The captain narrating the video is from the Scots Guards, his lovely assistant is from the Mercian Regiment, the one in the kilt is from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, white cap band/paired buttons is from the Coldstream Guards, and the corporal is from the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.

  9. Ridana says

    Is there a legitimate reason why the kilted man’s arm swing is diametrically out of sync with the others? Like, “We Scots won’t bend to your rules!” Then he just kinda gives up at the end and holds his arm to his side.

  10. cvoinescu says

    Ridana @ #9:
    The guy in the kilt also walks out of step, which is consistent with his arm movement. He hits the ground with his foot and stick at the same time as the others, so it’s hard to see, but it’s the other foot. How did such a maverick move make it into a military video clip of military precision bordering* on comical?

    * I am using the concept of border loosely here, following modern dictatorial practice.

  11. paramad51 says

    I went to Navy boot camp at NTC SanDiego 1971. (The training center is no longer there). The Navy really has no need of precision marching but we still marched all the time, no particular length of stride as we all eventually came to an accommodation and became very proficient at it.
    I tried out and was admitted to the Blue Jackets Choir. We sang for graduation every week along with special events around San Diego. We had a very distinctive style of marching and did some pretty cool maneuvers like splitting the company circling around, special oblique marches I can’t remember all the intricate movements we did. It was actually quite enjoyable.
    When I was posted to the fleet whenever we had shore leave our main mode of travel was walking and whenever there were two or more of us we fell into cadence unconsciously but boy we could cover ground!
    I am not enamored of the military either but it will never go away until as humans we decide not to fight.
    “What if they gave a war and no on showed up?”

  12. charles says

    I don’t remember much about learning to march, just that we did it alot. I do remember, before graduation our company commander advised; don’t lock your knees standing at attention or you’ll pass out.
    Another memorable bit from bootcamp, I gained 20 pounds.
    At A-school we were supposed to march to the mess hall for lunch. Led by the senior member of the class (after sometime in Vietnam he was given A-school for reenlistment) “Forward, at the straggle”.

  13. Tethys says

    This type of drill team marching is for parades and exhibitions. I’ve never seen a pace stick, but I did participate in a local Drill team during middle school. They usually have marchers and flags, and often perform with marching bands during half-time at sports events.

    Since I was too short to be either, I was one of two girls with sabers who flanked the color guard and banner at the head of our team.

    I loved saber twirling, and traveling around to various events was fun, but the constant polishing of white boots with black heels and parading on asphalt under the July sun was less enjoyable. Our hats were pretty awesome but the polyester uniform was like wearing a plastic bag.

  14. says

    Sailor here. In the Navy’s bootcamp the shortest member of a company automatically carries the company’s guidon (a flag featuring the company’s number (016) in my case. The idea was that everyone adjusted to the guidon carrier’s pace. When in mass formations, the guidon carrier was responsible for maintaining the interval between companies. As the RPOC (Recruit Petty Officer Chief)—a job I got because I had six years of marching band experience and was an Eagle Scout—all I had to do was call the commands directing the company’s movement. We selected someone with a great voice to call cadence.

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