Airborne Wings

Weak Minds Build Strong Bodies – Soldier’s Stories

Conventional Wisdom

When I was a young Lieutenant in the 82d Airborne Division,’Weak minds build strong bodies’ seemed to be a very popular phrase. It was generally exhorted in the form of giving wisdom, just before administering corrective action to a soldier who broke faith with his chain of command, violated a rule or just generally showed awful form. The conventional wisdom at the time was if one couldn’t be smart enough to do ‘Right,’ then they should at least be strong enough to absorb the consequences.

Weak minds build strong bodies
Patch of the 82d Airborne Division

The corrective remedy – Push Ups! If a soldier was perceived as doing ‘Wrong,’ his leadership would mutter ‘weak minds build strong bodies,’ then in a loud, authoritative voice shout ‘Get Down!’.

Airborne soldiers are crafty, devious, limit pushers, but they’re also very, very disciplined. Upon hearing ‘Get Down,’ they’d immediately assume the ‘front and leaning rest’ position, also known as the Push-Up position, and respond with ‘How many?’ while beginning to knock out push-up repetitions.

Poor Judgement equals 10

The customary penalty was 10 pushups for usual breaks of faith, poor judgment or just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On occasions when the ‘on the spot’ correction required reinforcement, the Paratrooper might receive multiple sets of 10.

On other occasions when the infraction was particularly egregious, and the NCO was very unhappy about it, the soldier’s answer to ‘How many?’ might be ‘You keep pushing the earth away until I’m tired of watching you!’.

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Paratroopers are very disciplined soldiers and can respond as-trained, in almost any scenario. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to hear the explanation from one of the Platoon’s soldiers late one night at the Military Police Station. Allegedly he was over at the Enlisted Club at Pope Air Force Base drinking copious amounts of beer (as Paratroopers are prone to do) when he decided to walk out the back to relieve himself.

After completing his mission, he realized he was on the flight line with a C-130 aircraft trying to make a landing. Naturally, as a trained Transportation Soldier (Truck Driver) he proceeded to ground-guide the landing aircraft. The Flight Tower didn’t believe the pilots needed the assistance of a drunken Paratrooper with hands expertly raised over his head and dispatched Security to remove him from the runway.

I’m told that the Security Police were most expeditious at arriving at the scene, lights and alarms blaring, pistols drawn as they shouted ‘Get Down.’

Like a good paratrooper, he assumed the front and leaning rest position and shouted back ‘How many?’ and proceeded to knock out pushups as they unceremoniously deposited him into the back of the squad car.

Rules are Rules

Perhaps because I too was a proud, trained Paratrooper, I had to compliment him on his reflexive response. However, rules are rules, and he received the opportunity to become a Private First Class, all over again. Sometimes breaches of good order and profound demonstrations of ‘Weak Minds,’ even on Air Force bases, require stronger correction than stronger bodies.

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