Duo makes basic a family business
Spc. Jeffrey Pohl, left, with his son Pvt. Zackary Pohl, take a short break to stop for a picture while during a recent exercise. The pair unknowingly ended up in the same basic training company after enlisting at different times.

FORT KNOX, Ky. -- Drill sergeants are known for the sometimes unflattering monikers they assign to trainees. When the drill instructors at Fort Knox's Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, yell, "Papa Pohl! Papa Pohl!" - the nickname is based on fact.

That's because 40-year-old Spc. Jeffrey Pohl (pronounced like "pole") is the father of fellow Soldier and trainee, Pvt. Zackary Pohl. Both Soldiers-in-training, or SITs, are with Alpha Company, although they're in different platoons.

The common timing and location of the Pohls' basic training was a fluke.

Divorced from Zack's mother, Jeffrey talked with Zack, who had consulted his father about possibly enlisting. Jeffrey agreed that it sounded like a good idea for the young man who was looking for opportunities in his life.

An erstwhile graphic designer in the entertainment animation industry, Jeffrey's employment tended to be erratic, and he thought the military life might be an equally good idea for himself.

With no prior coordination, Jeffrey enlisted in southern California Sept. 22, 2009, while Zack signed his contract on Sept. 24, 2009 in northern California. Their next phone call featured shipping dates and where they would go for basic training. They were surprised to learn that they would be reporting to Fort Knox on the same day.

According to the drill instructors, the kinship hasn't been a problem.

"I think I have earned the respect from the other trainees," Jeffrey said. "I haven't heard anything to suggest that the other trainees resent me, although the drill sergeants confirm that (the other trainees) know about our (father-son) status."

In basic rifle marksmanship, the two Pohls qualified with identical scores, but their similarities seem to end there.

Although he's training with others who are closer to his son's age, Jeffrey is having little trouble with basic. His father was a physical education teacher and, although recently retired, he still competes in triathalons and skis, and surfs. Jeffrey's civilian lifestyle included back-packing, hiking, and lots of time in the woods. During land navigation, a crew of other trainees followed Jeffrey as he easily negotiated the course.

"At first, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with these youngsters. But then I realized (land navigation) is not an innate skill," Jeffrey said. "I learned using a compass and orienting myself so young, I forgot that many others wouldn't know how to do it."

Zack, on the other hand, struggles with several aspects of basic.

"I'm not used to such a tight schedule," he said.

Zack admitted he's accustomed to more free time to hang out, and not so much physical activity. He has trouble with running, too. Both Pohls have gotten used to the drill sergeants paging them.

"Papa Pohl, where's junior' Is he keeping up'" they say.

Jeffrey said he understands what drill sergeants are trying to do when they're in Zack's face, and it isn't an issue for him.

"I have no problems watching (the drill instructors) when they yell at Zack, or even some of the other SITs who need mentoring," Jeffrey said. "I heard one of the drill sergeants say, 'I couldn't watch my son do this.' But they have a tough job, and I think they do an admirable job with it. Besides, they're equal opportunity yellers."

For example, some might accuse soft-spoken Zack of mumbling, but he has made progress through a drill sergeant's mentoring.

"Drill Sergeant (Matthew) Halstead can be very intimidating, but he's finally gotten Zack to respond with clear answers, so he's made a lot of progress in these five weeks," Jeffrey said.

Both Pohls appreciate that they have someone to talk to.

"It's nice for us; I actually have more time now to talk to Zack than I did in the civilian world," Jeffrey explained. "When I was working on a movie, two-three years of my life would be tied up with the nonstop schedule."

Both Pohls have been challenged by the Kentucky winter.

"The climate difference is huge," Jeffrey said. "In California, you drive to Lake Tahoe to see snow. Here, I didn't see the sun for a month."

Sunshine or rain, Papa Pohl said he doesn't take the training lightly.

"The drill sergeants are doing a very good job of making sure you understand (that) this is no summer camp; they're preparing us to go to war," Jeffrey said. "Our job now is defending our nation."

The 1-46 leadership has taken note of the father-son duo as well.

"Having a father-son team in the same basic combat training unit has definitely been a plus," said Maj. Antonio Austin, the battalion executive officer. "(Specialist) Jeffrey Pohl has been an internal counselor and motivator, not just to his son, Private Zackary Pohl, but to the other Soldiers within his platoon. Being a more mature adult, with life experience, and being in the same boat as a SIT, he was able to relate to the Soldiers in a different way from the other cadre. Having the father-son team has definitely been interesting and an overall bonus for Alpha Company."

Zack said his favorite time so far has been during company time when he gets to spend a few minutes with his dad.

Dad agrees.

"That's flesh and blood right there," said Jeffrey.

Page last updated Thu March 11th, 2010 at 15:47