By Mrs. Melissa K Buckley (Leonard Wood)May 8, 2014
It's the halfway point for the 55-year-old former Sailor turned Soldier-in-training on Fort Leonard Wood. Sgt. 1st Class John Taffe is setting a high standard for his much younger battle buddies.
Taffe is in week six of his 10-week-long Basic Combat Training.
"Because of my age and rank, I feel like I have to prove myself a little more in some cases. The physical training has been easier than I expected," said Taffe, Company D, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, "I have the highest PT score in the company. My goal is to get a 300. I'm at 280."
Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Hankins, Company D, 3rd Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, drill sergeant, said even though Taffe is the oldest Soldier he has ever trained, it is easy to see the 55-year-old exercised hard before arriving on post.
"He is actually surpassing most of the other Soldiers. As far as physical conditioning, he came here in shape and has improved. He knew what to expect, and it's obvious he prepared himself for this," Hankins said.
The drill sergeant said Taffe isn't treated differently from the other Soldiers-in-training, but Taffe does learn differently than the others.
"He's already mentored in the military, we are just trying to show him the Army side of things. It's a lot easier to teach the Army skills to him," Hankins said. "He is a good sport. He participates just like the 18-year-olds."
Taffe said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I want to experience training the same way they are. That is the only way they are going to respect me," he said. "I hope I'm inspiring them to go and do it and stop whining. It's like 'if the old man can do it -- I can do it.'"
Taffe began his military career in 1977 with the U.S. Navy. Most of his time was spent as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal technician, diver, parachutist and instructor.
He served for almost 14 years before being released from active duty in 1991 as chief petty officer or E-7 equivalent.
Taffe refers to his fellow Soldiers-in-training as his brothers and sisters, but in the beginning he said they felt more like his children.
"There was a lot of adolescent attitude. I tried to stay out of it. It's like a movie I've seen and I know the end. I didn't want to ruin it for them. With age, comes patience," Taffe said. "I respect the process, and I let the professionals change them from adolescent civilians into Soldiers. Now, I call them my brothers and sisters. It's starting to feel like a Family."
Taffe said one of the hardest adjustments was being yelled at by his drill sergeants.
"When a drill sergeant yells at me, it's like they are screaming into my soul, ripping it out, tearing it into little pieces and shoving it back down inside me. That's a little tough. It's hard at 55-years-old to be yelled at like that, but I don't want special treatment. It's their job, and I asked for it," Taffe said.
No place is safe. According to Taffe, when he went through the Navy's boot camp, the chow hall was like church.
"It was the one place they couldn't mess with you. It's not like that here. The drill sergeants just let us have it anywhere," Taffe said.
So far, he said he is enjoying his Basic Combat Training experience and what the Army has to offer in his continuing military career.
"I prefer the approach that the Army takes in that every member is a Soldier first and then their job is secondary," he said. "I had no idea what the infantry was like. These drill sergeants have impressed me."
More than anything Taffe misses his children. He can't wait for graduation.
"They grow up so fast. They are 12 and 15 now. My wife and I understood and were prepared to be apart for a while, but my kids aren't getting the absence part," he said.
Taffe is scheduled to graduate at the end of May. He will return to California and his job as a logistics management specialist for the Department of Homeland Security and new position as a transportation management coordinator for a U.S. Army Reserve unit.
(Editor's note: This is the second installment of a three-part series. Another story will follow near graduation.)