There's more to cadences than just left-right-left

By Marie Berberea, Fort SillJuly 21, 2011

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FORT SILL, Okla. -- Throughout a Soldier's career, cadences carry the beat every step of the way. Beginning with simple 'left, right, left' in Basic Combat Training, the tunes blasted out of the mouths of drill sergeants are forever entwined to the movement of troops.

Cadence is defined as the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity. It has been used in the military since the Revolutionary War, as they needed to ready their muskets and fire together.

Now the Army uses cadence to keep Soldiers stepping in time while marching or running in formation. The cadence caller leads the formation with melodies, and Soldiers learn every time that person starts a verse their left foot should hit the ground.

"After the first week of training we start singing cadence," said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Robert Johns, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery. "We start off with the easy ones, and then we start teaching them the harder ones."

The military tradition of shouting a chant back to the cadence caller originated at Fort Slocum, N.Y. in 1944 when Pvt. Willie Duckworth was returning to his barracks along with the rest of his exhausted troop. A rhythmic chant arose from the columns when Duckworth, sang out the first-ever rendition of "Sound-off," "Sound-off; 1-2; Sound-off; 3-4; Count cadence; 1-2-3-4; 1-2 --- 3-4."

According to historical records, there was a spring in their step as they responded to Duckworth's chant. It caught the attention of Col. Bernard Lentz, the post commander, who along with the training center instructors helped him compose a series of verses and choruses to be used with the marching cadence.

During an interview celebrating his 78th birthday, Duckworth said the chant came from calling hogs at home.

However it started, cadences have become as common place as a uniform. Drill sergeants throughout the Army are taught the calls while they are learning to be lean, mean Soldier-making machines.

"My drill sergeant when I came through was one of the best cadence callers I ever heard. He was smooth when he sang, like Barry White," said Johns.

Cadences are sometimes called "Jody Calls" or "Jodies," after a recurring character who steals 'your girl back home' and other things that Soldiers might have on their minds.

"Ain't no use in lookin' down

Ain't no discharge on the ground …

Ain't no use in lookin' back.

Jody's got your Cadillac …

Ain't no use in lookin' blue

Jody's got your girlfriend, too … ."

"These are the same ones I heard when I came in and that was a long time ago. Some of them have changed, they come up with new ones. They even have a Chuck Norris one now," said Johns.

Of course, Johns said there are some cadences that aren't exactly politically correct but have simply been tweaked to make them acceptable to Army standards.

"My favorite is probably 'I'm a steam roller' and also 'I hear the choppers hoverin'. Soldiers seem to sound off more with those," said Johns.

The esprit de corps that tags along with cadence is visible as Soldiers block out their worries and move as one. The drill sergeants' different styles take them away from the grind of training, at least for the moment.

"It seems like whenever you have cadence in your march it goes a whole lot quicker," said Pvt. Steven Snowden, C/1st-40th FA.

While it's not an "American Idol" competition, the Soldiers still have clear favorites when it comes to the back and forth calls.

"I'd probably say Drill Sgt. Burns is the best because he's very on point and at the same time he's the loudest. My last name starts with a 'Z' so I'm always at the end of everything so it's nice to be able to hear it," said Pvt. Shahin Ziaee, C/1st-40th FA.

For others, it's the context of the cadence that matters.

"I like the ones that say 'I miss my baby.'… 'Far away from home.' It just kind of describes the way I feel," said Snowden.