The following script derives from my disbanded book anthology series, The Unexpected Cosmology, which sought to chronicle the lives of flat earthists and also those within the Torah community. Hours upon hours of interviews were recorded. It was truly a project of love. Though written as a biography, the narrative takes its form from literal conversations held between myself and those being interviewed. This is just one segment from Rob Skiba’s life. Every line of dialogue was peronally delievered by him. Shalom.
KISS ALABAMA | Rob Skiba
THERE WERE essentially two reasons why Rob Skiba wanted to join the Army and fly helicopters. The first was obvious. As a career Army aviator, his own dad flew them. Actually, he’d piloted in Vietnam. But then again, for anyone who was remotely serious about achieving their childhood ambitions, so was the second. He had read somewhere that NASA astronauts learned to fly helicopters in order to dock the lunar landers. And not to be overlooked, rather than simply learning to fly them, he needed to know how to fix them too. But that, as anybody who’s taken space flight seriously knows, was only the beginning. After mastering helicopters, thereby landing lunar landers, he would enter the Air Force to learn how to fly jets.
“My plan was, I wanted to fix helicopters so that I could learn how they work; fly helicopters; get my commission, whether its warrant or lieutenant; and then transition as an officer into the air force, so that I’d go into the air force as a gentleman, learn how to fly jets, and eventually get into the space program. All that had to happen by the time I was twenty-eight or my chances would be very slim. If you could get all your ducks in a row and get all your skills acquired before twenty-eight, you had a pretty good chance of making it into the space program.” And if it didn’t happen before his thirtieth birthday, then he’d be dead.
Skiba was still in high school when his master plan began to be imposed. Though he wouldn’t graduate until the following June, he joined the United States Army in December of 1986, and apparently, he even convinced his childhood friends to come along. His father swore them in. Skiba recalled, “I was a hardcore Star Wars geek to the point of having Star Wars bed sheets a couple of days before I went to boot camp.” That is to say, Skiba wasn’t rushing anywhere to dispose of his childhood. Space travel was very much an adult matter. And even astronauts needed bed sheets. He arrived at boot camp within a week of his high school graduation.
THE FIRST day is always the worst. And though Rob Skiba arrived at Fort McClellan, nestled within the Choccolocco foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Alabama, his location ultimately mattered little. It could have been Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood in Waynesville, Missouri, or Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The experiences themselves vary little. Without exception, every recruit will forever remember the first hour of their arrival. From the moment the bus pulls up to a stop and the Drill Sergeant screams:
“WELCOME TO THE ARMY! TAKE YOUR TIME!”
The recruit remembers.
The sad soul who fumbles off the bus with his duffel:
“WHY ARE WE STOPPING, SHRIMP? WE HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED!”
Even the sun seems to swelter. Despite physical fatigue, whereupon Rob Skiba was finally allowed to bunk that night, his head likely scrambled to take in all the information, and therefore found the simple task of sleep a struggle.
“THE FIRST AND LAST WORDS OUR OF YOUR MOUTH WILL BE ‘DRILL SERGEANT, FIRST SERGEANT, SERGEANT MAJOR, or SIR!’”
Sir, yes Sir!
“DON’T CALL ME SIR, I WORK FOR A LIVING! AND MY PARENTS WERE NOT RELATED!”
On his very first morning, Rob Skiba stood in line with three-hundred Army recruits and his buddy Mike, whom he’d sworn in with several months earlier, heads cleanly shaven. Their stomachs were near empty and they had one goal in mind. Food. “We had to line up to get our meal card. And if you didn’t have this meal card then you wouldn’t eat. I don’t know how this happened, because my last name is Skiba, and they usually put us in alphabetical order, but somehow, probably because I was really hungry, I ended up at the front of the line. We were all lined up alongside this building, wrapped around the side on the sidewalk, and the drill Sargent said, “Okay, when you get into the First Sargent’s office you have to say this that and the other thing, now get in there!”
“SKIBA, MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”
“You have to do your proper drill and ceremony movements. March, half step. Right face. You have to do all that properly, nice and straight. And so, I open up the door, and there’s a Drill Sergeant sitting right inside the door.”
Everything the drill Sargent said started with was: Aahhhhhh!
“Aahhhhhh! OH, MY GOD! YOU’RE BRINGING SNAKES INTO THE FIRST SERGEANT’S OFFICE! GET OUT OF HERE! GET OUT OF HERE!”
Skiba was fresh from Massachusetts. He knew about moose, beaver, lobster, and shrimp, but snakes—What the heck—Where? “All I know is, I open the door and he’s accusing me of bringing snakes in. So, I jumped back, and as soon as I did that, there were three other drill Sergeants who were around that area, and they saw that I didn’t make it into the office.” He immediately found himself having three brimmed hats, hovering only inches from his ears and nose, to contend with.
“Oh, YOU REALLY SCREWED UP NOW, PRIVATE!”
“I don’t even know what I did, Drill Sergeant!”
“BEAT YOUR FACE!”
“Beat my face?”
“BEAT YOUR FACE!”
“Yes, Drill Sargent!”
And with that, Skiba began smacking himself in the face.
They let this go on for a few seconds before the next drill sergeant asked, “WHAT ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF MORON!?”
“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”
“WHAT DID HE TELL YOU TO DO?”
“He told me to beat my face!”
“WELL, YOU’D BETTER KNOCK EM’ OUT THEN, BOY!”
Skiba gulped, “Knock him out?”
“KNOCK EM’ OUT!”
Skiba braved eye contact with the first drill sergeant, Beat-Face. The guy was huge. Skiba responded, “No, Drill Sergeant!”
The third drill sergeant spoke up, “BOY, YOU’RE ON SOME THIN ICE.” He pointed at Beat-Face. “WHAT DID HE TELL YOU TO DO?”
“He told me to beat my face!”
He then pointed at the Knock-Em’ Face.
“He told me to knock him out!”
“WELL THEN, YOU’D BETTER GET DOWN AND kiss ALABAMA, SON!”
Skiba, “Kiss Alabama?”
So, Skiba got down and started making out with the dirt. It seemed the right thing to do. “The guy grabs me by the back of the neck after a few minutes, literally picks me up off of the ground, and I’m hanging there by the back of my neck, spitting out grass. And he’s like:”
“SON, WHEN WE TELL YOU TO BEAT YOUR FACE, KNOCK EM’ OUT, or KISS ALABAMA, that means DO PUSH-UPS!”
It made sense.
“Oh, why didn’t you say so?”
They watched while Skiba enthusiastically beat his face fifty times.
“SON, WHEN WE TELL YOU TO BEAT YOUR FACE, KNOCK EM’ OUT, or KISS ALABAMA, YOU’RE ONLY SUPPOSED TO DO TEN! NOW GET BACK DOWN THERE AND BEAT YOUR FACE!”
He kissed Alabama ten more times.
They then ordered Skiba to get back in there.
“So, I don’t know what I did wrong the first time, but the drill sergeant said, ‘AAHHHHH! OH MY GOD SNAKES!’ This went on like six times.” It took him six times, entering and then jumping out of the building again, and having to beat his face or kiss Alabama, before Skiba realized that snakes meant shoe laces. “If my boot lace was not tucked into my boot and it was sticking out, they called them snakes. And part of the torturing that they did—they called them grass drills. And grass drills are like a demented form of Simon Says. So, they’ll say: GET UP! Get up means stand at attention. Get down means do pushups. Roll over means do flutter kicks.”
GET UP! GET DOWN! ROLL OVER!
And then they’d start speeding up, in repetition:
GET UP! GET DOWN! ROLL OVER! GET UP! GET DOWN!
Followed by the inevitable:
WHO TOLD YOU TO ROLL OVER? OH, MY GOD!
“Nobody else could go in until I got it right. So, all the other soldiers are standing there watching me be tortured and they’re freaking out knowing they’re next. And I finally got everything figured out—figured out what snakes were. I got into the First Sergeant’s office, did what I was supposed to do, and then the First Sergeant gave me my card.”
He then asked, “Do you understand, Private?”
Skiba answered: “Yes Drill Sergeant! I mean, First Sergeant!”
The drill sergeant next to him screamed:
OH, MY GOD! WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, GENERAL PATTON? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, TRYING TO DEMOTE THE FIRST SERGEANT ON THE FIRST DAY OF BOOT CAMP?
Naturally, this was followed by another, Aahhhhhh!
“They went completely psycho on me. And then they sent me down to the company, which is this big long cement slab at the bottom of the hill. But you can’t walk on the grass. And so, I had to walk out of the First Sergeant’s office, do a left face. All of the soldiers were lined up on one side of the sidewalk. And the drill sergeants were going up and down the sidewalk picking on people.” He recognized Drill Sergeant Scott among them. Drill Sergeant Scott had made drill sergeant of the year. He knew this only because he’d seen his plaque in the First Sergeant’s office. “He’s this real mean dude, a real tough guy. And he’s leaning in picking on somebody, and I thought, this is my chance to walk around him. So, I got one leg around him and he turned around, drill sergeant hat in my face. And I’m teetering with one leg around him, because I didn’t want to step on the grass.”
Drill Sergeant Scott said: “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO NOW, PRIVATE?”
Skiba said: “Kiss Alabama?”
MIKE WAS getting his now. From where Skiba had settled on the grass below the knoll, reading his Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks handbook, fingers trembling with fear and the adrenaline still pumping through him as he read it, he could hear the trepidation proceeding up above in the First Sergeant’s office. The horror lingered on.
KISS ALABAMA, SON!
Oh yeah, Mike was totally getting his.
The blazing heat of Alabama had beaded up the sweat on Skiba’s skull. The sun scalded the back of his neck. His cheeks were flushed, and his hat had soaked through. He could even sense the build-up of perspiration as it drenched the bill of his cap, and then watched as it dripped down into his book. Grasping for breath, he thought, ‘Eight weeks of this, I’m never going to make it.’
Skiba recalled, “I was totally freaking out. And after five or ten minutes I finally started calming down, and my buddy Mike, who was the next poor sucker who had to go in after me; I could hear them yelling at him at the top of the hill the whole time.”
Mike managed to hunker down into the square next to Skiba and then pull out his SMCT handbook. His entire body trembled, and he said: “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Eight weeks of this, I’m never going to make it. What did you get me into?’”
Skiba retorted, “I’m sorry—I’m sorry—I know, I know!”
The sweltering heat of Alabama beat down on both of them now, beading up sweat upon their bald heads, drowning out their cap, saturating both bills, and in turn, sponging their books. “Ten minutes later and the next guy comes down,” Skiba recalled.
“Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Eight weeks of this…!”
It was after the fourth person came down “that something clicked in my head. And it was like, ‘Okay, we’re all in this together. They can’t kill us. And all this is going to do is make us physically stronger. So, this is just a head game. It’s got to be a head game—right?” Mike and those accumulating around him, having survived both the entry and exit from the First Sergeant’s office, shrugged.
It was a good speech. Short—but inspiring.
“At first, it was a very terrifying experience, as you might imagine. I was very naïve going into it. Boot camp is best summarized as a trauma-based mind control activity, where they put you through all kinds of stuff and torture you until they make you into a lean, mean fighting machine, no matter where you came from, in terms of upbringing. They pretty much mold everybody into the same thing. It was at that moment that I realized; I’m just going to accept this for what it is. And it became fun for me at that point on, and actually quite humorous, because I saw the humor in everything that was happening. And I’m thinking to myself, the drill sergeants have to have a beer afterwards, just laughing their heads off.”
“Did you see that Skiba kid punching himself in the face?”