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Eat By the Numbers

A friend of mine went through Naval Officer Candidate School a while back, and I recently stumbled upon an old e-mail he’d sent me that included the following:

It has been eight weeks, and my training class is about to become the “senior class on deck,” which means that we are responsible for running the junior classes. It also means that we’re entitled to certain privileges, like being able to talk while at meals (“chow”).

Previously, we had to do something called “eat by the numbers,” which is the standard method of eating for all junior training classes: a Marine Corps Drill Instructor, Class Chief Petty Officer, or Candidate Officer (a member of the senior class on deck) says “one,” and every student snaps their heads to within 4 inches of the plate of food. At “two” they pick up their “War Spoon” (the official name of an OCS soup spoon); “three” and we scoop up as much food as we can. “Four,” the spoon and food go in our mouths. “Five,” we remove the spoon, replace it on the tray, and check that everything is properly “grounded” (touching): the tray is flush with the edge of the table, and the two glasses are grounded in the upper left hand corner of the tray, touching the edge of the tray; the plate is grounded to the bottom center, with the War Spoon grounded to the bottom edge of the tray and grounded tangent to the plate. On “six,” we snap back up to attention, with our feet at a 45-degree angle, heels touching, feet on the port side of the table support (even if that table support is well to the side — which often leads to significant contortion), and with the “thousand-yard stare.” On “seven,” we are allowed to chew, and on “eight,” we are allowed to swallow. The process then repeats.

Suffice it to say, we’re pretty excited about the prospect of using forks.

I wonder how rituals like this get started? Do they help prepare our officers to better lead troops in combat? Why are these sorts of hazing rituals so common in the military and so rare in businesses? Does that mean that the military should do less of this, or businesses should do more? Maybe our family dinners should look more like this? Our faculty lunches?