Sleep was impossible that late morning, despite the fatigue dragging from my eyelids. Peeling myself from the film of sweat slathered on my foam mat, I groggily sat up. A hot breeze swirled through the tent, lifting a thousand particles of infinitesimal dust and settling them comfortably again upon my damp skin. Dirt manifested almost every outer bodily crevice, sweet foods from the Boodle Truck filled my stomach, muddled thoughts swirled through my mind of the ideal and realization of West Point, of knowledge, of upperclassmen, of the abandonment of civilization with my week in the field, of the coming end of Beast, and life was good. It was not wonderful, it was not luxurious, it was not pleasant, but it was good. All the challenges and frustrations, I had realized, were part of a game. The objective of the game was to create better people, and the rules were ironic and simple for the players: treat everything, especially that which you once considered utterly trivial,
with utmost gravity, as if your life depended on it--while keeping, in secret, a sense of humor. I had broken down in tears several times in the past six weeks, trying to stick to the rules of the game, trying to take everything both seriously and lightly at the same time, and I was tired. In less than twenty-four hours, though, I would be back at West Point settling into the more-familiar academic world, away from this summer of sweat and yelling and blisters and dirt and unnecessary tears.

I lifted myself from the tent, and entered the somewhat refreshing air of the sunny outside, trying to recall what I needed to do. My duffel bag was mostly packed, my roommate Grimm was at the showers...did I need to go talk to Minges about the talent show? No, sorry, he was busy. "Hsieh, you alright?" I heard. I looked around to find the speaker, Jayme, and a few other friendly New Cadets, all with amused quizzical expressions on their faces, and replied in my hoarse voice, "Oh, yeah, sure, why?" "You just look a little lost," she laughed. I grinned and began stumbling back to my tent, when I noticed I was missing something. My platoon mates, sitting around and chatting, all had their rifles. I had left mine in the tent--oops. And Grimm's also, since I was supposed to be watching it. Silly me. Peering under the tent flaps, I found Grimm's rifle where I put it on her bed roll, but...searching, searching, searching...where was mine? I knew I had placed it in the middle of the
tent, because I had shown Grimm as I was placing it down earlier to pack.

Bed rolls, TA-50, packed bags, shuffled and uncovered--and where was my rifle? It should have been in my tent, in the center, in the crack between my bed roll and hers--where was my rifle? People. People! "Have you seen my rifle?" No. Sorry, no. A little hope--maybe Grimm has it. Grimm! No, she has nothing. But how can it be missing? It should have been in the tent. It should have been there, even Grimm says so. How could mine have been taken while hers laid there, untouched by the wiles of upperclassmen? A suggestion from Chavez: Go ask Sergeant Atkins--he probably took it. He's the only one in our company who steals rifles. No, no, Chavez, I don't want to ask him just yet...it should have been in my tent. You'll ask with me, Chavez? Um, okay. Hope again--maybe Sergeant Atkins has it. Sergeant Atkins! Sergeant, do you have my rifle? Please do...please do...no. No? My stomach just fell through. Yes, Sergeant, I lost my rifle. Sergeant, the number is 1139. Anyone have my
rifle? No one has my rifle. Yes, First Sergeant, I lost my rifle. Yes, sir, I lost my rifle. Yes, ma'am, I lost my rifle. I must report to the Regimental Headquarters now. Moving with urgency, moving with Sergeant Atkins. "Do you know what this means, Hsieh? Once you report, we have to stop the whole regiment and sweep the entire area of Lake Frederick until it is found. You'll be getting an Article 10, a hundred hours, and counseling by your academic year company's TAC Officer. Great way to start the year, don't you think?" Yes, Sergeant, great way to start the year. "Do you even care?" Do I even care? How can he even ask that? Is this really happening to me? Is this all a dream? God, can this please be a dream?

Parade rest. Waiting in nervousness. Here comes the company's TAC NCO with fire in her eyes. "How dare you lose your rifle, New Cadet?" No excuse, Sergeant. "Do you know what could happen with a rifle lost?" Hesitation. People might get hurt, Sergeant. "Might get hurt? New Cadet, do you realize you are responsible now for the deaths of innocent children out there? You better find your weapon, is that understood, New Cadet?" Yes, Sergeant. Yes, Sergeant. Yes, Sergeant. Panic rising. Is this really happening to me?

Look everywhere, ask everyone, scour through the whole regiment until it is found. Bathrooms. People. Tents. Questions. Disappointed squad leader. Disappointed platoon leader. Yes, sir. No, sir. No excuse, sir. Sir, I do not understand. Where could it possibly be? How can it really be gone? I made sure I knew where it was all morning, I was with it the whole time...almost. Everyone help--they're calling the MPs in two hours if my rifle is not found. People. Tents. Search. Ask. Search. Hurry--the regiment will be put to a halt. The Military Police will be called. Where could it possibly be? And Sergeant D'Antoni: "Do you realize what's going to happen, Hsieh?" Yes, Sergeant. "Have you learned a lesson, Hsieh?" Stop wasting my time, Sergeant--I'll take the Article 10, I'll take the walking hours, I'll take the counseling, but please, please, please, Sergeant, save the innocent children. "Sergeant, I've learned to chain and double lock my rifle to myself." "Do you think you
will be able to brief the platoon on the lesson you've learned, Hsieh?" Yes, of course, Sergeant, I could have briefed the platoon before I lost it. "Then here is your rifle." What? What is this? My rifle. Is this really mine? "I bet you're relieved to see this thing, aren't you? Someone took it from your tent and brought it to us. We've been keeping it for quite a while. Did you think you would just get away with some rifle PT like everyone else? Hope you've learned your lesson..."

I did not hear the rest. Tears, of uncontrollable relief and surging anger, welled up in my eyes, and I began crying, right then and there, in the middle of Tent City, on the last day of Beast, in front of the cadre and my whole company. I somehow managed to grab my rifle, leave, and crawl into a friend's tent to hide. For an hour, I cried, unable to stop and unable to understand the reason for my blubbering emotions. I could not believe that they had it the whole time. I could not believe that my platoon leader held it in his lap, as he watched me scour every company in the regiment for my weapon. I could not comprehend how my own platoon cadre had let me suffer such mental and emotional anguish over the loss of a material object, and yet, at the same time, I understood they needed an example to teach an important lesson to the whole platoon. I did not hate any of them, but I did hate what they had let happen to me. And more than anything else, I hated myself for crying.

I look back and still believe the entire ordeal was avoidable; I did not need to be taken on an emotional roller coaster ride to be taught a lesson. I took my rifle as seriously as I did before. I did not learn anything new in those two hours of "new cadet development." I only failed to remember, in those few hours, the wise words of an older cadet, passed on to me before I arrived: It's all a game. It's all just one big game.

Hsieh 1