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Demilitarized Buffer


Claim:   An Army recruit who tries to commit suicide using a floor buffer fails and is charged for damage to the buffer.

LEGEND

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A despondent trainee soldier (Dear "John" letter, facing disciplinary action ...) decides to take his life. Instead of using a rifle on the range or more traditional means, the soldier ties a electrical cord of a floor buffer around his neck, then throws it out the second story window. Instead of meeting his maker, the hapless soldier has to meet the CO [commanding officer] and Army Psychiatrists when the buffer shatters into pieces on the ground below, the cord about a story too long. The story ends with the soldier being discharged and having to pay for the buffer.
 

Variations:
  • Usually the story culminates with the trainee's leaving the service, although sometimes he is said to have been placed in a psychiatric hospital or to have gone on to complete his training as if nothing happened.
  • Whatever his ultimate fate (drummed out, psych hospital, model soldier), the despondent lad is usually forced to pay for repairs to the buffer and is often be said to have been Article 15'd (i.e., subject to a nonjudicial punishment resulting in a penalty such as forfeiture of two weeks' pay).
Origins:   To understand this legend is to understand the place of especial hatred the floor buffer inhabits in the lives of Army trainees. The buffer is a high-speed handle-mounted large motor that spins a rotary polishing pad, stands about 3.5 feet high, weighs 30 to 40 pounds, and is equipped with a 40 foot power cord.

Few new soldiers have had janitorial experience prior to their stints in the Army. The buffer is thus a new experience for almost everyone, and many are shocked to discover "Be All That You Can Be" often amounts to wrestling one of these monsters down endless halls in pursuit of the perfect mirror shine. For the inexperienced, the buffer is heavy, hard to control, and symbolizes menial enslavement to the service's ideal of all things immaculate at all times. It's little wonder it has come to star in one of the Army's
most enduring basic training legends or that its two most aggravating features (its weight and its impossibly long power cord) play prominent parts in that tale. The buffer, you see, gets the last laugh even if it does end up in pieces. Once again, it makes a fool of the poor trainee, this time by adding humiliation to his existing feeling of failure.

In true urban legend fashion, many, many Army recruits over the years have heard the infamous buffer tale presented to them as a true story, routinely related as an incident involving a trainee in the class just before theirs or a few cycles earlier. Countless others have claimed that they witnessed the event themselves (or that they personally know someone who did). The very same sequence of events has apparently played out multiple times with dozens of different recruits, as the "attempted floor polisher suicide" tale has been described to us by various correspondents as actually having happened at Fort Benning, Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Jackson, Fort Knox, Fort Gordon, and just about every other U.S. Army training facility in the United States.

Basic training is hard, and it's a rare soldier who doesn't entertain at least a fleeting thought of chucking it all during the process. The failed suicide legend is an expression of the fears of failing to measure up to the demanding standards of Basic Training and of being laughed at by one's unit, a group that will come to mean more to the serviceman than his own family. In the legend, as in life, fear of looking foolish in front of one's comrades is seen as the far greater bogeyman. That the soldier in the story feels so beaten down as to become suicidal is seen as little more than a set-up for his ultimate (and widely publicized) humiliation, in which he can't even manage the process of ending his own life successfully.

On rare occasions this legend is divorced of its Army associations and presented as a straight "failed suicide" tale, as in the following example:
There is nothing funny about suicide, but there are some people who fail to commit suicide in ways that are just too funny to be tragic. One such case which illustrates the point beautifully, is that of a young man who decided to stage a very public suicide by jumping from the roof of a 100-foot-high building. Fearing that his nerve might fail at the last moment, he dragged a very heavy industrial floor polisher all the way up the stairs to the top of the building. He planned to tie its power cable around his neck and shove the polisher off the building so that it would drag him over the edge. Having gone to the trouble of announcing his intentions to the crowd that had gathered outside the building, he pushed the floor polisher off the roof and waited for the cable to snap tight and drag him over. Standing there with his eyes closed he looked back over his short life and the many humiliations it had brought him. While deep in thought he heard a crash and realized that life had brought him one more. Being an industrial floor polisher, the device was fitted with a 150 feet of cable.
Barbara "noose sense value" Mikkelson

Last updated:   17 June 2014

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Sources:

    Flynn, Mike.   The Best Book of Bizarre But True Stories Ever.
    London: Carlton, 1999.   ISBN 1-85868-558-3   (p. 29).