MCpl (Ret’d) Dave Mosher
It was the summer of 1987, while I was posted to Larh, Germany with the 8th Canadian Hussars, that I was sent on my Junior Leaders Course. The course was stressful and the pressure was immense. It was physically demanding and mentally draining, so I was sleep deprived and terrified of screwing up 90 percent of the time. At any given moment, instructors would hand out arbitrary punishments on a whim.
Drill practice was one of the few moments in the day when I felt relaxed; all I had to do was listen for the command and let my subconscious take over. “Attention! Stand at ease! Stand easy!” Commands bypassed your brain and allowed your body to become a robot…but if you couldn’t understand or hear the commands, it was chaos.
At that time we had several francophone members and our Course Sergeant Major (CSM) was a fellow with a thick French accent who was about as approachable as a sergeant major could be. When he gave drill, I struggled to understand some of his commands. With repetition, we could fill in words or assume what his commands were going to be. If we were marching we could expect a “Left wheel!”, a “Right wheel!” or a “Halt!” However, there was one command we all scratched our heads over. Every time this CSM took the parade his first command was always “Crou-ton!” What the heck was a crouton?
For the duration of the course we all joked about the CSM and nicknamed him “Colonel Crouton.” Finally, those who survived the course began practicing for our graduation parade (over which the CSM took personal charge). About a week before the actual parade, the CSM had us on the parade square and was about to dismiss us when he asked if there were any questions about the upcoming ceremony. I hesitated and looked around, then snapped to attention, projected my right arm forward at a 90-degree angle and yelled “Sir!” Surprised that anyone had the gall to actually ask, he marched several steps toward me, stopped, and pointed his pace stick directly at me yelling “Whad could yoo possebley want to hask” in his thick French accent. I replied, in the simplest terms I could, “What do you mean when you say ‘crou-ton?’”
He hesitated for just a moment seemingly shocked that I didn’t know. The others laughed loudly and after what seemed like an eternity, he said… very slowly and clearly… several times, more clearly each time… “Crou-ton… grew ton… grow-taw…” until I finally understood he was saying “Grow tall.”
Although I’m sure all the others appreciated finally knowing what he meant, I was the brunt of jokes for the last week and named “Corporal Crouton” for the remainder of the course.