When Boys Become Soldiers and Soldiers to Men



Fort Bliss, Texas, a sullen misnomer

way out, deep in the desert;

where teenage boys to the men out number

in a basic training resort.


This can’t be bliss,

there’s something I’ve missed,

this cadre of boys, cohorts?

Eight weeks, six weeks, ten more or less;

hell, I just can’t remember.


Running five miles was nothing to me,

it was tougher to get up to twenty.

I was only 18, going on 5;

a year from then, I’d be lucky alive.

Bullet fodder they amass aplenty,

an old man would be set at age twenty.


Drill Sergeant! Drill Sergeant!

where is my mother?

Don’t ask, don’t tell,

Just be like your brother.


A pillow fight,

had by the kids at night,

esprit de corps by feather.

Children with guns,

to turn into Huns,

and Attila is a Drill Sergeant.


When the damage is done,

there’s no place to run,

where’s the bliss when things turn to urgent?


Drill Sergeant! Drill Sergeant!

please tell my mother

I’m no longer her baby boy.

I’m still her son someway somehow,

but now things are so much different.


When boys turn to men

there’s a change to the toddler,

in the rights of passage to fodder.


The Spartan way,

the American way,

when the boy is made into soldier.


There’s no coming back

to where we were at,

it’s something we both have to shoulder.





[Revised title 29 Jan 2012]

Copyright © 2011 Marvin Loyd Welborn. All Rights Reserved.


  1. authentically expressed, poignant. it’s refreshing to hear the honest account that most males are not yet man enough to face.

    you touched a nerve, indeed Mother , where and how did you let me go?

  2. I love this poem, though I hate the truth of it. Boys becoming men thruough war is so sad even though they become men thoroughly. Well done. Kudos!

  3. this made me think of world war 2nd when boys at age 14 were sent to war, forced to grow up too quickly.. and i agree with bev – boys becoming men through war is sad.. very well written marvin..touched different nerves for sure..

  4. this is so beautiful. i had a friend who trained out there, so i kind of know the other side, the one where he’s making fun of the silly little boys, and now i got to hear this side. thanks for sharing

  5. you can never go back…yeah i have seen many a boy who has faced death come back a ‘man’ yet sometimes all too hollow…i think that our conception of manhood has been quite jacked up through the years you know…

  6. Do boys become men through war, or just return as shells of the boy that went away? I don’t know the answer to that.

    Very provocative piece that just saddens me with its content, but is unfortunately a fact of life that occurs way too frequently during our time on this planet we choose to call home.

  7. Truth here. Army makes one grow up in a hurry, and there IS no going back. My son-in-law is stationed out of El Paso, TX, but has served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia. How well I know. Your poem speaks strong. And I am sure the changes are hard for a mother to comprehend.

  8. The “Drill Sergeant, Drill Sergeant” bits get to me because of their ritualistic fable/nursery-rhyme-like aspect. I also liked the idea of soldiers-in-training having a pillow fight, and the fort being named Bliss.

  9. Yes, the things they (we) carry … initiation rites are important, but without the mystery and bliss its just damage, cauterizing a heart rather than freeing it. Fine write. – Brendan

  10. Solid writing tink–and more effective for changing midway from a rigid structure to a random rhyme. I’m totally behind the concept you address, too–my husband spent his 19th birthday in Korea, and went straight from there to Viet Nam. From his good-humored stories (he doesn’t share the awful ones) I still can see how he was used and abused, and changed. Excellent piece.

  11. This is something we all have to shoulder, and mother, and nurture and heal. It is our gosh darn duty to heal all we can that has given, for us, it’s heart. My dear friends son died in Iraq, leaving three small children to grieve alongside their mother. I cannot see a soldier today, without the tears of so many such griefs weighing in. I hug them. What else have I to offer but my prayers and thanks. Never enough.

  12. Well written and very profound when spoken out loud. I heard the stories from my Grandfather and his time spent in Germany, France and Belgium in WW-I. I recently heard the stories from my step-father and his time spent in England and France in WW-II. He told me he spent 10 days in Army Basic training then he was shipped to England to fix/repair the bombers in the Army-AirCorps. Thank you and bless you Marv-man.


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