JUNE 1995 VOLUME
50, NO. 6
Jodies: Songs on the Move
Story by Donna Miles
mi-se-ry, Look what the Army's done to me..."
SFC Thomas Gills, a former basic training drill sergeant and current
instructor at the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C., loves a good
"Jody calls," or simply "jodies," as those little songs
soldiers often sing as they march or double-time in formation are called, are
about as basic to soldiering as rifles and shower shoes.
"They're a No. 1 factor in motivating soldiers," said Gills, who
hesitated only a New York second when asked to belt out his current favorite: "Drip-drop,
drip-pe-ty-drip-drop; Sit-tin' on a hill-top, raindrops on my head; My baby
left me, she left me for dead..."
Silly as this and most other jodies might sound, SFC Anita Jordan, Fort Jackson's drill sergeant of the year, agreed that there are few better ways to build
motivation and esprit de corps.
"It's the best way to keep both the privates and yourself
motivated," she said. "But it only works if you've got that rhythm
and you let yourself get into it. If you're just going through the motions,
your soldiers are going to pick up on that right away."
Ironically, the same Army that teaches soldiers how to do even the most
basic things like shining boots and arranging hangers in a wall locker leaves
them to their own devices when learning cadence calls. Jordan said you either have the knack or you don't. The first time she called cadence to a
formation, she was delighted to realize she had it. Her formula: "You've
got to sing it like it's bursting in your heart and you have to let it
Jodies have been bursting in soldiers' hearts for more than 50 years. As the
story goes, a formation of exhausted troops was returning to its barracks at Fort Slocum, N.Y., in May 1944 when a rhythmic chant arose from the columns.
Pvt. Willie Duck-worth, a black soldier on detached service with Fort
Slocum's Provisional Training Center, sang out the first-ever rendition of
"Sound-off," "Sound-off; 1-2; Sound-off; 3-4; Count cadence;
1-2-3-4; 1-2 -- 3-4." Other soldiers in the formation joined in and
their dragging feet picked up momentum.
At a time when black soldiers' achievements were just being acknowledged by
many in the Army, the "Duckworth Chant," as Duckworth's cadence came
to be called, got notice. Col. Bernard Lentz, Fort Slocum's commander,
recognized it as a way to keep his soldiers in step while boosting unit pride
Duckworth's Chant built on a musical tradition that began just after the
Revolutionary War. Back then, American marching troops took special pleasure in
singing "Yankee Doodle" -- the song the British had used to taunt
them -- back to the defeated Redcoats.
Through the years, other military marching songs arose. During the Civil
War, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "When Johnny Comes
Marching Home Again" sent blood pumping through Yankee and Rebel veins.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "Over There" and
"The Caisson Song" were popular among marching troops. The official
Army song, "The Army Goes Rolling Along," even urges soldiers to
"count off the cadence loud and strong."
But Duckworth changed the whole way the Army looked -- and continues to look
-- at cadence calls. Soon soldiers were making up their own cadences,
personalizing them to include ditties about their own units and soldiers.
These spirited cadence calls teach soldiers about
cohesion and team building, and pass on the history and traditions of the Army.
Nobody seems to know for sure when the Duckworth Chant
became known as the jody call. In fact, nobody's even sure who "Jody"
is. In the many cadence calls that disparage Jody's name, Jody is the guy back
home, trying to court a soldier's wife or girlfriend or sister. And as more
women joined the ranks, Jody also came to represent the woman out to seduce a
husband or boyfriend.
In either case, Jody is a civilian enjoying the comforts of home while the
soldier sweats it out in the field or overseas. And soldiers love to console
themselves by singing about Jody: "Ain't no use in going home; Jody's
got your girl and gone. Ain't no use in feeling blue; Jody's got your sister,
too. Ain't no use in lookin' back; Jody's got your Cadillac..."
When soldiers aren't singing about Jody, they love to sing about the trials
and tribulations of Army life. Among the most popular ones is: "Momma,
momma, can't you see? Look what the Army's done to me. ... They took away my
faded jeans; Now I'm wearing Army green. They took away my gin and rum; Now I'm
up before the sun..."
Another jody that talks about the "good old" civilian days goes: "Whoa-whoa,
whoa, whoa. ... I used to have the high school queen; Now I've got my M-16. I
used to drive a Chevrolet; Now I'm running every day..." Then there's
the one, "They say that in the Army, the pay is mighty fine. They give
you a hundred dollars, and take back 99. Oh Lord, I want to go, but they won't
let me go, ho-o-o--ome."
Drill instructors say that just about any jody is more motivational than the
basic eight-count cadence call referred to in Field Manual 22-5. But some
jodies celebrate soldiers' pride about their service and accomplishments.
"C-130 rollin' down the strip. Airborne daddy gonna take a little
trip..." lauds the glory of the airborne. Another salutes those
soldiers who take on the Army's toughest challenges: "I wanna be an
airborne ranger; I wanna live a life of danger..."
While many jodies have remained intact through the decades, some things have
changed. Jodies have been altered to denounce whatever adversary the United States may be facing at the time: North Korea during the Korean War, the Viet Cong, the
And even more importantly, the vulgar and sexist language that made up many
early jodies became a no-no after the mid-1980s. Gills agrees that off-color
jodies can be more divisive than unifying. And while there's no Army field
manual that specifically forbids them, suggestive jodies have become an almost
The good news, Gills said, is that "those old, dirty cadences don't
have to be thrown away. They only have to be cleaned up" to reflect the
values and way of life the Army promotes today.
He insists that that's a major function of cadence calls. "In the short
term, jodies help establish a sense of rhythm that gets soldiers in step and
keeps them in step," he said.
"But in the long term, they help indoctrinate soldiers into the Army
way of life. They teach soldiers about cohesion and team building, and pass on
the history and traditions of the Army."
Today's jodies -- some uttered for almost 50 years and others cleaned-up
versions of old favorites -- continue to drive soldiers to achieve what some
thought they never could.
Jordan said she's seen it time and again: soldiers who say a jody pushed
them forward when they felt ready to quit during a march or a formation run.
Few jodies are as effective in that regard as the favorite: "One mile,
no sweat. Two miles, better yet. Three miles, think about it. Four miles,
thought about it. Five miles, feeling good like I should..."
"Jodies give you something to put your mind to," Jordan said. "Something to distract you while you're pushing yourself to reach new