VICENZA, Italy — It was a simple concept. Invite the hit CBS reality show “Undercover Boss” to film a special Army-edition episode featuring 30 days of a field-grade officer going incognito as a junior first-term soldier.
But the episode — which will air next year during Season 9 of the series — went horribly wrong, a CBS spokesman confirmed today.
According to sources, the episode centers on Maj. Brandon Greenglass, with the U.S. Army Public Affairs Center, who assumes the persona of “Spc. Mark Fishman,” a new soldier with the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade. As soon as “Fishman” arrives at his unit, several corporals immediately begin screaming at him to get off the grass. And within a matter of minutes, a staff sergeant has Fishman in the front leaning rest outside the company headquarters building, where he stays for the rest of the morning.
Later in the afternoon, Fishman is ordered to do lunges around the battalion footprint, while mimicking gills with his hands on his cheeks and chanting “Splish splish, I’m a fish,” as two team leaders follow him, pouring water from canteens onto his head, yelling, “Swim, fish! Swim!”
“I’m told they may have been trying to give him a period of instruction on proper camouflage while underwater,” an Army spokesman said.
After being given five minutes to change into a dry uniform, which took Fishman 20 minutes (an offense which cost him fifteen minutes of corrective exercises), he was then instructed to go “touch the chapel gate” on the small post of Caserma Ederle, which meant that he was to run to the gate and back.
It was on the return trip, in the July heat and humidity, that Fishman — really a 35-year-old staff officer whose last Army physical fitness score of 225 had been logged over three years ago — collapsed on the sidewalk in view of dozens of passing motorists and PX patrons.
The team leaders who had been trailing him with canteens assumed he was suffering from a minor heat injury and proceeded to render treatment, which bystanders say consisted of a token effort to move him to shade and loosen his uniform top while ridiculing the state of his physical fitness, impugning his value as a human being, and suggesting that he should commit suicide, sources said.
He was rushed to San Bortolo hospital in Vicenza, where doctors determined that he had suffered a mild heart attack.
Several soldiers who witnessed the event noted that Fishman’s “welcome” was more or less on par with how new soldiers were usually greeted.
“That’s how it was for me when I got here. I basically got smoked nonstop the entire first month I was in the company,” said Cpl. Ricardo Villanueva, one of the team leaders tasked with welcoming Fishman. “My squad leader said we got a new nerd college E-4 coming in, go scuff him up, so we did. I mean, everyone gets it when they’re the new guy so we can see what they’re made of. Guess he just got a weak little baby heart.”
“Well, he’s a little older than most new guys,” said Pfc. Lawrence Barksdale, one of Fishman’s platoon mates, “But we get all kinds of guys who come in later in life. One time we had a college E-4 who legitimately had a master’s degree from MIT. Comes into the Army as a specialist. Who does that?”
As of press time, production was wrapped on the episode, which, apart from the initial incident, mostly showed “Fishman” performing menial area-beautification and command-maintenance tasks, completing 20 hours of annual online training, attending a mandatory day-long sexual-harassment and assault brief, and filling out two command climate surveys — all while being relentlessly mocked by NCO’s and other lower enlisted soldiers over the “dead-man” physical profile he had been given after his release from the hospital.
In an unexpected twist, the episode’s climax features Fishman’s entire company leadership down to the squad level being relieved for cause. Show producers say the episode will be the season premiere.