I began my adult life with a full time job and a ton of responsibility. What I hadn’t learned in school was how to truly be an adult. I didn’t learn: how to prioritize my life, live independently, and what my purpose was. Then I sat down with this dude. He was a monster of a man, a Sergeant First Class in the Army, named “C” for short. And so it began…I sat and listened to his life. Tales of war and heroes. Tales of brotherhood. Tales of purpose. I signed up then as a US Army Paratrooper and Forward Observer. And so it begins…on my blog I will write about the many experiences that I have had in the United States Army. You will get to see an inside look on what we do on the daily, how we feel about certain issues, and where we find ourselves in today’s society.
Anyone who tells you basic training was easy, either doesn’t remember it well enough or is trying to be tough. My first memory of basic training starts in as I am falling asleep at night the day prior.
As I fall asleep, I hear the small whimpers and tears of some of my fellow soon to be Soldiers. Big men that played sports in high school slowly breaking down with anticipation for what is going to transpire tomorrow. How is the drill sergeant going to greet us as we come off the bus? Can I handle this? Did I make a mistake? Should I be attending the 13th grade at the local junior college like the rest of my friends? AHHHH so many questions, all these questions drowning in a sea of quiet murmurs and slight whimpers from the guy sleeping below me.
We gathered our bags and quickly got into our bus. Then we arrived.
The drill sergeants swarming around our bus like sharks, “fresh meat” I thought. We must all be bleeding because the sharks looked like they were going to frenzy.
The door opens. PSSSSH the rigid door screams as it is flung open.
The scariest man I had ever seen stepped onto the bus. Round brown hat on his head, smile on his face, arms huge, chest barrel, eyes glaring, he casually walked down the aisle. As polite as I have ever heard he stated,
“Welcome to Boot Camp, I am your senior Drill Instructor, now you have 10 seconds to get off my bus.”
Then all hell broke loose…
As I ran to get out of the bus, I was confronted by a sea of confusion and these guys called Drill Sergeants wearing round brown hats. I stepped into this crazy world that I was not prepared for. Screaming and yelling rang out ever time my foot hit the ground. It almost felt like I was stepping on a button that initiated yelling. As I moved something amazing happened. Everybody tightened up together, like a herd. This herd of people from all over the world. I didn’t even know anyone else name yet, but shoulder to shoulder we moved, aiming for this large pile of green bags. I looked to my left and there was one guy standing away from the crowd.
He quickly learned that he had made a huge mistake.
Like lions they came, taking down the gazelle that had strayed from the pack. I remember it as 6 Drill Sergeants surrounding him, but it was probably only 4. It felt like they were everywhere. I kept running. I know understood the game…we had to work together to achieve our mission. So we kept running.
Someone tripped in the group. He fell hard too. We stopped and helped him up. That is when the Drill Sergeants stopped chasing us, we had learned the lesson. We are a team.
We started to work together to find everyone’s bags. I heard a loud yell!
“Guy-ant-tee”! Someone had found my bag! They handed it down the line until it got to me. I looked over at the Drill Sergeants, they were just passively watching, waiting for a mistake to happen. I knew if I stepped away from the group that I would get it. So I stayed and helped find people’s bags. The lesson was teamwork.
“If we stick together and work as a team the Drill Sergeant’s will leave us alone!” the new self-made team leader yelled.
Our first victory!
We found everyone’s bag and then the fun began. Form up! I have no idea what that means but ill just follow someone who does. We stood in this square rectangle thing…
“Hold your bags in the air!” the Drill Sergeant yelled.
So we held them, as the slowly did a snail pace walk down the line. Checking each name and nametape. The sauntered slowly down the line, while we shook…it felt like my arms were slowly ripping away from my body. Then someone to my left gave up.
Drill Sergeant was like a sniper.
He was on that guy so fast it was immaculate how fast he moved. Then when he was done with him…he started from the beginning. Our second test…”..I will never accept defeat, I will never quit.” The warrior ethos we Soldiers all live by. We were learning it on day one.
At the end of that day I was tired, sore, beat down, and yet fulfilled. I had made it with minimal damage.
I couldn’t wait for breakfast the next morning. I was excited to sit down and eat so much food. As an 18 year old I could eat so much.
I wonder if they will have pancakes?
After the first day of Basic Combat Training in the U.S. Army, I knew I’d be fine. Well, we would be fine, my new brothers and I. When I fell asleep that night, I smiled, I had accomplished something many have not.
How many people can really say that they took on a challenge like this? Something only 1% of the population experiences.
So day would come and my limits would be tested. Then nights would come and I’d go to sleep happy and fulfilled.
I think when I really look back at it, through the madness, I see clarity. It was clear what I was very good at and what I really sucked at it. I really sucked at climbing ropes and is something 11 years later that I hate. The one thing I truly had learned was that no man can go about this alone. That no matter where we were from or what we believed, we would need to come together. Not just together like co-workers. Together like a family. A family of many different races, religions, sexual preference, and backgrounds. The U.S. Army may have its issues at times, but something no one can deny is the family you make while you are in. The love you share with your brother and sister. I saw that care in action during a night hike (ruck march). The sun had just set. I watched it go down and it was a nice escape from the pain. My back and legs were hurting. The little time in my serenity was quickly shattered. A loud smash and a soft yell. The guy in front of me had fallen hard. I ran to pick him up…
He let out a silent but low scream as he hit the ground. The only thing he was able to save from smacking the ground was his rifle. A few months of training and a Soldier knows that without his rifle he is nothing. He had sacrificed falling at a weird angle to save it, causing him to hurt his right leg and back. So I ran. I do not even know who it was in front of me, but he was wearing green and thats all that mattered. I could hear the person behind me’s footsteps catching up.
Then we arrived together. We did an assessment of our situation just us three in the dark. That is when I flipped my light on, not realizing I had forgotten my red lens.
As I looked down at my brother, I could see tears welling up in his eyes. He wanted to yell in pain, but noise discipline was paramount.
“Sorry man, I did not mean to fall,” he whispered.
“It is good brother, lets get this gear off of you.” I remember saying. Later thinking on it I understood why he said sorry. He was more worried about us making our time then his injury.
As we removed his pack and straightened him out. The Drill Sergeant came.
“What the hell happened privates?… and turn that freaking light off.”
Without even doing an assessment of the Soldier, he asked “Can you walk? Can you finish?”
He said “Yes!” But I knew that was a lie. He had eaten the dirt pretty hard. My suspicions were confirmed when we stood him up and he attempted to put his pack on. The weight was too much for him. That is when the Drill Sergeant turned to me and taught me a lesson I will never forget.
“Privates, if you want your brother here to finish the course, you two will carry his pack.” “Up to you guys, otherwise he is going in the truck and is done.”
Wow, what a decision. Adding 55 pounds would make this ruck extremely difficult. The civilian in me thought,”No way dude, his fault, he tripped not you.”
The Soldier in me remembered our creed. “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” This is something that would stick with me through my entire life, and definitely be re-engaged during my time in Afghanistan and Iraq…but those stories come later.
So the other Soldier and I almost in sync with each other said. “We can make it Drill Sergeant.” “Reapers (our platoon motto)”
So we started to walk, but then realizing our folly. The rest of the platoon was not even in sight. In order to do this, in time, to standard, we would need to hustle…
The three of us started moving toward where we hoped the rest of our platoon was. The extra 55 pounds from my fallen teammates ruck on my back quickly wore me down. he extra ruck made it so I could not see to the left or right. Maybe that was a good thing… to always be looking forward at our goal. The sounds of footsteps and heavy breathing from my brothers reminded me that we were in this together. So forward we trudged, me holding the ruck, my brother helping our injured brother.
When you ruck for long periods of time, you tend to get lost in your own world in your mind. You try to focus on security as much as you can, but you slowly slip into this new world in your mind.
I thought of all the mistakes I have made.
Had made a mistake by doing this?
What were my friends doing right now?
When do we get pancakes?
The drill sergeants voice reeled me back in…”Little victories, one step than another.”
This one sentence would resonate with me for the rest of my life. I’d remember it in the sands and cities of Iraq then again in the mountains of Afghanistan.
“One step than another,” I repeatedly thought.
Then we switched. I carried our injured brother while he carried the ruck. We continued to do this for miles. Then first light broke…
One step at a time we walked, amazed at we say around us.