Training It is a massive life decision to join the military. Even though a marriage can kill you, signing up for the Army means you may be in a conflict-zone months after signing your life, your rights, and your freedoms away. In the United States Army, which is the specific branch discussed today, once your signature is on that enlistment document, you become the property of the U.S. government.
So you passed your ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), medical exam, and piss test (a hard one for all those stoners out there), what happens next? Recruiters are paid very decent bonuses for each recruit enlisted and some will say all kinds of things to get you in. But what’s the truth?
Let’s use some practical knowledge here, you aren’t showing up to basic training with your favorite skateboard shoes and Gameboy color. Recruiters demand that you pack light and all non-regulation items are temporarily confiscated. Kind of like when you check into jail or prison. So no, you will not be able to bring your granddaddy’s WW2 revolver with you. You aren’t even allowed non-religious literature and the army even demand you use their letterhead and stationery for one of the only forms of correspondence you will have with the outside world (more on that later). So it’s pretty much underwear, socks, running shoes and the clothes on your back.
The army processes hundreds of people a day in a single fort and it typically takes a week of being bumped around temporary lodging, eating horrible prison-like cheese sandwiches with cafeteria cartons of milk, and what seems like days of signing your life away even further. Then, once all the paperwork is completed, they shave your head, fit you with camos (or A.C.U. for Advanced Combat Uniform) and boots, and then mercilessly stab you on your buttocks with about a dozen needles containing practically every inoculation known to mankind. You are their property and they make sure you are properly vaccinated. Processing is the most sleep-deprived, mundane, and in my opinion, the worst part of basic training. Two days in and you will literally be begging to be assigned to a company, drill sergeant, and platoon. Processing is basically limbo where you are manhandled until you at least look like a soldier . . . but that doesn’t mean you are one.
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Surprisingly, you get your gun pretty much off the bat. It’s an exciting day for any soldier, but you will not fire it for weeks. It’s a bit torturous but necessary. Like a puppy being house-trained, you need to be programmed to never let your rifle out of your sight. Then they gradually train you how the rifle works, constantly taking it apart and reassembling it. Finally, they take you out to the range on an almost daily basis. To graduate, out of 40 shots, 23-29 hits gets you, marksman, 30-35 gets you sharpshooter, and 36-40 gets you, expert marksman.
Running is essential to all aspects of military life. In basic, you’re up at 0435 Hours and on the road by 0500. Running is split into three groups. Group A are the all-stars, the ones able to do a two-mile run in under fifteen minutes. Group B are your average runners who need improvement. Group C are those who should have worked out more before signing their enlistment contract. A recruiter clearly floated them past the initial tests for the bonus. You’re placed into your group pretty much from the start.
Fun little story, when I attended Fort Leonard Wood (we called it “Lost in the Woods”), my D.S. because I ran Group A, would allow me a slice of key lime pie . . . as long as I ate it in front of the Group C runners. Looking back, hilarious but malicious.
The Outside World
As soon as you begin processing, all of your civilian documentation is taken away from you and you are left with a military issued I.D. and your debit card for the post exchange for soap and stationary. So, even if you were to sneak out of the barracks you still have no I.D. and you are confined, and probably being hunted, in a fortified first-world military compound. You’ll learn really quick you aren’t Jason Bourne.
You are also stripped of all communication devices. No cell phones, no tablets . . . nothing. I cannot stress this again. Nothing! You will not get access to email, and to this day everything is still analog. You are allowed to hand-write letters on the army–approved stationary and you get three phone calls the whole time. The first call once you get assigned to your company is to let your loved one’s know you are okay and where to send their letters. The second midway as a mental-reprieve, a reset for your soul to hear a loved one’s voice on the other end. And the final call to hopefully announce your pending graduation and success.
As for local and international news, every base puts out its own highly-censored weekly paper that everyone winds up fighting for to read the comics in the back. You are intentionally cut off from the world because the world is a distraction and you should only be focusing on your training. Plain and simple.
You did it! It is one of the finest feelings in the world to graduate basic training. It is akin to the birth of a child or nailing a dream job. You are no longer a civilian. Throughout all those weeks you’ve learned to be a functioning human and soldier. You’re no longer some clueless dope leaving a mess everywhere you go. You can take care of yourself, clean-up after yourself, and most importantly . . . defend yourself.
Graduation is also the final bond for those who have been through hell with you. Military jargon for a fellow soldier is called a “Battle”. I am still in contact with my Battles and ask on a regular basis how they are doing as they do me. Every once in awhile a message appears in my inbox asking “What’s good, Battle?”, reminding me that I was a part of something and I did something most people could not. I’m proud every day of my service and I wanted those who did not, or could not serve, to get a little taste of the beautiful and worthwhile hell I went through for almost three months. Over and out.