In basic training (“basic”) there was a woman in her early thirties whom I befriended. I do not know her name anymore. Towards the end of basic, when I asked her what she thought of the whole experience, she said it was an experience she wouldn’t trade for a million dollars and would not do again for two.
In honor of Memorial Day and those who have given their lives and those who have served, I decided to write today’s blog about part of my military service. I have many memorable stories – I wasn’t sure what to choose…
When I was in basic, women were separate from the men. I use the terms women and men loosely as we were mostly kids. I was just 18 and had a year and a half of college under my belt. I thought I was quite smart. This was in 1994 and there was no smacking around trainees. There was a lot of “smoking” the recruits – this means physical training up to the point of vomiting or passing out (now I pay to do the same thing at Crossfit).
The first day of training the first thing the drill sergeants did was put us in our bay and smoke us. We did side-straddle-hops (jumping jacks), push-ups, sit-ups, running in place, lifting our duffle bags and holding them overhead. We were at it for what seemed like hours. My brother, movies I’d seen about the army, and the staff sergeant I was dating prior to entering the army had all prepared me for this. However, ten minutes into the smoking I looked across the bay and saw all the girls across from me were crying.
I almost started laughing. I mean, it was hard – it was incredibly hard, and after it was all done, I did pass out that first time – but it was all just a head game. Instead of laughing, though, I looked across at the girl I would later befriend – Amber – and I winked and smiled and half shrugged while holding the front-leaning-rest position (the “up” part of a push-up). She instantly stopped crying. We both just struggled through the rest of the workout. Out of the 60 girls that were in my basic training platoon, I think 40 or so graduated basic training. Amber and I were among those 40.
We used to get in trouble a lot. Not just Amber and me, but the whole platoon. We got smoked every time we got in trouble. And sometimes we would also have to write 500- or 1000- word essays. I became quite physically strong. As to the writing essays, I am sure it will come as a surprise when I say that I had a lot of practice in my growing-up years writing punishment essays. I could knock an essay out faster than most recruits could run two miles.
One time I got in trouble for talking back to a drill sergeant. He told me to write a 500 word essay. We were on our way to night-fire practice: every some-number of bullets you fire glows so that you can hopefully see the targets. Back then, girls/women were never in combat so we didn’t really do so much “training” as we did “watching.” The ride to the night-fire range was about an hour. In that time I wrote a 14 stanza limerick as my 500 word essay. On the way back from the night fire range I was put on a separate bus from my squad and most of my platoon. My drill sergeant, it turns out, read my essay to the entire bus. I was embarrassed.
About 3 years later (shortly after I was honorably discharged), I ran into a different drill sergeant from our company. He remembered me. He also told me that my limerick essay had been framed.
It is often, I find, that you don’t know the impact you have on people until long after you have acted (if you ever find out). This is true in the reverse as well. I don’t think I really appreciated the impact that the Army had on my life until recently. It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for a million dollars.
I would probably even do it again.