Today is the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the United States that set a path that will never be undone. I am a 9-11 volunteer, just like everyone alive at the time we can recall in detail that morning and precisely what we were doing. I was working a construction renovation job and at the time I was painting the interior of a person’s home. I was a 23-year-old kid/man, and I was in the living room of a very large house, standing on a ladder and painting the ceiling. When the towers were hit the owner came in and told me to come take a look at what was going on. Just like everyone around the world we just sat there and watched in horror as the United States came under attack, thousands perished, and our Defense posture forever changed. I had always been intrigued by the military, my older brother at the time was serving and now seeing my homeland suffer I had a strong calling to enlist.
In December I raised my right hand and swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Christmas was right around the corner, so Uncle Sam decided to hold off until after the holidays to send me away to become a Soldier. In January of 2002 I turned 24 and then 6 days later I was standing at Fort Benning Georgia in my jeans, black Army of One t-shirt, a small bag of personal items and my black binder full of paperwork. Was I excited, most definitely. Was I scared, beyond words or anything I had felt to this point. I had nothing holding me back, it was my time to grow(up), transform, learn selfless-service and go serve my country.
The first week is called reception, this is where they take you in and process you into becoming property of the United States Army, sometimes affectionately called the Big Green Weenie. First things first, your hair has to go. I always kept my hair relatively short, so I wasn’t too traumatized when they take you to a barber who has a Flowbie (remember those) type device attached to the clippers. No words exchanged, you don’t sit down and ask how he’s doing and say, “can I get a medium #1 trim and scissors on top?” No sir, you sit down with the signs of fear all over your youthful face, emanating the intoxicating smell of fear and the barbers go to work. With a few passes of the clippers you are bald, the hair sucked into the Flowbie and you get up and the next recruit sits down.
“Momma, momma, can’t you see
what the Army’s done to me
They put me in a barber’s chair
I turned around, I had no hair”
Now that you are bald and appeasing to the Army eye you are ready to get your uniforms. There are hundreds of bald scared kids just like you standing in huge lines waiting for whatever they are going to receive next. No talking, stand there and wait your turn. I received physical fitness (PT) uniforms, running shoes, combat boots, uniforms, ruck sack and of course about one hundred pounds of tactical gear you will either carry or clean daily. Don’t forget about all the immunizations, I have no idea what all I received in my arms but the one that stands out the most is the penicillin they shoot into your butt check. You would swear it was a tablespoon of peanut butter. For days all you saw was bald kids in grey sweats limping around from their shots! In all the items given there is one called the “Smart Book” that teaches you military rank, phonetic alphabet and basic military customs and courtesies. Very overwhelming to crack that open and try to decipher a whole new world. The drill sergeants teach you how to stand in a formation, basic marching, and minimal soldiering skills. My first personal lesson on military customs and courtesies was right after a meal (chow) and I left the dining facility (DFAC) to join my platoon. I walked out the door and right past a Commissioned Officer, a Captain (CPT) and just smiled. My drill sergeant quickly brought to my attention in a very aggressive manner what my infraction had been. Then he asked the CPT to assist in teaching me a lesson. He called the platoon to attention, standing with your heals together and arms down to your side. He put me in front of the platoon and had me turn around and salute the CPT and render the greeting of the day. Doesn’t sound bad, but he made me do it about a dozen times. Mission accomplished, I learned to recognize the shiny object on the head gear, call those around to attention and render a salute and greeting. To this day as I exit military service 20 years later, nothing irritates me more than a Soldier who refuses or doesn’t correctly salute and greet and Officer.
Reception is only a week and there is only so much they can teach you while also getting hundreds of people ready for the real Basic Training, or Boot Camp. You exercise in the morning, it honestly isn’t too rigorous because they can’t risk you getting injured and of course there is lots of standing around, sitting around and three meals a day. One thing I remember that was very annoying is how the new sweaters we exercised in would leave lint and fuzz all over my head because the little hairs would pull it off every time I put the sweater on.
Perhaps some of the most lean environments in the Army or military are the ones where hundreds of people are processed to achieve an objective, such as Basic Training. The one week at reception accomplished a huge initiative by taking hundreds of civilians and getting them vaccinated, processed, clothed, gear issued and made ready for their arduous 9 week training. This is no small task, I’m sure if at the time 20 years ago I was thinking about lean I would have been able to see some muda, but retrospection seems like they had their stuff together.
It was a very long week full of stress only because it is new and overwhelming, and you don’t know what lies in wait only a short bus ride away.