January 12, 2002
The title isn’t the most eloquent but when I shipped off to Basic I started a journal, one I have today and will consult with to make the most of my writing. I wrote a little about the in-processing phase that lasts a week, and literally my first page of actual Basic Combat Training (BCT) in my journal says:
“Can’t write tonight, all I can say is HOLY CRAP THIS IS SCARY. I’m thinking to myself, what did I do? I have to remember this isn’t the Army. Stay hard and ride on.”
SSG Mark Strong wrote me a note on the back of his card after he enlisted me in the Army, it says “Troy Best of luck starting this new phase. Stay hard throughout basic, you’ll have no problem. It is what it is. Send a card / photo when you get the chance. Congratulations, welcome to the Army”. I tried throughout my career to just remember it is what it is and it served me well in my early years, this of course became so much more difficult the older I became and the more life experience I got. Salute and execute.
We lined up as the sun was rising, all our gear in our duffle bags, fresh military Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU), boots that hurt our feet but would soon become like socks, shaved heads, mixed emotions, racing thoughts, but for most a willingness to break out of our civilian cocoon and emerge as a beacon of Freedom, a United States Soldier. Bags on the front, bags on our back, get on the school bus, two to a seat. Shut up, get in, sit down and pray. Nobody knows what to expect, to be honest I guarantee everyone was equally as excited and scared. I was 24 and elder to most but in all my minimal life experiences I was still unsure and a bit terrified about what would happen when the bus doors opened. The contract was signed, the ink was dry, we were here. This is it, no turning back. You are in the Army now!
Buses began stopping at our proving ground, as the door opened a lean, muscular and angry Drill Sergeant appeared and began barking so many instructions about how to exit and where to go it felt like we were playing some kind of game. No game here though, this was as real as it gets. Get off the bus, lines of Drill Sergeants ready to greet you to BCT, “Hurry up Private, over there Private, Move it Private, Put your bags over there Private!” After everyone was off the busses and we were all in a gaggle of troops with bags everywhere the initial confusion induced physical training commenced. “Private you have 60 seconds to organize your bags in alphabetical order, GO!” What…How….What….Of course we failed, nobody even knew how to begin. This is how they break you down, you aren’t a civilian, a person, anymore. You are property of the United States Government. They need to show you that you don’t control anything anymore. You frantically begin doing anything you can to comply, thinking if you fail they will throw you out, or kill you. You honestly don’t know at this point, you belong to the government. “STOP! You failed. Pick a duffle up above your head, overhead presses! Go, one, two, three, ONE”, for every three repetitions is actually one. This was our first indoctrination into military logic. Once the bags began falling on our heads they said “STOP!” “Private you have 60 seconds to organize your bags in alphabetical order, GO!” They did this until people were throwing up, crying, not trying anymore and some still thinking they could get it done.
We were broken down, defeated. This task couldn’t be accomplished today, we will continue trying but it doesn’t look good for the newcomers. All of the sudden a guy with a Drill Sergeant hat comes out, everyone stops, the Drill Sergeants call “At Ease” and this man commands the attention and the floor. With the most southern accent and implied disgust he begins to speak to us, “I am your First Sergeant.” “You are at Ft. Benning and will endure the most grueling 9 weeks of your life, if you survive you will become Soldiers. For the rest of you, I hear McDonald’s is still hiring.” It was difficult to understand his deep Confederate Georgia dialect but nonetheless, he was hard as nails and was running the show, no doubt.
Now our individual platoon Drill Sergeants came and took control of their potential Soldiers and showed us where our new bay is located. We shuffled up some stairs to a second floor, went into an open floor dormitory type room with rows of bunk beds and lockers and were instructed to dump all our belongings onto the floor. This of course was to make sure we had no contraband, even though this was already done and all we owned and possessed is what Uncle Sam had given, but to create more chaos and break down our civilian mindset.
Our initial issue was all over the floor in huge piles of green and all we could think was how are we going to clean this up? The Drill Sergeants came by each, shoved some stuff here, kicked some stuff there but eventually told us to clean it up and put it away. We had lockers and foot trunks, all of which would be clearly demonstrated on proper setup procedure throughout the night. Sure we were all tired, confused and needed some rest. But now is the time to strike, exhaustion and confusion are at a peak nobody in the room has experienced so this is when we should receive meticulous instructions on how to display a wall locker, make a bunk and put on a uniform to standard, all within 10 minutes. Seems impossible doesn’t it! Sure, but this is how it works. Most people don’t know what they are capable of and this is exactly what the Army was teaching us.
Within a day I was a master at folding clothes, putting my socks into a boat, putting hangars two finger widths apart and making hospital corners on my wool Army blanket that you could bounce a coin off. I could sleep a few hours, wake up, shave my face, dress myself, make my bed, sweep the floor, wipe the showers down, make it to formation all within 15 minutes. Then we would being our physical training. It simply bewilders your mind to fathom the changes one undergoes and the instruction our leaders gave to break us down, mold us and bring us up. Everything at this point seemed chaotic and sometimes cruel but it all has a purpose.