Saturday, March 04, 2006

Thoughts On Basic Training

Basic was a hell of a fifteen weeks for me. I know I've touched on it a couple times before, but its hard to tell the whole broken, blurry story. Our first week, the inprocessing week, seemed to be the longest week by far. That's when broken privates who couldnt hack basic yelled at us as we were issued PT sweats, and where we had thick gooey penicillin shot into our asses. After that week, time passed relatively quick...for the most part.

You first arrive there, and the drill sergeants are playing all kinds of mindgames. There is no right answer, you are an idiot, and you are SHIT outta luck, pal. Everyone will always be screwed over when one dude messes up, and odds are, you'll have a couple people that are constantly screwing everything up. You lose count of the smoke sessions, of how many times you've been woken up in the middle of the night and were annihilated because the fireguards were sleeping when a drill sergeant walked in. You forget what real food is like, the fatty, greasy, kill-you-next week fast food burgers, huge pizzas, all of that. Nicotein is a thing of the past. Then again, so is free time for the most part.

Odds are, you'll get sick, and holy GOD will it suck. I was in pretty ba shape through most of basic. For about half of it, I was having back pain constantly, and when I got really sick and came down with bronchitis, constantly coughing made it hurt even worse. I could only sleep in ONE position. I remember a couple occasions where we'd been running the PT track, doing sprints and things like that, and my lungs would close up and it was nearly impossible for me to breathe. The drill sergeants thought I had asthma, and a couple times, I wished I did, so I could just get med dropped. But you never REALLY want that. You'll see other dudes do it, but what's the point of quitting? Its only 9 weeks, or 14 weeks in my case. Either way, its all temporary.

The thing about EVERY shitty day in the Army is this: Its just like every day period. No matter how horrible and impossible it is, it always ends. No day is eternal. Days become weeks, and soon you're wearing your jacked up Class A's or Class B's with your freebie ribbons, out on pass or fresh from graduation, seeing women again for the first time in ages, and you realize that they DO exist.

I remember a few of us from my basic training platoon going to Martin Army whatever hospital, because I was getting bloodwork done or some crap like that, and we stopped in the shopette to buy food. We thought we were smooth by taking our earplug cases and our 550 cord (used to tie knots in to keep track of water consumed) off of our collars, trying not to look like basic trainees. Didn't work so well. You see, we all had shaved heads, soft caps (can't wear the beret until you graduate), no unit patches on our shoulders, and most of us had no rank on our collar. Privates always think they're smooth and that they can beat the system, but you can't. As you learn more about the army, you realize how dumb you are, and its pretty comical.

There are always those kids that are constantly breaking the rules and trying to get away with it. The kind of guys that will go to sick call to get out of training, possibly to buy some contraband. They're called Shitbags. I always stayed away from those guys, because they aren't really worth the time and energy it takes to be around them, and guilty by association is an ugly thing.

Basic is something you'll actually miss, and kinda want to do again. Yeah, it SUCKS. But there's something about it that I can't quite touch on. My drill sergeants were the shit, even though they were like rabid rotweilers. You can't come out of basic without a fistful of funny stories (and hopefully a couple grand in the bank). We subjected a couple unbeknowing guys to The Impossible Sit-Up (consult the movie 'Heavyweights'). Hell, my memory kind of sucks, which is probably why I'm doing this. When I'm talking to some of my friends in my platoon that I went to basic with, the stories come out. For example, during the first week, we weren't ALL in bed in time, so our senior drill sergeant smoked the bejesus out of us. There were guys running out of the showers in their towels, then doing pushups etc, losing their towels in the process. Well, we didn't get to stretch out or anything, and immediately when he was done, we had I think 10 seconds to get in our bunks, under the covers. After I'd been asleep for about 20 minutes, I woke up to the absolute worst cramp I've ever had in my life. It was in my right calf, and the left one was trying to cramp up too, but I caught that one in time. The right one, however, was clenched so tightly, it was like a rock. I'd never seen it balled up like that before. I'd punch and grab at it and there was absolutely no give at all. It went a little something like this...

Fifty five stupid enlistees are laying in their bunks, light from the latrine spills out of one door and across the Kill Zone. The silence is suddenly shattered by the surprised and agonized cries of "Ah!? Ahhh! Gaaaahhh!!! FUCK ME!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!"

Everyone is startled and wake up from their fresh dozes, some wonder if people are engaging in wild homosexual intercourse, others wonder if someone is dying, others assume that this nerdy voice is having withdrawals from women, but in no time, a laughing crowd gathers around the bunk of the victim. Different advice from twenty different people drones over each other, most of it wrong, and they try to get this dude to his feet so he can walk it off. Not going to happen. Eventually, a big black dude who used to play college football for Rutgers in New Jersey (or something like that) gets fed up with the dying shrieks of some young dumbass with a muscle cramp, and gets up to squeeze the knot out. Yes, he definitely had football experience.

To this day, I still hear about the "Fuck me!" episode. Or the time one guy buttstroked another dude with his M16 because he was pissed off about something stupid. Or the kid who didnt wear anything under his PT sweats, and then had to explain to the drill sergeant that he couldnt remove his sweats because he had nothing on. Or the kid that put his kevlar helmet on backwards and actually wore it like that until a drill sergeant, not sure if he was being a smartass or if he was just a moron, corrected him. I've got a million of them, and they seem to randomly pop up here and there, but never on demand unfortunately.

The trick to basic, and pretty much else, is to bitch and vent quietly if you need to, but adopt the mentality to just say, "Fuck it" and just get it done. Keep your chin up and your head down and do what you're told, and just wait it out. Basic isn't the real army. Its mainly there as a crash course and to weed out some of the selfish, useless wastes of space. The ones that make it through generally later tend to get themselves in trouble with the freedom at their duty station, especially with drugs. All you really have to do to successfully navigate basic is just keep on trucking, shrug off the bad and bask in the good.

And then you, too, will someday be bored in your barracks room, and decide to wrap up your post so you can walk to the PX and grab some food to kill some time.

Too easy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ryan, David again. I sent this post to Mike in basic. I'm sure he will REALLY appreciate it. Thanks for sharing this, it was really enlightning.
David