25 October 2000
This week has been insane. We got lots of mandatory training out of the way. On Monday, we did the Teamwork Development Course (TDC). We were broken up by squad for 4 different obstacles. I’m so glad my squad is full of strong guys! Each obstacle represented a “mission”, and there were lots of rules about what we could and couldn’t do. Everything was painted black and white, and we got a 10-second penalty if we touched any white part. Our first obstacle involved getting over a 12-foot wall, with the bottom 5 feet painted white, then getting from the top of the wall down to a chain bridge of sorts. It’s hard to describe. Touching the ground gave us a 10-second penalty, also. We had 1 wooden plank and a length of rope, and we also had to carry a 35-pound box of ammunition (fake, of course) over the wall and across the bridge. It was very tricky, but our squad really bonded and did well.
The second obstacle was somewhat similar to the first. The third obstacle was the only one we actually completed in the time limit. I have a terrific squad, really. After we finished the course, we actually got to spend the afternoon lolling around the grass “studying” waiting for everyone else to finish. It was a nice break. I forgot to mention that we marched to and from the TDC; it was about a mile each way. Lunch was an interesting experience; you get your food and eat it standing up and side-stepping down a table. When you get to the end of the table, you’re done. It’s called “slide and eat” and it is insane! After we ate, my squad had a study session on the chain of command, which turned into me helping everyone else, which degenerated into general get-to-know-you small talk.
Yesterday was insanity. First, we were up at 0345 hrs for a long-ass march. I think it was about 3 miles. On an empty stomach. We were given our first MREs (Meal Ready-to-Eat) after the march. Meatloaf at 0600 hrs? I don’t think so! Gross. Then we had the pugil bout. You put on a groin protector, neck brace, padded vest, football helmet, and hold a huge padded stick with which you beat your opponent. Not really my kind of thing. I was paired up with this guy L***, and he definitely went easy on me. I was just proud of myself for not getting knocked on my ass. The gear was really heavy, it exhausted me. I could hear everyone chanting my name, which made me extremely self-conscious. We also had to wear this annoying mouth guard.
Next we had to run the bayonet assault course. Imagine 200 18 to 34-year-olds running through the woods and completing obstacles with a sharp knife affixed to the end of a heavy dummy weapon! Insanity. The obstacles included: negotiating a log wall, performing parries, thrusts, and butt strokes to various tire dummies, negotiating trenches, doing a low crawl on my back under barbed wire (which sent sand all down the back of my jacket), balancing on log beams. I was exhausted by the end, because we had to keep running the whole time. The march home just about did me in.
There’s more I could say, but sleep is a precious commodity here and I need mine. I hate some of these individual events, and I dread them, but I’m also having fun in a weird way and really pushing myself. I like the people, and I’m fairly happy.
The FSG knows my name now. He’s not evil like I first thought; he just likes to pick on (i.e. flirt with) the women.
So, today we got up at 0345 hrs again. Blech! We took a bus to Fit to Win, another obstacle course (without bayonets, thankfully). We ran it in buddy teams, and I went with A***. It was about twice as long as the Bayonet Assault Course and even more exhausting. We had tunnels, hurdles, low crawl, monkey bars, a tall cargo net to climb, high crawls, rolling under logs, etc. It was cool but tiring.
From Fit to Win, we marched to the gas chamber area. We had classes first where we practiced putting on our masks in 9 seconds. I was good at that. The mask feeds my claustrophobia, but I managed to contain the panicky feelings. Then we had chow, waited in line a long time, and finally went in the gas chamber. It wasn’t exactly fun, but I got through it. I could feel the gas burning my exposed hands and neck. I had to take my mask off and state my name, rank, and serial number. We had to breathe the gas in and open our eyes on our way out the door, and I reacted pretty strongly. It was a long time until my eyes stopped burning. Of course snot was running down my face and we couldn’t touch our faces at all. I still feel like it’s in my lungs, I have this pathetic little cough. But I did well. I’ll never forget the smell of that gas.
This Army experience is really good for me. I’m doing things that scare me but I’m surviving. I can’t wait till I graduate!
26 October 2000
I’m at sick call right now, and I’m just sitting out in the grass waiting to make an appointment. The last 3 days were really rough, especially with all of those 0345 wake-ups. I should explain wake-ups. If they tell us wake-up is at 0430 hrs, that means the lights come on at 0430 hrs and at 0435 hrs you are standing by your bunk in uniform with your bunk made and your gear squared away. So what it really means is waking up at least half an hour before wake-up and scrambling around to make your bed and get dressed just using a flashlight.
Red phase is almost over. Only 49 more days total. Strangely, there are some things I may miss when I leave here. I’m getting attached to my weapon. There’s a strange pull I have to it… Some things are good here, and some things really scare me. The TDC gave me a really rough time, because I had to balance on so many different things. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover my sense of balance completely.
No shower in my life has ever felt so good as the one last night after the gas chamber. I scrubbed every inch of my body to get that CS gas feeling off. Then I couldn’t sleep all night because I couldn’t stop coughing. That’s why I’m here at sick call.
I’m so exhausted. If I were in class, I’d be struggling hard to stay awake. This day is going to be so long… I hope I don’t have to take the bus to sick call, and they can just give me some medicine and cough syrup here. This tickle in my throat just won’t go away.
I forgot to write about the nuclear lesson we had. I know what to do now in case of nuclear attack, at least if I have Kevlar on. We practiced in a big sand pit. As soon as you hear the blast, turn towards it, put your hands over your crotch, fall to your knees (ow), drop your head into the ground tucking your chin into your chest and keeping your hands under your crotch, and lay flat on the ground. We practiced it a zillion times and now my knees are sore.
29 October 2000
As usual, I can’t remember what’s been happening. At sick call, I was given a decongestant, cough drops, and cough syrup. Then I rejoined my platoon. I borrowed someone’s weapon and drilled inspection arms over and over. I feel very comfortable with Thor (my M16) now.
We are now done with Red Phase! White Phase starts tomorrow. The drill sergeants have not done anything about leadership yet, so I guess I’ll remain squad leader a bit longer. My hips and knees are sore. I’m dreading the 4-mile march tomorrow morning.
After sick call Thursday, I learned how to fire from a prone unsupported position and how to set up a foxhole fighting position. We played a little laser shooting game, and I shot 9 out of 10 targets. Nevertheless, I’m nervous about how I’ll do when we actually start shooting tomorrow. That target is mighty small. “Breathe, relax, aim, squeeze.” That’s all we’re supposed to do.
Friday we went out to a range to practice getting into and out of the foxholes. We also learned how to disassemble and clean our weapons. Luckily I had J*** to help me out.
Yesterday was our PT test. I only did 11 push-ups (BAD!), 65 sit-ups (yay!), and my run time was 19’54”. I must get to work on those stupid push-ups, but I’m happy about everything else. After the PT test, we took our phase test, and I aced it. DS L*** was being really funny yesterday when M***, S***, and I were demonstrating how to put on a tourniquet. He’s got a great sense of humor.
Tomorrow is going to be miserable. Wake-up is at 0345 hrs (and now you know that means I get up around 0315 hrs), and then we have a 4-mile march with all of our gear (tents, weapons, rucks, etc), spend all day shooting, bivouac overnight, spend all day Tuesday on the shooting range, and then get a bus home.
I’m settled here. My knees and hips hurt, but it’s all good. I’m learning and growing. I’m as much of an optimist as ever, perhaps even more so. Life is a happy thing, I’m making good friends, I’m sleepy all the time.