I saw Jarhead this weekend and it brought back a lot of memories from my own basic training. Those memories are a real mixed bag, amazing highs and lows all concentrated into a 3+ month surreal experience. The live fire exercise where one Marine freaks out, stands up and catches one in the skull really took me back to our day on that range.
1st Platoon, Echo Company of the 2/13 Armor Battalion was headed to the range on a rainy Kentucky day in October. Rucksacks and rifles, canteens and camaraderie, marching or running…. that is how we rolled. We marched or “double timed” all over Ft. Knox except for the occasional ride crammed in the back of a deuce and half. “Nut to Butt, get to know your neighbor!!” I think we marched to the live fire range that day on a cold wet gray day. I was kind of excited; this would be the first time that we were going to do anything with live rounds whizzing over our heads. I was not worried about getting shot; they told us that as long as we stayed down we had nothing to worry about. The rounds may seem like they were right over head but were actually being fired about 6 feet above the ground. I took their word for it.
The range had a sand/dirt/rock surface that really, really sucked to low crawl on…. and low crawl we did. For those not familiar with this exercise, you have to low crawl on your stomach and back underneath an obstacle that is strung with very low concertina wire (barbed wire) and around demo pits. Crawling under the wire is interesting; it grabs and snatches at everything on you - uniform, canteen, rifle, helmet cover. The trick is to just go slow and make your way through. I don’t recall anyone freaking out about the bullets and tracers zipping by overhead, but it made for an interesting night. The part I do remember is someone pissing off a drill instructor and the whole platoon having to do it again. And again. By the time we finished that “training” it was very dark and I had worn the skin off the insides of my knees and elbows. The damn wet sand got into my BDU’s and the constant scraping of low crawling through the course was like sandpaper for skin. The other really neat part of the night was when I paused too close to a demo pit and it went off. The concussion of the blast picked me up and flipped me over. I was stunned and disoriented for a little, but eventually got my head out of my ass and finished.
Another nagging memory I have of basic training is the feeling of a complete lack of control. I was completely at the mercy of the drill instructors. I ran until they were tired. I polished and pressed until they were satisfied. I ate what, when, and as fast as they desired. It was a weird feeling, many times I felt a sense of detachment as my mind left my tired body. How much brain power do you need to just keep running? This one night, we did something to make the drill sergeant unhappy and he decided we needed some running and exercise to remedy the situation. I think it was the closest to hysteria I have ever been. I was just running and crying. Guys around me were doing the same with many just flipping out. I was completely at the mercy of the DI and his whistle. It seems funny to write about here and kind of hard to explain, but that night I was not sure when, if ever it would end. He just kept thrashing us and there was no alternative. If someone dropped back, it seemed to piss him off more and made it worse. What can you do?
Basic was not all bad though. There were many bad times and tough days, but the often talked about sense of camaraderie is real and helps. It may suck, but it sucks for all of you and you are all in it together. They really teach you to live and die as a team. The sense of accomplishment when you complete it is also one of the greatest feelings I have experienced to date. It is up there with the day I got married.
There were a few other very memorable days in Basic that included the first time I fired the main gun on my M1A1, the graduation day when my father came in uniform (he was a Major at the time) and my Drill Instructors had to come to attention for him and salute him... ha! I will also not forget turning 18 in the middle of basic and the week plus that I spent in reception and processing - what an odd time that was. Perhaps I will be motivated to post about some of those experiences soon. Hooahh. Go Army.... just not while Bush is still in office.