My eyes exploded open from a deep sleep at the sound of a metal garbage can lid slamming into the floor. The loud crash was followed by a drill sergeant screaming, “Why are you all still in bed? You should be in formation. You have three minutes to get dressed, shaved, and in formation.”
The hens began to flap around frantically. It was 4:30 a.m. Let’s see. One minute to shave, one minute to dress, and one minute to get down to formation. I guess I’ll brush my teeth tomorrow. Maybe having unbrushed teeth will keep the drills out of my face.
Apparently a few guys put a higher value on brushing their teeth than shaving. But there was never a tooth plaque inspection. Once we were at attention, the drill sergeant strolled through the ranks looking for faults. He called everyone’s dress pathetic, but ironing wasn’t on the schedule. Neither was polishing our boots, but he made it clear this would be on the agenda tonight. Then he came across someone with facial stubble.
“Trainee! Why do I see hair on your face?” he demanded.
“I didn’t have enough time to shave, Drill Sergeant,” the trainee answered.
You would have thought he had made a mistake which caused the battle of Normandy to fail. The drill pulled another trainee out of line and shoved him in front of the offender. “Look at this trainee,” he shouted. “Do you see any fuzz on his face?”
“No, Drill Sergeant.”
“Did he have more time than you?”
“No, Drill Sergeant.”
“Then tell me why you didn’t shave like the rest of the company?” He yelled, screamed, pointed in the recruit’s face, and then made him drop and do push-ups until exhausted. The trainee continued pushing up while the drill moseyed to the next guy. Amazingly, only two guys were called out for facial stubble. Then we rushed to the mess hall. It was vital that we got there before the world ended. Then we stood at what was called parade rest. It was less restful than being at attention. You’re arms had to be at a 45 degree angle with hands in the small of your back. Thumbs interlocked and feet at the shoulders. We stood there until 6 a.m.
We rushed into the mess hall and were informed that we had three minutes to eat and get back into formation. I’m seeing a pattern here. The army stopwatches seem to be limited to three minutes. Two minutes later he was screaming to get out. I soon mastered the method of cramming everything between two slices of bread and plunging it down my throat. There was no time for utensils.
We rushed from place to place, and waited. Hurry and wait – it was the theme of basic training. Our first stop was the immunization facility. Shot records were irrelevant. Everyone was getting everything. The medic gave a demonstration of the air powered immunization guns. When he pulled the trigger, fluid shot fifty or sixty feet across the auditorium. He said, “Don’t worry. It doesn’t hurt.” And then he laughed.
Each of us rolled up our sleeves and started mooing. We marched like cattle from station to station. Someone swabbed my right arm with alcohol, pressed the gun against me, and pulled. I stepped forward and someone swabbed my left arm and shot. I marched ahead, lowing as I went. My right arm, then my left arm. How many shots can we take in one day? I grew queasy, but staggered ahead. Only six-hundred and fifty shots to go.
Somehow I emerged from the auditorium alive. An empathetic drill instructor shouted at me to get into formation, rushed us to chow. Made is wait for an hour, and then gave us three minutes to eat. I had no idea where Ron was, but I figured if I survived, he would too. I crammed as much food as I could between my slices of bread and shoved it down. It only took me one minute and forty-five seconds. That was good since one minute of our three minute eating time was shaved off for getting out of the mess hall and into formation.
I turned to the guy beside me and said, “Wasn’t that dining experience just delectable?” I kissed the tip of each finger for emphasis.
He grunted at me and kept shoving food in his mouth. I guess he didn’t know what delectable meant. Either that or he doesn’t know fine dining when he sees it.
A few moments later, we rushed out and to another building where we could actively wait for another hour. Then we rushed in, to each line, and discovered the full meaning of mass chaos. There wasn’t a friendly face in sight. There were both men and women manning each station. They all had the same personality. They all treated us with perfect equality. We were scum and it was the height of injustice that they had to interact with us. We signed, received equipment, signed something else, got more equipment, clothes, gear, and things we didn’t know we needed.
In the chaos, I somehow managed to get my bag swapped with someone else. My hat was too big and my pants were too short. When I tried to rectify the situation, I was told to make do with what I had. Oh, and my waist was quite thin, but my new pants were not. My pants ended about a quarter of an inch above my boot. They were very baggy, so I held them in place with a belt. I also had to use safety pins to narrow my hat enough to stay on my head. I was quite a studly looking soldier. And I was brimming with self-confidence!
Finally, we got to the barbershop. I have to stop here and complain about something. My recruiter said that one of the Army’s benefits was free haircuts. But before going to the barber, they gave us a cash advance. And the barbershop took $4.50 of my money. I have to get a haircut, and I have to pay for it?
The guy in front of me sat down and the barber said, “Do you want to keep a little of your hair on the top?”
“Sure,” the trainee said.
“Hold your hands out and catch it.”
I had to admit, that was funny. Ten seconds after sitting down, my hair was gone. I don’t think that was worth $4.50. I’ll have to have a word with my recruiter when I get home. Once our sheering was done, we stood in formation again and they gave us a paper with the list of supplies we would need during basic training. The total cost was about what we received as a pay advance. We marched toward the PX while the drill called cadence. One of the cadences he called was, “My recruiter…he lied to me.”
Now that is a cadence I can agree with. In fact, almost everything he told me was a lie – except my enlistment date. Later in my army life I met someone who served as a recruiter and found that they have a quota of recruits they have to meet. Failure is not acceptable, so in desperation, they will say anything to win a recruit.
In the PX, we went on a buying frenzy. I marked my list and checked it twice. I left with a few dollars in my pocket. At the end of basic training I found that half the things on my list were never needed. Welcome to the army!
Exhausted, we marched to our new barracks. It was again after midnight. Somewhere during the day we were divided up into separate companies. I was in Charlie company. So was Ron. The previous night we got less than three hours of sleep. They can’t completely deprive us of sleep. Surely tonight they will give us a few more hours. Or so I theorized.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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