From Boot to Soldier

    On a bitter cold day in January 1996, I waved goodbye to my parents as I cautiously stepped onto the Greyhound bus in route from Virginia to Knoxville, Tennessee.  As I arrived in Knoxville we pulled up to MEPS, Military Entrance Processing Station.  While at MEPS I received my orders for basic training as well as the time I was set to leave for Fort Jackson, South Carolina.  When my bus finally arrived at two in the afternoon I had been intimidating myself all day about what was soon to come.  I knew I was about to come face to face with one of the toughest challenges I would ever encounter.

    As five other recruits and I arrived at Ft. Jackson we were taken to the reception station where we would received numerous shots such as flu and tetanus.  After receiving the shots we were issued all the gear that we would need for the next nine weeks, battle dress uniform (BDU's) undergarments, boots, duffel bag, and physical training (PT) sweats.  After receiving our equipment we were taken to our new home for the duration of the training.  Upon arrival at the barracks we were met by three very stern  and disciplined figures in Smoky the Bear hats, our drill instructors, all of whom had thunderous voices full of many degrading phrases.  One I recall very well, "Private, don't worry about who's home fu**** your mama!  I'm your mom and your dad now!"  Most of us got used to the insults and the cussing, but the push-ups, 1,000 per day, took a little longer to get used to.

    Basic train consists of three phases, red, white, and blue phase.  Red phase is the first of the three, otherwise known as "hell week."  During red phase we are taught over and over Drill and Ceremonies (DNC).  DNC consists of marching in mass formations mainly for parade and discipline purposes.  Bayonet training is another part of "hell week" which is a little more exciting than DNC.  At this point of basic is where we start to get a small part of the "killer instinct" installed into us.  While on the bayonet training field the drill instructors bellowed over a loud speaker, "What makes the green grass grow?"  We replied, "Blood, blood, blood makes the green grass grow!"  The drill instructor followed with, "What makes the green grass green?"  We replied, "Guts, guts, guts makes the green grass green!"  Hell week is designed to make the weak give up because in war on the strong shall survive.

    Following red phase came white phase; this phase was full of excitement and adventure.  We marched an average of eight to ten miles per day to various firing ranges where we were taught to use our M-16A assault rifles.  The road marches were a tough challenge by themselves, but put a forty-five pound ruck sack on your back and things get a bit more difficult.  Next in this phase came a very difficult challenge, the gas chamber.  The drill instructors line us up in twenty-five man lines and lead us into a small 25'x40' room.  As we entered the room, in the center was a small table.  On top of the table was a hot plate with a large coffee can on top.  Once we were all lined up around the wall, the drill instructors dropped three small capsules containing tear gas (CS gas) into the coffee can, the gas began to fumigate the room.  Next the drill instructors advised us to break the seal on our gas mask, this just giving us a little taste of the gas.  After resealing our gas masks the drill instructors gave us about thirty seconds to catch our breath.  Then they ordered us to take the gas mask completely off.  This was where the "fun" started.  First, I tried holding my breath but that did not last long.  I caught a minute breath of the gas and it was over.  I began furiously coughing.  After the coughing I could not breath.  My eyes started watering like a sprinkler, my nose running like a  tri-athlete, and my skin was burning like a house fire.  The gas chamber to this day is still something I would never want to experience again.

    Finally, the blue phase.  Three more weeks until graduation--man was my company excited.  The final phase is where we were taught many soldiering skills such as orienteering, map reading, and living in woods for ten days.  The real fun of this phase was the night infiltration course.  The night infiltration course was a two hundred meter long simulated battlefield we had to crawl all across on our stomachs.  In the meantime, there was TNT exploding all around us and live M-60 machine gun fire just three feet above our heads.  Wow, what an adrenaline rush!

    At last, graduation.  We were standing on the parade field prepared to march in front of our friends, family, and numerous high-ranking officials.  As we marched in front and were saluted, this let us all know we were soldiers.  What a wonderful feeling knowing I had just conquered the toughest life challenge I would ever face.