Dear Mary Beth,
Right now, I’m in the middle of what seems like summer camp from hell. This is the first chance I’ve gotten to write since we got here about 24 hours ago. Actually it seems much longer, time goes really really slow here. Sometimes we just wait for two hours, standing in formations and then we get to eat lunch or get shots or something.
I’ll tell you more of the story from when I got here. And in good news I think you’d be able to come visit here after my basic training, while I’m in airborne school. That’s in about 16 weeks. Then in seven weeks after that, I’ll come home for two weeks. Then after that I’ll know more about where I will be. [deleted mushy crap] i guess I would still do it because I needed to do something productive in my life […] Let’s see, I left you on Tuesday night. I was trying to guess if my roommate would be out partying or in sleeping.
[I have a good story about the last night before I joined the Army, which I’ll post later. But all you need to know here is that they put all the military recruits in a hotel in Albany so that they could keep track of us and bus us to the MEPS, or Military Entrance Processing Station at the crack of dawn. Some guys are coming from across the state, but I lived only about 5 minutes from the MEPS, so I headed down there at like 10 PM Tuesday night, right before lights out so that I could spend more time with my friends and family.]
The first choice was right. He got there around 11:00 PM which was lights out. He was a fat, muscular Irish guy named Sean. He had his girlfriend coming up from Rockland to visit him. But she got lost and did not get there until like 2:30. We had to get up at 4:30 AM. He was like, “Yeah, I got to find out if she’s the mother of my baby.” So I figured he worried she was pregnant. But what he really meant was that she had a 2 1/2 month old and he just didn’t know if he was the father. Then the next day he failed his weight check because they raised the standards last week. Now his physical expires. And he has to try again to see if he can get his job – which was Navy SEALS – Poor bastard.
[Navy SEALS aka BUDS is a giant scam. You have like a 2% chance of making it and they’ll sign up anyone. They give you a backup job that no-one wants, like boat rower or deck swabber. With all the guys failing, it’s a great way to get more swabbers and rowers into the Navy]
So Wednesday morning I went back to MEPS and this time my paperwork was ready. Cabs took 6 of us to the airport around 11:30. I hung out with a few of the guys until my flight left at 2p. I’ve never ever done so much waiting than the last three days. It is literally impossible to describe. And it makes time go so slow.
I was the only one on my flight down to DC got there around 4p and left for Atlanta at 5p. In DC I met these four guys who I instantly could tell were going the same place I was (tiny gym bag is only luggage, carying manila folder, looking around nervously). They all had the same job code (or MOS – Military Occupational Specialty) as me – 18X – which is Special Forces Recruit. I later met other guys who mostly just graduated high school and were the other possibility for Ft. Benning, 11B (infantry). Some are going to airborne school and becoming paratroopers, other are not. A few are trying to become Rangers, but not that many, maybe because the Special Forces program is becoming more popular.
[all of this is right, except that they also trained combat medics and some other MOSs at Ft. Benning, but not many and I didn’t know this until like 10 weeks later]
We met up with a few more yahoos on the plane, and many more in Atlanta airport. I fell asleep gong to DC, but was too nervous/excited on the second part of the trip. We took a bus to Fort Benning in Columbus about 90 minutes away.
[contrary to the movies, they didn’t really yell at us when we got off the bus. That came later when we got to real basic training. They made us line up and then they brought us onto these benches where we had the first of 5,000,000 “Jimmy Dean” meals that I would eat while I was in the Army. It’s cheaper, tastier and less nutritious than an MRE, it’s like a pack of oreos, a tube of pringles, a hamburger roll, some shredded meat in a tin and a can of lemonade. It’s all on a styrofoam tray and covered in saran wrap.]
[Most of the rest of this entry, I’m going to quote/steal from another blog which was originally at hoo-ah.net. The author does an excellent job describing a whole block of time which was almost exactly identical to mine, down to the contraband list, sleeping under the light and being woken up almost immediately after getting there]
“A few minutes later, a balding sergeant comes over and starts barking orders at us. We are told to empty our bags, and the sergeant reads off a list of contraband at us, and told us to throw all of it away. He tells us that if we throw all our contraband away now, we will be fine and no one will pursue any disciplinarian action against us, but if we keep anything that we brought on the list he read, they will find it and we will be punished.
This made no fucking sense to me. We were given a list of items to bring before we came, and told that anything else is contraband. One change of clothes, some white underwear, shower slippers, tooth paste, tooth brush, bathroom bag, a pair of sneakers, and that was about it. Yet, when the sergeant told those of us with contraband to file in to throw it in the amnesty box, nearly EVERYONE got in line. People had everything you can imagine–food, knives, drugs, shanks, cell phones, prescription medicines, tools, anything you could imagine. It was ridiculous. ALL of these items were specifically listed on the “Do Not Bring” list. Why would these idiots bring this stuff?
After this, we must have spent 3 hours doing the most tedious paperwork I could imagine. When we got on the plane we were given a huge packet of paperwork from our recruiters that they had filled out for us, and now we had to meticulously pour over each fact and verify that nothing was wrong. Anytime anyone had something wrong, one of the sergeants would come over and assist them. I didn’t understand it at the time, but this scrupulous snail like pace is the way the Army works. Get things done exactly right, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how long you have to wait.
Let me explain where we are now. When you arrive at Ft. Benning you don’t go straight to Basic Training. You are inprocessed at a place called 30th Adjunct General, or 30th AG for short. [My recruiter] mentioned this place in passing, but didn’t really explain what it was. The balding DS just told us that we’d be at 30th AG for at least 4 days, and maybe up to 14 days. Two weeks till we start basic? What the fuck is wrong with this place?
We finished all the paperwork at around 3:30am, and were taken across a courtyard to a huge open air concrete building 3 stories high. It was cold out, like 40 degrees or less. Of the 50 guys who came with me on the bus, 40 were put in one bay, and I was put with the other 10 in a different bay because the first bay was full.
My group was taken to one of the rooms on the second floor. There were two guys in grey sweats with “ARMY” across the front and black watch caps on. They told us to go inside and find an empty bunk and go to sleep.
The inside of the bay looked exactly like the one in Full Metal Jacket; nothing but concrete floors and bunk after bunk after bunk, on both sides and in the middle. It was dark and everyone except for the guys standing guard was asleep, and almost every bed was taken.
There was one halogen ceiling light on in the bay, at the very front. Since I was the last one in, I ended up having to take the top bunk directly below the light because that was the only bed available in the place. It was 4am by the time I got settled. And the mattress had no sheets on it, because the bay was out of fresh linen and I couldn’t pick any up until tomorrow.
I had started my day at 4am at MEPS yesterday, it was 24 hours later, and I’d had no sleep. I laid there almost in shock. I could not believe what a awful shitstorm this day had been.
[here i skip ahead and omit his griping about how stupid the Army is]
And to top it all off, there was a loose spring digging in my side. This is just great.
I tried to go to sleep, and ended up having to literally tie a sweat shirt around my head so the blinding light that was 12 inches from face wouldn’t keep me up. As soon as I got to sleep, I was shaken awake.
I looked at my watch: 5:34am.
Are you fucking kidding me? Is this what I signed up for?
I raised up off the bunk to get up and hit my head on the light cover. As I was rubbing my head I looked up at the ceiling, and carved into the tile next to the light was the only thing that made me smile in the past 24 hours:
I wasn’t even vaguely aware of how appropriate I would come to find that little carving to be.”
[end quote – that guy’s an awesome writer, unfortunately that’s the last post about his Army experience and the site is now down. Also, it’s 30th Adjutant General, not Adjunct]
Right now, we are in the 30th Reception Battalion where we will stay for 9 days, although the processing only takes 4. Right now we are being processed, which is a hideous thing. If someone ever offers to “process” you, run like hell. On March 12, we go to real basic training only a half mile away. There’s about 150 guys in our company “Alpha Oscar” who arrived the same day as me, and more guys are getting here every other day. This place is huge. It’s like a cross between summer camp, college and prison. Our company is divided into 3 platoons about 50 guys each and I got put in charge of one. Me and one of the other guys from the airport because we are the highest rank, but it is a really awful job because you are sort of responsible for people lining up on time, dressed correctly and you don’t have any real authority. Nor am I really into it. There’s another guy who’s in charge of one of the other platoons and everyone thinks he’s a prick because he bosses everyone around. When we got there, we got issued army PT clothes, sweatpants, sweatshirts, long sleeve T-shirts, shorts, short-sleeve Tshirts. That’s how you can tell the people who just got here from the peeps about to leave – they get reall camoflage and we get grey sweats that say ARMY. Also we are not allowed to wear underwear becasue the shorts are like bathing suits.
[this sounds gay, but I don’t think they checked our underpants. On the other hand, why would you wear any, they shorts have liners. In the Real Army, I’d cut the liners out of all my shorts and wear underwear when I did PT. Who wants to exercise in a bathing suit every morning]
In fact we have to wear sweat tops and bottoms, long t-shirts too. And it’s 71 degrees here. Everyone is nasty.
We learned this army chant thing. [The Soldier’s Creed. Little did I know our drill sergeants just learned this too because it was written about 4 months earlier. Everybody in the Army thinks it was written in 1812 or something though, and seems shocked if you don’t know it] And we line up in formation and sing it before every meal. I got dropped for pushups before lunch because our guys were not loud enough.
I have so much more I have to tell you. And I want to hear from you, but have no address yet. I will call you tommorrow.