Letter From Basic Training – March 16, 2004 – We Get Guns


Dear Mary Beth,

    How are you?  I am good.  Right now I’m standing on a training range in formation.  It’s pretty hot, but not that bad.  however I’m hot because I’ve been wearing BDUs, my helmet, my LCE (suspenders and a waist strap that hold canteens, ammo pouches and first aid kit.  I’m going to try to write like this, [page is folded several times] like a greeting card so that I can hide the letter more easily in the little book they give us and write during the times we are supposed to just stand here and do nothing.

    We had classes on first aid today.  I’m not sure why, but the first sergeant, who is like the boss of the company’s drill sergeants, and a super-ultra intense motherf*cker, decided to have the class outside at the range, which is why we brought all the gear I told you about.

[he reminded me of a baptist hellfire and damnation preacher, except you’re stuck in the church for 15 weeks.  Sample Sermon: “Stand up straight.  You think you’re back on the block?  Fool, you’re ten up and two down!  You know what that is?  Eight (Ate) UP!  There’s a reason we alphabetize our clothing in our wall lockers, private!  ATTENTION TO DETAIL.  You forget to alphabetize your shirts, you’ll go into combat with no weapon and get someone KILT!  AIIIEEE.  Drill sergeants, square this private away.  And then when I’m done, you come see me. I got something for you, too. Oh, you privates don’t think I can scuff me up some drill sergeants?  See this here?  (pointing to rank)  Three on top, three on the bottom, diamond in the middle.  Anyone else here got that?  I didn’t think so… etc.”]

Also we bought our rucksacks.  My gear is all jacked up, my webbing on my LCE is super old, and my rucksack doesn’t fit right.

[because there’s billions to spend on fighter planes we never use but privates in basic training have to make do with stuff that is so crappy that they’d have banned it from going to Vietnam.  It’s crucial that privates learn the ins-and-outs of dealing with a rucksack that hasn’t been used since Korea, so that as soon as they get to their unit, they can get new equipment that they have to figure out all over again.  Common sense philosophy says that you should learn to navigate with a compass before you learn how to use GPS.  Army philosophy says you should learn to ride a horse before you drive a tank.]

Also, they give us these fake rifles to carry around. The reason for this is that in Iraq and Afghanistan, new guys were not used to having rifles around with them and would forget where they put them [or so the drill sergeants told us, but having been there, I can believe it].  So we have these realistic looking rubber and metal black M16s [called “rubber ducks”] that we carry around everywhere we go and we get in trouble if they are more than an arm’s length from you at any time.  Except when we use the bathroom, then we can leave them with our battle buddies.  They wanted to give us real ones on the first day which has never been done before either, but we will start with replicas and switch to the real ones by week three.

[Whenever you get new equipment in the Army, you go through several stages.
1. Longing – “Man, I can’t wait til we get guns.” They left the rubber ducks on our beds, so we were eyeballing them the whole time the drill sergeants were talking.  They looked like the most realistic fake guns a 12-year-old could imagine
2. Preciousness – “Wow!  This is great.  I wish I had my camera.  A real fake M-16”
3. Horseplay – As soon as the drill sergeants leave we’re having imaginary wars, posing with one in each hand, poking each other in the ass with them and yelling “Say Hello to my Lil Friend!”
4. Use – “All right, privates, lift the rifles up shoulder high.  Hold them there.  Lower them.  Raise them back up.  Lower them.  RAISE THEM UP!  We’ll teach you to leave your weapon in your wall locker, Private Snuffy!”
5. Irritation – “Bro, I am so tired of lugging this stupid f*ing rubber rifle everywhere.  I hang out in the bathroom, just so I don’t have to bring it.”]

[Another note: I overheard from drill sergeants, and observed personally that each basic training cycle at Sand Hill tries one or more experimental things.  Later, the drill sergeants report on whether the results were positive or not.  Based on their feedback, and probably the observations of some officers, these experiments might be adapted into the standard curriculum. These experiments might be positive or negative from the trainee’s standpoint.  For example, another group of soldiers actually managed to carry weapons around all through basic training without killing anybody in the chow hall, so it became a permanent change.  Our “experiment” was very positive – letting us have passes to go to the PX almost every weekend after we were out of Red Cycle/Total Control (more on this later).  One company got to keep their cell phones in a locked drawer and use them during phone time so that the pay phones weren’t mobbed.  On the other hand, your experiment might be something awful, like seeing what happens when privates are only fed once a day, or run 4 times as far or something.]

    Oh yeah, my new battle buddy/bunkmate is a lot cooler than my old one from 30th AG who failed his fitness test. His name is Layton   He remends me so much of my college roommate (also named Rob) that it’s not even funny.  Major deja-vu.  We watch out for one another, making sure our gear is all squared away.  Very cool guy.
    There are two other kids here that remind me a ton of my buddies from home.  It’s very weird.  One reminds me of  my friend Pat from Voorheesville and the other of my friend Flynn who goes to school at Berkeley.
    The drill sergeants are not physically intimidating, but they have voices that will make you jump out of your skin.
    Ours are medium sized, there are two really big guys who are drills for other platoons in the company.  One is this big necked guy with a gut and a Hitler mustache.  He’s always in a bad temper. I think his name is Rivera  The other guy is a giant black dude, who’s got to be 6’6 and 290 pounds.  [Still to this day SFC Jones is the biggest guy I have ever seen in the Army – there was a taller guy in our Battalion, but he was like a beanpole]

    I have to go to sleep now, I am going to sick call tomorrow.  I am all fucked up, coughing and fever.   I got some good news.  After 8 weeks, there is a family weekend deal, where you could come down and if you wanted, see me all day Saturday and until Sunday evening.   Up to you.  Also I get off at 5 from Airborne school (after Basic).  So if you wanted to, you could stay a day or 2 into the week, and I could see you when I got home.  I don’t know if you can get off work.  I can’t wait to get a mail from you.


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