Letter From Basic Training – March 17, 2004


Dear Mary Beth,

    How are you?  Right now I’m in sick call.  It’s 630 AM.  We woke up and had to be in the formation area at 445.  Myself, my bunkmate, Layton, and this guy named Johnson went down from our platoon.  Two days ago, twelve guys went.  Half the company is coughing and sneezing.  Yesterday at class, you could hardly hear through all the hacking.
    There were eleven guys from the company going to sick call, and they gave us each an MRE for breakfast.

[Since this is one of the most confusing things for non-Army folk, besides the ranks, I’ll go over it again.  In basic training, our platoon is 55 guys.  The company has four platoons.  We all started basic training the same day.  Each company has 3 drill sergeants, although there’s a few extras and a captain, a first sergeant and a supply chick.  We sleep in a bay with just our platoon, but we eat with all the platoons, and do most of our training together.  We were E(cho) Company, 2/54.  There are other companies, but for example, Alpha and Bravo companies are on break.  Charlie was I think just graduating and Delta started a few weeks before us. And of course, scattered across “Sand Hill” – the basic training area of Fort Benning (they have real soldiers there too) are other basic training battalions like 1/58, etc.  What do the numbers mean?  2nd Battalion, 54th Infantry Regiment.  I think these all used to be “real” units in World War II or something.  You say it just like it’s written “Two Five Four”]

My MRE was Beef Teriyaki, which was not so bad, but not as good as the spaghetti and meatballs.  [My recruiter gave me that one and I ate it at my parents’ house while my mom tsk-tsked.]  All the MREs come with a little heater, which is just a plastic bag with chemical packets in it.  You add water and the packet of food  into the plastic bag, prop it against a rock or something [the instructions literally say “a rock or something”] and it heats the food up, then you scoop it out of the packet and eat it with a long spoon.  [Note for mongoloids – don’t drink the water.  It’s now poison]  They also give you candy.  I gave my tootsie rolls to Layton, but I ate my M&M’s which were the first chocolate or caffeine I have had in a while.
    Now I am in the waiting room and like thirty other guys from the other companies are here, all coughing, sniffling, limping around, etc.  They drove us over in a “cattle car”,  like a flatbed with a roof over it, I’m sure you’ve seen something like it on the street.  We were all bounching around in the back in the dark, coughing on each other.
    My buddy who went to sick call yesterday told me not to talk and not to fall asleep in the waiting room.  If you talk, they make you come back with the drill sergeant [who then has to punish the crap out of you for wasting his time, even though he’s probably excited to get out of whatever he’s supposed to be doing]  A few guys fell asleep.  It’s hard not to when you’re sick and only got about four hours of sleep a night the last week.  The medical sergeant made them stand up for fifteen minutes with their hands in the air.  These two guys from the platoon who have been in the infirmary were here this morning to see the doctors.  One of the guys whispered to me on his way in: “Go to the infirmary – there’s TV and you can sleep all day.  That sounds like heaven to me now.  Although I know that I am getting tougher and more disciplined even though I’ve only been here for 2 weeks.

    I think we are missing PT right now.  Yesterday, we ran a mile.  Sounds simple, right?  Get the platoon outside, line them up, stretch, run, line up, go eat.  Total time: 15 minutes.  Instead we did it with the whole company.  So we had road guards, guys in orange vests who would run ahead and stop traffic, a big truck, twenty drill sergeants, 220 guys, we marched a mile and a half, did the stupid Army stretching and warmup routine, stood around for fifteen mintues so we would coold down in the rain, and get stiff again, then did the run. 

[in six years, nothing changed.  We still made a huge production out of every little run.]

My time was 6:27, which was in the top 30% of the platoon, but I was coughing like crazy the whole time.  My best is about 30 seconds faster.  But the drill sergeant said below 7 min was good.

[wow, I’m kind of proud of myself for running a 6:27 mile while I was sick as crap.  I did run 5 or 6 days a week for a few months before basic]

    It was funny when the eleven of us walked into the sick call carrying guns.  They freaked out and were like “oh no not here you don’t leave your weapons outside and have two of you guard them.”  The guys from the other companies think it’s a punishment that we have to carry rifles.  I think it’s actually kind of fun.
    I just saw the doctor/nurse and all I got was cough syrup and Sudafed.  Apparently half of the company has what I have, it’s called the “Joe Crud”.  If you have a fever of over 100, they give you antibiotics, otherwise you get cough syrup.  I ddid get to miss morning PT, though.
   Now I’m done with my first aid training, and I hope that no-one especially me gets hurt.  We had to learn tourniquets, splints, field dressings, artificial respiration and carrying injured guys, which sucks big time.
    It’s hot in Georgia, how’s the weather up by you?  We just got smoked.  I remember how people told me, if they ever ask for volunteers, don’t raise your hand.  Well, the drill sergeant asked for 20 volunteers and all the rest of the guys who didn’t volunteer had to exercise.  A lot.  In the hot March sun.  I can’t imagine July here.  3-6 soldiers a year die at Ft. Benning due to heat injury.

[i don’t know if that statistic is accurate, but folks do die.  And of the 481 times they asked for volunteers, I never did.  3 times I missed out on something good.  478 times I missed out on hard, awful labor.  I like those odds.]

Being sick and drinking cough syrup hasn’t helped either.  I’ve had 6 canteens of water today.   I can’t wait until I get my first mail.  I’m hoping tomorrow.  I want to know how you’re feeling and if you still remember me.  Also, I know this is not your fault but I feel like I’m talking to myself.  I like writing you letters anyway.
    Please tell me about all the fun stuff you are doing. 

PS It’s lights out now,
2200 and I’m mailing the letter


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