Letter From Basic Training – March 19, 2004


Dear Mary Beth,

    How are you?  I’m sitting in a classroom, sweating my ass off.  We had a good day today.  After morning PT, which was really easy but got me covered in sand from Bennng Beach, we packed up our gear and instead of getting on the trucks we walked a mile or so downrange.  It was about 80 degrees today, so the walk wasn’t hard at all, but with 50 lbs of gear, helmet, rifle, long pants and jacket, we were pretty cooked when we got there.

[If it sounds easy to walk with all this crap, it’s not.  Although for an experienced infantryman, a mile march is what we do to get to a clean port-o-pot, it was very wise of the drill sergeants to build us up like this.  We added about a mile every week to how far we would march with full gear.  It worked well to condition us gradually.]

Then for some reason the first sergeant got a bug up his ass and decided to smoke us.  We did hundreds of pushups and flutter kicks in all of our gear but the pack.  I drank six canteens of water by noon.

    The obstacle course we did was very cool.  We split into 15-20 man teams.  There were various obstacles we had to move ourselves, our equipment and a dummy or a stretcher or our ammo crate across.   Usually we had ropes or planks and were not allowed to touch the ground.   I was the hero and the goat both.  First we had an obstacle like this:

using boards to walk across, which was not that bad, but someone had to pick them up after they went through and not let them touch the ground.  At one point I was laying on my back with the board balanced on my toes, inching it backwards over my head.  We did it, and everyone was like “you’re the man” and I felt šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚
    Then we did another one like this:

but only like 5 feet from the end I lost my grip and fell and my team lost ponts. It was no big deal, but I felt like a wuss.

      It is 1 AM and I’m on CQ duty, guarding a laundry room with a fake M16, but I’m happy, because tonight the drill sergeant called us together and he had a big box of mail!  He’d call our our number and then throw it acrosss the room at us, throwing star style and laugh as we’d dive for it like frisbee-catching dogs.  I was like “I hope I get a letter, please.”   I got one from my mom.  Then I was like, “I hope I get one from Mary Beth,” but I knew you might not have sent them right away so I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Then I got another one – but it was from my mom.  Then I got another and another, until the drill sergeant was looking puzzled.  Some guys got none, but I got 7, which is either the most or the second most in the platoon. Four from you, two from my mom and one from my dad.

I will try to do is answer your questions starting with the earliest letter and I should be able to catch up in no-time because tomorrow is Sunday and I will have plenty of time to write.

[I spend a lot of the next couple of letters referring to her letters by date like 3/15: That was a great story you told about your job, I agree that blah blah blah.  I’ll spare you these, unless they are related to basic training or in some way interesting]

    You sent me so much nice mail and nice encouraging words that really lifted my spirits.  I have to go soon, but we get to sleep in tomorrow until 5:30 which is awesome.
    You asked what I would be doing so I will try to explain where I will end up.  Basic training ends June 21, and then I will go to Airborne school, same place, here, until July 11 (dates are approximate).  Then I go to Special Forces Preparation Course in NC, which last until August 8.  After that I will go to selection, which ends August 29, or so.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, this is the first part I really have to worry about passing as a percentage between 20-80% pass this, depending on the source.
    If I pass, I will be going to various training courses and schools for the next year, many of them in Camp Mackall, NC a place my drill sergeant described as “the land that God forgot”  I’m not sure what he meant.  Some portions of the training I can have people with me, others I will be off in the woods.

[people, meaning her.  What’s funny is that this is a very accurate timeline and description.  Usually I write something which in retrospect is cocky or just plain wrong]

    Should I fail (hopefully not, but let’s say) I will be reassigned as an infantryman according to the needs of the Army.  I will be airborne, which would probably mean an airborne unit, such as the 82nd in Fort Bragg, NC, or the 101st in Kentucky, or if I got my choice maybe the 10th Mountain in NY.

[Actually, if you wash out of the special forces training after airborne school, you WILL be assigned to an airborne infantry unit as they don’t want to waste the training.  Which means, in descending order of likelihood, Fort Bragg; Fort Richardson, Alaska; Vincenza, Italy; RTB (Ranger Training Brigade), to be the OPFOR for Rangers.  The last two, Italy and RTB are extremely unlikely.  The 101st is no longer an Airborne unit, it’s Air Assault, which means you won’t go there, because you’ve been trained to jump out of airplanes, not slide out of helicopters on ropes.  If you wash out before passing Airborne, you’ll be on worldwide assignment, needs of the Army, and you’ve got a good chance of going to Korea]

Should I pass all the hellish courses, I will end up in either Fort Bragg, NC, Fort Cambell, KY, Fort Lewis WA, or Fort Carson, CO.  I would have my choice.  Of course at any point I could get shipped out to Afghanistan or Iraq, but that is impossible as long as I keep passing the training.  A lot of guys are already starting to have second thoughts, because Basic is hard.  And the path is long.  Many now just want to go 11B infantry and opt out of the 18X program.  There’s one kid who bunks next to mine who started crying to the drill sergeant today about wanting to switch his job to intelligence because he didn’t want to kill people.

[That’s kind of ironic.  I later served as part of an intelligence task force.  And we ranked somewhere between tuberculosis and drowning as a cause of Iraqi death.  Kidding.  But seriously, don’t think you’re gonna switch your MOS and not have to go into combat.  Even if you switch to something totally pogue-ish, like Laundry Service Specialist, you’ll end up going to war and finding out that contractors do our laundry, which frees you up to guard convoys.  Yay.  This kid was named Manning and besides coughing on me every night and getting me sick, he also was a weak sister.  He did have one skill.  He could fart continuously and on cue.  It was sort of cool. I think he like sucked air into his anus.  Because that’s a guy you’d like in a foxhole next to you.  Killing?…well no.  Coughing? Check.  Farting? Check PLUS.  There were a few other turds that I’d like to call out in detail, which if I don’t mention in my letters, I’ll go back and tell you all about them.  Basically, everyone gets caught avoiding work, is tired and sick, has second thoughts, doesn’t get along with someone, etc.  But these sh*tbirds went above and beyond] 

    The other night the drill sergeant made me do a bunch of work on Excel in his his office because I raised my hand when he asked who was a computer geek.  The other guys had to unload trucks or something horrible like that. While I was in his office, a lot of guys came into the office to complain about their problems. And these are guys who seemed outwardly strong.

[Wa’ah, my girlfriend is leaving me.  Wa’ah, how come we can’t use the phone more?  Wa’ah, I’m homesick.  In other news, it’s great to be the computer guy.  There are a lot of “single” jobs in basic training that guys get. Right now I can’t remember any of the others, but I don’t know how many times the drill sergeants would call me in to fix their computer while everyone else was dong pushups or yard work or something.  And they were terrible with computers. Like one time, they couldn’t figure out how to print something in Microsoft Excel because they didn’t have the little button that looks like a printer on the top of the screen.  I went to File -> Print.  But I’d always stall and pretend it was taking a long time because I wanted to avoid work and because I liked overhearing gossip]

3/2 Please send me a new picture of you or anything to look at as I have none. 

[I highly recommend the three books below.  Usually when I look back at my past I see a lot of idiotic things I’ve done, but at least I had good reading taste.]

3/3 What other books did I give you besides Kissing in Manhattan, Things they Carried, and Going After Cacciato? You don’t have to worry about me being “good” here, the wildest sex anyone is having is in their minds, there are probably two women and two thousand guys in the immediate vicinity.

[Well, there was the supply room private who was like 4’10” and Hispanic.  Her name was Mercado, I think, and even though some of us technically outranked her and we had to address her as “Private”.  At least we didn’t have to stand at parade rest. Guys would get in trouble for even lingering at the weapons room door for a split second longer than necessary to take whatever we were being issued.  I heard a rumor from one of the drills that she was a lesbian.  Funny story, we used to go on these road marches and leave at ridiculously early hours.  It was chilly, but because it would soon warm up in Georgia, plus we’d be doing hard work, the drills wanted to make sure we didn’t overheat and they forbid us to wear long underwear (polypros).  To check, they’d make us pull down our pants.  The only problem is that nobody wore that stupid brown underwear they issue you.  Except maybe one or two blockheads.  So one day, Mercado came to work and there were 200 guys standing there with their schlongs hanging out.  She just went over, unlocked the arms room door and went inside without batting an eye.]

[If you come into the Army as an E-4, you’ll be lucky to wear your Specialist rank, let alone be treated like one.  The exception is when the drill sergeants are looking for someone to take responsibility for something.  And you’ll get paid more.  Do me and everyone else a favor.  Don’t pull rank on privates, dick.  You’ll get a sock-in-soap party.  Second, don’t do anything that furthers the “book smart but no common sense/toughness/street smarts, etc” slander.  Yes, there are guys like that.  Remember, you have a college degree and could have been an officer.  So act accordingly. 

[Oh yeah, there’s also the chow hall ladies.  Most of them are in their forties with moles on their faces and arms as big around as mine.  If you’re really lucky, there might be a skanky looking 19 year old chick who probably already has three kids.]


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