Letters from Basic Training – April 6, 2004


Dear MaryBeth,

How are you. I’m sitting in the dirt at the rifle range, trying to avoid “concurrent training.” Concurrent training is this awful stuff we do while we are waiting to shoot. We each shoot for about 15 minutes in the morning. We only shoot in the afternoon if we are lucky or do really bad in the morning. Concurrent training is like punishing the innocent.

[Oh, you gotta love Army training. Some guys would intentionally shoot badly so that they’d get scolded by the drill sergeants, but then get to shoot over and over again.]

Concurrent training ranges from the tedious but useful “dime drill” where you lay down in the prone (uncomfortable on your elbows to do this all morning long) and balance a dime on your barrel then try to squeeze the trigger without knocking it off, to the useless “shadow box drill” where I lay down and aim the gun at a piece of paper then strap the gun down and look down the sights while a partner puts a dot where I tell him it’s aimed 15m away, then he makes a mark and you repeat to make sure you know where the gun is aimed.

[if this doesn’t make any sense to you now, don’t worry, I don’t think it made much sense to me when I did it either. The Army is unwilling to accept the reality that the only way to get better at shooting is by shooting. Okay, the preliminary instruction helps (where they tell you how to breath, etc); so does a few of the high-tech gizmos that cost millions and are like giant video games; so does individual coaching by a drill sergeant – amazing I never got any of this – they expected us to coach each other]

Then worst of all is the hideous “barrel drill” where you just repetitively dry fire at a target painted on a barrel.

[What I didn’t mention to Mary Beth is that one private has to take this 55 gallon drum and throw it so that it spins, while 20 guys pretend to shoot at it. Throwing the drum gets very exhausting after a few times and you have to keep doing it, because the drill sergeants easily notice when you stop, plus some nerd would usually complain. At least if you were laying in the prone pretending to shoot at it, you could kind of rest inside your helmet if you were careful. We’d do this for HOURS.]

In theory, this stuff sounds like it helps (and it might the first time you try it). In reality, it does nothing but get dirt in your rifle, hurt your elbows and make you wish they were dead. They only make us do it because past privates reported being bored sitting around. [Be careful what you tell the officers who roam around pretending to be friendly] I would love to sit around, write letters and bullshit. Oh well. The drill sergeant today is being cool. They hate to supervise too, so mostly they leave you alone to lie in the shade, as long as you look reasonably like you are doing something. [An Army skill that is very important to develop]

Now it’s tonight and I’m on fireguard duty. I have some real good news. For me anyway. Every week we voted the 10 best and 10 worst soldiers and put up rankings. [This is a weird thing that our youngest drill sergeant had us do. Sure it sometimes is like a popularity contest, but it did motivate people to do their best. Not a bad idea.] I have never been on the best but never the worst either thankfully. But this week I made #5 on the good list, which meant 20 people had me on their top 10. I was very happy – I think it’s mostly because I’m nice to other people, not necessarily the best at every thing we do. [also, I didn’t lose my rifle, get caught lying, or get caught sleeping in my wall locker]

I’ll write more about it in my next letter. It’s Wed night. Today we shot again. I got to go 4 times today because I started out by sucking. I got a 21, a 25, a 24, then I got a 30, which is my best. Yesterday I got a 29. 24 is qualifying, 31 is sharpshooter, 36 is expert (out of 40). Layton and I had a bet and I did better, he got a 26. But he won’t pay me my $5 because he only shot twice. Tomorrow we shoot for qualification and I need 24 on my first try. Please pray for me to hit center of mass. I know it will have already happened when you get this letter, but I think it will still work.

[Here’s the deal with Army marksmanship standards. First of all, yes, it is stupid that the grades are “Try Again,” “Marksman,” “Sharpshooter,” and “Expert.” It’s like “Excellent,” “Awesome,” and “Outstanding.” And an unintentional side effect of this is that when some deranged veteran goes on a shooting spree, the papers can say “he was a trained Marksman” and people think he was a super-sniper or something. On the other hand, it’s kind of tricky. We were shooting pop up targets at 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 300 yards. Unlike real war, you got one bullet per target. Sometimes the targets did not work right (of course every private always blames the targets 🙂 We’d only shot like this maybe 10 times in our lives before we qualified. (My previous shooting experience was extensive but mostly 25 m at household appliances) And we were using iron sights. All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t volunteer to stand downrange from us. And someone who shoots expert in basic is a great shot. If you get 40/40, they’d put your name on a plaque in the chow hall – there were about 10 names over the last five years out of thousands of privates. At “actual” Army units, you generally use optics, and you usually get to try again until you qualify expert, unless you’re hopeless. In all, Army Infantry Marksmanship training in Basic is decent – kind of scaled to the lowest common denominator, though. Compare this, however to Air Force Basic Training where you shoot one day and that’s it]

Tomorrow some big officers are coming to inspect our base so we have to have everything extra neat, but lately we’ve been pretty squared away anyway. [what a dork, using terms like squared away to my girl back home] While he is here, we’re going to do a formation run where all of us, run at a slow pace and call cadence like in the movie Full Metal Jacket. The running here is a joke. Everything is always scaled down to the least fit people.
[Some Army running standards as I remember them:
PT Test pass: about 16 minutes for 2 miles
PT Test perfect: about 13 minutes for 2 miles
Infantry Basic Training Long Run: about 4 miles at an 8:30 pace
Airborne School Long Run: 5 miles at a 9:00 pace, calling cadence (slower cause there’s chicks there)
Special Forces Long Run: 5 miles at 8:00 pace, no cadence, in BDUs and boots
#2 and #5 are moderately challenging. The others are a joke unless you’re a chainsmoking slug.]

I could run way better at [gym I worked at and she trained at]. Of course, you were next to me. [awww, I left this in just so you could see the kind of sappy crap I’ve been taking out of these letters]

If you wanted to send me a package, I could use non-scented baby wipes and q-tips for gun cleaning, black shoe polish and cough drops, preferably fruity flavored or that Halls’ Defense kind with Vitamin C or whatever. [good stuff to send anyone in Basic] I don’t think it would cost that much for that stuff and in return I’ll take you out to dinner or something on Family Day.

My parents are not coming, but they’re coming for graduation June 18 weekend. You could come too if you wanted. I would be able to see you the whole time minus Friday night when I’d be filling out paperwork for airborne school [actually about 6 PM you get done but it is conducted in the least efficient manner – they could have been done with us by noon – Airborne School is a giant clusterf*ck, but that’s another story]


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