Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Memories of Basic Training

The drill sergeants were primed and ready for the bus arrival. They didn't waste any time hollering at us and herding us off the bus. They were loud and demeaning, but I don't recall the use of any expletives as often displayed in movies by any of them.

Rarely does Gollywood ever accurately portray their helicopter crashes either.

After getting us off the bus, they determined who you were and what you had enlisted for. The two of us heading for flight school were told we were too stupid to make it. Well we were all ready in the system, so we'd just have to stay and see.

One of the first things they did after getting us off the bus was to herd us through the barbershop. In 1973 there was a lot of long hair, but it was soon shorn off. To the man everyone exiting the barbershop was running their hand through their shaved head feeling the difference.

Then we were herded through supply where everyone was issued standard Army fare of underwear, uniforms, boots, and duffel bag. I still have my original duffel bag.

Contrary to the advertisement shown in the previous post I have no recollection of ever going to Leesville, and I didn't arrive by any train. We did have many hikes, mass games, and lots of rifle practice. We marched everywhere.

Every morning when we formed up in ranks before departing to our designated location for the day, 1st Sergeant Hill the lead Drill Sergeant would read off an announcements, then he would say in a loud nasal tone, "Profiles, profiles, profiles! Sick, lame, and lazy! Ugly, stupid, and crazy! Profiles on the truck!"
Profiles didn't have to march, they got to ride.

One amazing thing with all that marching, the drill sergeants always seemed fresh and rested even though they marched along beside us. Anyhow at least one was always with us. They would outpace us and make it to the head of the pack, then slowly make their way back to the rear where the truck followed. They barked commands and corrections as they made their way from front to back. Once in the rear and out of site they'd hop in the truck and a fresh one would get out to have a turn at us. Right Bill?

There was a memorable big black Drill Sergeant named Archie Young that was a STRACT soldier. Whenever we were not marching, we were required to double time everywhere we went. Sergeant Young could often be heard saying loudly, "If there is no smoke coming off the heels of your feet, you are moving entirely too slow!"

In the chow line a Drill Sergeant would move up and down the line looking at our combat boots. If any pair of boots were not up to speed the basic trainee would be rudely asked if he was shining them with a Hersey bar.

KP (Kitchen Police) is a time honored chore that every basic trainee should get to experience at least once. Squad leaders were excused. My turn for KP was coming up, but Sergeant Hill called me into his office. For some reason they thought my squad leader was not measuring up. Sergeant Hill made me the squad leader, so I never got to experience KP.

A co-worker's Tall Tale

Years later I worked with a male flight nurse whose dad had been a mess sergeant while in the service. This nurse told me a story from his basic training experiences. He said they had a 25 mile forced march scheduled on Saturday. He said while going through the chow line on Friday the mess sergeant was standing proudly over his fare for the meal behind the counter watching troops go through. Rich said as it was time for him to get a his plate loaded he looked scornfully and the food and loud enough for the mess sergeant to hear Rich said, "I grew up in Missouri. I had to wade through a lot of this slop while feeding the hogs, but I never had to eat it!"

The mess sergeant's countenance changed from pride to scorn as he forcefully pointed at Rich and said, "You! KP tomorrow!"

Rich replied, "Yes Sergeant!" with a mild look of horror on his face.

The next day while everyone else were out on their 25 mile forced march, Rich showed up for KP.

The mess sergeant ordered him to go into the back and run water for a large sink to do dishes. Rich went back there and turned only the hot water on. He waited until the temperature was high before placing the plug in the bottom of the sink, adding soap, and letting it fill to the top.

After a little bit the mess sergeant showed up and meanly asked, "Troop, is that water hot enough?"

Rich said, "Yes sergeant!"

The mess sergeant rolled up one of his sleeves and said, "Well we're gonna see." He then shoved his arm full length into the bottom of the sink. His face registered the pain and horror, but he kept his composure. After removing his arm he looked at Rich and told him, "It's hot enough."

It seems it was a common thing for green troops doing KP for the first time to run a lukewarm sink.

The mess sergeant left for awhile. He came back a little later and started chatting with Rich. He was more friendly and Rich revealed to him that his dad was a mess sergeant and had taught him a thing or two like how to get out of forced marches.

I remember several of the men I went to basic with. One kid was in the national guard with a young wife and baby. He wasn't in the best of health, but he had a lot of heart. He would march until he fell out into the ditch with convulsions. I remember one night Drill Sergeant Snowden came into the barracks and approached this kids bunk. The sergeant checked his pulse and quickly began administering CPR with mouth to mouth resuscitation. After thumping the kids chest a few times and applying several rescue breaths, the kid coughed and sputtered then started breathing on his own. I don't know how Sergeant Snowden knew. I can only assume one of the other troops noticed the kid was having trouble and quickly reported it to the drill sergeant.

The kid ended up getting medically eliminated. It was a shame. For his wife and child he would of ran until he dropped dead trying to make it through. He had a lot of heart. I hope things ended up working out okay for him.

Another trainee about my size and build was habitually lazy in contrast to this other kid. He would slough off at every chance he could on marches and otherwise. During one march the Drill Sergeant commanded me that if he didn't keep up one more time, I would be pushing Louisiana off the map. I got behind the boy and kept applying a steady shove forward. He shared words with me that I had better stop. I told him I wasn't going to push Louisiana off the map for anyone. Shortly after the Drill Sergeant came back by and told me that was enough.

Rifle Drill

We learned how to field strip and clean our M16s, and we had daily target practice. The targets were metal popup targets with a human shape set up at varying distances from 25 feet out to 1,000 feet. If and when you hit the target, it plopped back down. It was pretty satisfying to see the 1,000 foot target plop down a couple of seconds after pulling the trigger.

We were taught to shoot from the prone, kneeling, and standing position. The prone position offered the most stability and accuracy. One day we had a special qualifying shoot. The Drill Sergeant instructed us to take all of our shots from the prone position to improve our qualification scores.

I had a small problem. My 25 foot target was hidden behind a berm when it popped up. I missed it the first time. Every time after that when it popped up I rapidly hopped up to the kneeling position and made a successful shot. The Drill Sergeant saw me hop up to my knew and make the shot. He came over and dressed me down for not following instructions. While continuing to make my shots I informed him that the 25 foot shot was impossible to make from the prone position due to the berm. The 25 foot target popped up again, I hopped up to a knew and shot it down while the Drill Sergeant watched. He recognized the truth of my statement and left me alone.


During preparations for bivouac the Drill Sergeant called me into a storage room to select a sleeping bag. The sleeping bags were stacked to the ceiling. Most of them were filthy. I looked through them till I found one that seemed reasonably clean. I got the crabs from the reasonably clean sleeping bag. Oh joy...


The small item hanging with my dog tags is called a P-38. It is my original Army issue can opener that conveniently helped soldiers open their c-ration cans from before MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) came along. They can be handy for anyone with a need to open a can away from the convenience of an easier to use can opener. They are easy to carry on a key chain also, so that you have it when you need it.

The c-rations back in those days all included a small 4 pack of cigarettes. The times have changed since then. Whenever we would stop our marching for a break the Drill Sergeant would announce, "Smoke em if you got em".
C-rations may not have been the tastiest meal, but I don't think I ever disliked them.


I didn't find basic training all that difficult. Upon arrival I could drop and knock out 100 push-ups with relative ease. My legs definitely got in better shape with all the marching we did, but I think my upper body lost some tone. It was an interesting experience. Flight school would prove to be a little more demanding.

ciao till next time

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