What Your Recruiter didn’t tell you about Basic Training
by Amber Chisholm
There are a lot of things I wish I had known before going to boot camp. I can’t complain, I made it through okay, but there are a few details about how things work that I wish my recruiter would of mentioned.
Don’t Stand Out
“Shut up! Now, when I say, you are going to fly off this bus and go stand on the painted dots. Place your bags gently to your left without making a single sound. And if I hear one single person open their trap, you’ll be on you face doing pushups ‘til morning… MOVE!” Everyone frantically grabs their things and stampedes off the bus. I have my eyes set on a dot, I hustle over to it, nope, someone took it. Now that one, no, taken. The dots are filling up. Quicker this time, I took two steps to my left and jumped on a dot. Finally, a dot that is mine, I have a spot, I don’t stand out.
The trainees were quiet; we all stood in silence waiting for our next instruction. My eyes are forward watching the training instructors or T.I.’s for short, swarm around us like piranhas. One instructor approaches the boy in front of me. As I watch what is going to happen with him I feel hot breath on my neck. A shrill voice starts to scream in my ear making me flinch from the volume. “Did or did not Sergeant Horton give you distinct instructions to put your damn bag on the ground.” It took me a minute to realize that I was still clenching my bag in my left hand. I tried to let go of the handles before she had to warn me again. Too late. “Put your bag down goofy! Are you retarded or something? Did you ride the short bus to school?” I immediately let go of my bag and it crashed to the ground. “Pick it up!” I bent down and grabbed my bag. “This time, put your bag down without waking up the whole damn base!” I placed my bag ever so gently next to my left foot, as if inside contained a transplant organ. It didn’t make a sound. “Pick it up!” I snatched up my bag. “Drop it!” I placed it down again. “Pick it up! Drop it! Pick it up! Drop it!” This continued over a dozen times. My ear was damp with the saliva that shot out of her mouth as she screamed. “You are the dumbest thing I’ve seen yet,” she said coldly.
She started to walk away and things all around seemed to be settling down. The piranhas stopped swarming the crowd and started to line up in the front, and she went to go join them. But just before she turned to leave she kicked my bag. It moved about a foot. All of sudden a little song began to sing. “I love, a-hoo-hoo, honey, oh yes I do, a-hoo-hoo!” My heart sank. Did she hear it? She stopped dead in her tracks and turned back to me slowly. “What the hell was that?” Yup, she heard it. Not only did she hear it, but so did another T.I., who immediately ran over to find out what that little song was all about. They grabbed my bag from the ground, unzipped it, and dumped the contents at my feet.
There it was, a little yellow Winnie the Pooh doll my friend had given me as I boarded my plane in Nebraska. Not the typical gift given for someone leaving for Boot Camp, but I appreciated the gift and even thought it was kind of cute. I remember wondering on the plane what I was going to do with it once I got there. I think I just figured they’d let me put it in some kind of storage until my training was complete.
A third and fourth training instructor approached the scene. One of them picked up the bear and raised it to my face. His face was in mine; his hat was touching my forehead. His breath smelled like cigarette smoke. Again, a couple more T.I.’s joined the party. I was surrounded from all sides. The only thing I wanted to do was to blend into the crowd and not stand out. Now here I stood with every single training instructor around me, screaming at me from all sides.
“Who the hell brings a doll to basic training?” After realizing that I was supposed to answer him, I tried to mutter something. Before I could explain where the doll came from he cut me off with more insults. The other seven instructors were yelling and asking me to explain the presence of the bear. The noise was unbearable.
I heard the voice on my right say, “well, answer me damn it!”
I looked at him. “I didn’t hear what you asked.” I squeaked out.
“Eyes forward! Head straight! You look at me in the face ever again, I will drop kick you in the throat! Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” I said quietly.
“What did you say maggot?”
“Yes sir!” I shouted.
“You are joining the United States Military!” He grabbed the Winnie the Pooh doll ad held it to my face, “This is not a place for dolls! To me, this is a chew toy!” And with that he raised the stuffed animal to his mouth and bit the head off my Winnie the Pooh doll! The body dropped to my feet. He took the head and threw it against the wall. My heart was pounding like a drum; I wondered what they were going to do next.
Relief swept over my body as I watched the pack of hyenas turn and leave me. With all of their backs to me I thought maybe I could turn and run. I pictured myself getting a good head start before they saw me and started to chase me down. I decided against it due to the fact that I couldn’t even feel my legs at that moment. Plus, there probably would be some type of sniper in a tower waiting to pick me off. My mind wandered away and I pictured myself running into the dark open field. The other trainees see me and start cheering me on. I ran like a jaguar toward the barbed wire fence just as the sniper saw me and took aim… my movie scene daydream stopped abruptly as a large black man in front started to speak. “Welcome to Lackland maggots! Tomorrow will be your first day of the eight week training.”
I gazed down and looked at the contents of my bag all around me. I gave a sigh, excepting my fate for the next eight weeks. “Fifteen minutes down, eight weeks to go.”
Following the “Simple Rules”
For me, the hardest thing about basic training is trying to stay awake. A lot of time is spent in the classroom learning ranks, pay-grades, field tactics, ceremony instructions, customs and courtesies, ect. It’s hard to sit there and watch a power-point lecture after getting four or five hours of sleep. This particular day was especially tiring because throughout the night before the instructors went around to all the dorms waking up all the flights in the middle of the night. They would storm in and rip open our lockers, looking for unauthorized items. They would whip through the aisles like a destructive tornado, flipping over mattress after mattress and then yell at us that our bed wasn’t made.
Today in class we were becoming oriented to the chain of command, learning how to report a problem to your immediate supervisor and then continue up the ladder until the problem was solved. I had gotten lucky and was privileged to be sitting by my only friend in my entire flight, trainee Escobar. We always tried to sit together but when you march into class your instructor will tell you to “sit-left” or “sit-right”, so Escobar and I were always split up because they knew we were somewhat friends.
At the beginning of every lecture they remind us of the “simple rules”. One of which is to walk to the back of the classroom and stand there if you get to tired sitting there. Standing on your tired legs is well worth the pain compared to what happens to you if you get caught sleeping. I ‘m a big fan of standing in the back even though most trainees will risk fighting off the sleep and stay in their comfortable chairs.
During the lecture I was trying to take notes because we are tested on the material we are taught. I looked caddy-corner to my right and I saw a member of our brother flight struggling to stay awake. I gave Escobar an elbow and nodded for her to look at him doing the jello neck head bob. His eyelids would slowly close and then his head would start to sway. He’d always get to a certain point and then snap awake and sit straight up like nothing had happened. Escobar and I watched him the entire class, but making it look like we were still paying attention to the lecture.
We were getting a little worried about this trainee because now his head is completely dropped, chin to chest and he is totally asleep. We looked around the room to see which T.I. was going to notice him first and bust him. As we looked back at the trainee his body started to slump forward. His face was headed straight towards the desktop where his hand was still holding the pencil he used to take notes. His head gained speed and the top half of his body was going down, down, down. The pencil he was holding perpendicular to his desk went straight through his eye.
“AHHH!” He immediately stood up and started flailing his arms. Just as he reached his arm up to pull out the pencil, a training instructor ran from the back of the classroom and tackled him to the ground, pinning the trainee’s arms to his chest. ]
“Stay calm! Do not touch your eye!” The T.I. yelled to him.
The trainee wasn’t listening to any type of instruction. He was screaming over and over, “Get it out! Get it out!” He started going into shock, turning pale and his body started shaking. By now every trainee in the room was standing, some huddled right over the victim. Escobar and I leaned left and then right, struggling to see what was going on. The trainee was on the floor, three instructors were now on top of him, holding his arms and legs. Blood trickled down his face like tears. His body stopped moving. He had passed out and was lying limp.
The medical team arrived on the scene. They came in screaming for everyone to “get back, get out of the way!” They took out a styrophone paper cup and punched a small hole in the bottom of it. Then they proceeded to slip the cup over the pencil so the part you drink out of was circling his eye socket. They taped the cup to his head to stabilize the pencil. Another medic took his vital signs. They talked about using to “salts” to wake him up, but one medic was very persistent to keep him passed out. The team swept up his body and laid him on the stretcher. Before we realized it, they were rolling him out of the classroom and he was gone.
The room was silent. We were all trying to comprehend what had just happened. A few trainees started asking each other how the pencil got into his eye. One kid behind me asked if the T.I. that ran from the back of the class had stabbed him with it.
“Sit down! Shut-up! Sit down!” A T.I barked. “This is why we stand in the back if you are feeling tired!” Trainee Guice demonstrated what could happen when we don’t pay attention to details. If you are falling asleep, you stand your ass up in the back! Understand?”
“Yes sir!” The trainee’s stated in unison. The teacher of the class took his position once again with the dreaded power point remote control in his hand. All the trainees sat straight up in their chairs, terrified they would fall asleep.
Escobar leaned over to me and whispered, “Flick me if I start to fall asleep.”
Basic Training is very stressful. It seems stupid now, looking back at the things that caused me so much stress, but at the time, my stress levels were through the roof. Inspections were the main cause of everyone’s stress. Every day you are given time to work on your wall locker and clothing drawer, and in this time everyone is frantically clipping strings off uniforms, ironing perfect creases, folding their brown t-shirts into a perfect six inch square. Just when you have everything perfect, all your buttons are buttoned and the edges of your folded underwear are completely flush, (and you know it’s flush because you used tweezers to pull all the edges straight.) Just then, a random T.I. will bust into your dorm and pull everything out of your wall locker and chuck it on the floor. All you want to do is get in the fetal position and cry, but there’s no time for that, you must get everything perfect again because clothing inspection is tomorrow. My recommendation is to find a friend and help each other out. That way, if disaster strikes and it’s your locker that got hit my hurricane Sergeant Kerns, then you have backup to clean up the destruction zone.
Knowing your Learning Materials
Now there are many things you can do to prepare for boot camp. You can start running, practice sit-ups and push-ups, lift weights, you can teach your body to go to sleep and wake up early. However, the one thing you cannot prepare for is the food. I wouldn’t recommend practicing being hungry. But that’s what you are for the first six weeks, hungry all the time. I’ve ever eaten foods so bland in taste, but still wanting to devour it all. The procedure for the chow hall is as follows: Your flight, along with every other flight in the squadron will wait in formation as your “chow runner” will go report to the dining supervisor that their flight is prepared to enter the dining facility.
Our chow runner was my good friend Escobar. She always did a very efficient job of getting in among the first chow runners to report, holding our place in line to eat in the order she reported. Then you wait… and wait… and wait. Entire flights will be in and out and your flight is still standing at attention. Needless to say, and entire flight can get in and out in 12 minutes if needed, but standing there outside the chow hall, at times, felt like days. Finally Escobar will realize its our turn to go, so she yells. “Flight, 206B, prepare to enter the dining facility! Element one, forward march!” The first line of girls start to march through the door Escobar is holding for them. Finally, inside you can smell the dehydrated powdered eggs being fried up, yum. You stand head to toe in a line up against the wall.
Now comes the tricky part- walking in front of the T.I. to grab your tray. You have to march all by yourself up to him and ask permission to eat. Then when he has granted you permission, you do an about-face turn and walk away. If your form was bad he will not hesitate to send you out of the chow hall, which means no food. Early on in training, when non of us march very well, dismissal happened a lot.
I poke my head out of the line about two inches, just to see how many girls are ahead of me. Two. The trainee in front of me has a lot of hair and her ponytail is hitting me in the face. Her hair doesn’t smell that great either. But I must keep my toes touching the back of her heals. All of a sudden she starts to march forward, “I’m next.” I thought nervously. I listen to the T.I. give her permission to eat as I shimmy up to the red line painted on the floor. When she has been given permission, that is my queue to go. I march forward three steps, take a right turn and stop just in front of my T.I. My steps were a little too big and I was a little too close to him.
“You in love with me or somethin’ cover-girl?” He asked.
“Cover-girl” was the nickname he gave me around week two. For some reason or another, one day he started asking me if I thought I was pretty. Every time I would answer “No sir!” He would reply with, “Yes you do. You think you’re cute. Well let me tell you, your not! You’re the ugliest girl in the flight. You make me want to puke just looking at you!” Then he would pretend to dry heave.
“Get away from me!” He shouted. I took two baby steps back. “What the hell is it that you want cover-girl?” As if he has no idea I was about to ask for permission to eat.
“Sir, Trainee Chisholm reports as ordered, permission to eat Sir!” I said from memory just as I had done three times a day for week upon week.
“Answer me right and you can eat.” He stated coyly.
“Oh crap.” I thought. “He’s going to ask me something from the manual. Please ask me something I know, please, please, please let me eat.” I started getting nervous as he stood there thinking up a question.
“Who is the 737th training group commander? What’s the bastard’s full name? Tell me cover-girl, what’s his name?” He ordered.
My mind started to race. I knew the answer but my mind drew a blank and I couldn’t remember. “Oh no, who is it, Blackburn or Cribb? I know this! Cribb, no, Blackburn, or is it Colonel Huhn?”
“Well, cover-girl, who is it? Hurry up damnit!” He barked in my face.
“Sir, trainee Chisholm reports as ordered, Chief Master Sergeant Billy G. Blackburn, Sir!” I said aloud with no confidence whatsoever.
“Wrong!” He shouted, almost happy that I was incorrect. “The 737th training group commander is Lieutenant Colonel David Warren Cribb.” He leaned in close to my face and yelled, “Now get out of my chow hall!”
And with that I marched at attention away from him, and back towards the door that I had just came in. Even as I walked away, he insulted me further by shouting, “Cover-girl, you look like a chicken when you march!” I was on the brink of tears I didn’t get to eat, but I was also relieved to finally get out of the spot light. I got to go back outside, were many of the girls were already done with their three minute meal, and blend in with the crowd again. I was so mad that I had answered that question wrong. I knew the answer but I choked under the pressure.
Escobar was soon done with her meal and was out the door. She stood next to me in formation. She tried to make me feel better by whispering, “it was pancakes today.” Pancake breakfast was, by far, the worst breakfast. Escobar knew this and she has listened to me complain about the pancakes form day one. The pancakes are so bad because they’re completely stale, you can’t just shovel them in and swallow like you do with the watery eggs or shredded hash browns. You can hardly chew through them, so you end up swallowing large pieces whole. They get stuck in your chest and it is a pain like no other. The only way to get the pain to subside is to flush them down with gallons of water. I decided hunger pains were better than having the intense pressure in my chest from a pancake being clogged in my esophagus. Yeah, I got lucky today.