CHAPTER 1 - ENLISTING IN THE UNITED STATES ARMY
Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina
EACH CHALLENGE STRENGTHENED ME
I found a picture of my Basic Training unit on the internet!!! How cool is that?
I joined the Army to escape from a violent, abusive ex-husband. I had to sign my two kids over to a guardian while I completed basic training. That was an extremely difficult decision. I knew I had to do something to make a better life for my kids and me. I didn’t know what to expect at Basic Training. I soon realized that I was stronger than I ever thought I could be.
I was assigned to Company A, 1st Platoon, 17th Battalion, 1st Brigade. My unit was the last training cycle for all females. The next training cycle would include males and females training together. Glad I dodged that bullet!
At 31 years old, I thought I would be the oldest recruit. But I wasn’t. There were two trainees older than I was, and that was a comfort to me.
My barracks was a red-brick one-story building with multiple rooms. Each room housed 6-8 females. We had our choice of top or bottom bunk. I took a bottom bunk for obvious reasons. It would be easier for me to get to the latrine faster in the mornings to freshen up. Then, I had to race back to my room, jump into my uniform and boots, and head outside for formation at 0-dark-thirty when the sun wasn’t even up yet.
I had seven roommates, a mix of Blacks, Whites, two Asians, one Latina, and a Hawaiian. We all got along well. Many in other rooms didn’t.
I remember the first night I arrived at my barracks, I noticed that the tiled floors were highly waxed and spotless. I knew they didn’t get nice and shiny on their own. I realized that the recruits would play a big part in keeping the barracks looking good.
ABOUT THAT EVIL FLOOR BUFFER
The drill sergeants had a duty roster, a DA Form 6, to assign required duties to the recruits to keep our barracks clean and in tip-top shape. One of the tasks was to clean the barracks floors. I thought it would entail just sweeping and mopping the floors to get rid of dust and dirt. No, no. This buffer duty was a strange ritual I had never been exposed to.
On the duty day, two recruits had to sweep the floors first. Then another recruit mopped the floor using one of the heavy, thick mops. Those mops were a bitch to wring out using the double-roller contraption attached to the middle of the metal bucket.
After the floors dried, the duty recruits had more fun ahead of them. They got on their hands and knees with a rag and a can of Johnson’s Paste Wax to put wax on the floors.
Then another recruit used the buffer to put the finishing touch on the floors. The bottom part of the buffer was a heavy metal round piece about two-feet high. We had to attach a thick round pad to the bottom of the machine. The pads would spin to shine the floors after they were waxed.
A long metal pole with handlebars was attached to the buffer. A thick black electrical cord about a mile long led from the buffer to the handlebars. The on/off switch was on the handlebars. When the recruit switched the buffer on, it sounded louder than a farm tractor. I thought that being subjected to this level of noise was some type of psychological torture that the Army recruiter didn’t tell me about.
To tell you the truth, the buffer had a mind of its own. You had to be strong enough to control where you wanted the buffer to go. If not, the buffer would drag you and fling you around the room like you were a damn rag doll.
I watched all this activity and preparation to clean and wax the floors. I was scared of the buffer the first time I saw a poor duty recruit trying to wax the floor. Using the Army buffer was like trying to control a metal combat robot or a runaway dump truck that didn’t have any brakes!
I knew I would be on the duty roster, and I dreaded my time coming. Seeing my name for buffer duty the following week pushed me into action. I had to make damn sure to volunteer to put the paste wax on the floors. At 98 pounds, I avoided using the buffer because I knew it would sling my skinny ass across and all around the floor. I could do the wax thing and let someone else do the buff thing.
I couldn’t see myself trying to use that evil Army buffer. It would be like me getting into the ring with Muhammad Ali. I knew I wouldn’t come out alive!
TACTICAL COMBAT TRAINING
The drills trained us in tactical combat techniques. That was fun. Each of us was assigned an M-16 weapon. We learned how to break the M-16 down, thoroughly clean it, check it for any malfunctions, oil it, and put it back together. We had personal grooming. We were taught how to put on makeup and keep our hair neat while in our uniforms. After this training, they offered us cosmetic cases in three colors. I still have mine in my favorite color of blue.
RIDING IN CATTLE TRUCKS TO THE M-16 FIRING RANGE
I remember the drill sergeants marched us (again) to a location near the woods (again) and loaded us up into wooden cattle trucks painted Army green to go to the firing range. Those cattle trucks were awful! Now I knew how cows felt as they were being hauled off to be slaughtered. But I loved going to the range to fire my M-16. We were trained to aim our weapons to hit the targets dead center. The targets were placed at different distances as we progressed with our weapons training. I always pictured my ex-husband’s face on all my targets, which I hit with deadly accuracy.
A CLASS IN THE FIELD DURING A THUNDERSTORM
I remember after chow one morning, the drill sergeants marched our platoons to the field again for training. We were in full gear with our helmets, our heavy ALICE packs, and our M-16 weapons. Once we reached the designated area in the woods, the drills ordered us to at-ease, the relaxed standing position. They instructed us to unshoulder our weapons and remain in the formation for the class to s...