It’s been awhile since I’ve had an opportunity to write for both good and bad reasons. One is that I have such outstanding family and friends that send me so much mail that I spend all my writing time responding to them.
So much has happened I’m almost afraid I’ve forgotten too much detail already.
The one thing that first comes to mind is a moment I had with another soldier whom I befriended over the last few weeks. We met because we’re in the same platoon and are almost at the exact same running pace as each other. So, we’ve been challenging each other on the track every other day or so and through that have built a strong bond of mutual respect. He’s also a squad leader and now that I’m Platoon lead, we’ve been colluding to whip our humble group in shape. He’s 20 years old and I still can’t convince him I’m over 30! He’s not the only youngster here in denial that the “old Man” can beat them all out with the highest P.T. test score in the whole company (Physical Training). But, back to the story- the other day this soldier comes up to me and says: “I just want you to know that you’re an inspiration to me.” And some other kind words about me being a good role model. My first reaction was to laugh, as I’ve never had anyone tell anything like that before. But, he was very serious and we ended up having a very moving conversation about his family and specifically the lack of integrity he perceives in his father and other male role models in his life. I was so honored by the sentiment that later I got a little misty about it. I’ll certainly not soon forget that moment.
I wouldn’t exactly call myself a father figure around here, more like a big brother, bit it seems like daily someone drops by my bunk for some advice on something or just to talk about things or try to find out more about me and my “adventure”. Word is out that I’m a little different in my motivations than most and it is apparently a compelling topic, and I enjoy discussing it (obviously). So, it works well, although when I’m trying to get my Platoon guide duties done or read a letter from home it can get trying.
My father said something in a letter that really captured the essence of the psychological trauma of entering Basic Training, particularly when you’re 14 years older than the typical trainee. It was something to the effect of how strange and horrifying it is to have your entire social identity ripped away from you in a matter of hours. It couldn’t be more accurately put. Imagine waking up one day but you’re back in the 8th grade with your adult mindset and experiences intact! But, this time, you really fucked up somewhere because you’ve been shipped off to military school to boot! You find yourself wanting to hang out in the teacher’s lounge exchanging anecdotes of stupidity witnessed over the course of the week, but- you really are an 8th grader! But, you’re NOT, too! It’s crazy and frustrating, but then there are those subtle moments where the “teacher” almost breaks character and shoots you a knowing glance or smile, and you remember who you are and you know that your spirit is not only intact, but growing stronger. I’ve said it before, but one of the best things about graduation is going to be looking back on this with the cadre and having a good laugh. It’ll be like the movie “Big” in reverse.
We’ve started checking out our weapons (the famous M16 A2) nearly every day no, but it will still be another week of handling instruction and safety briefings before we’ll even see a live round. And that is a damn good thing! If they passed out live ammo here urban warfare would break out within minutes…or at least a few of the more intellectually challenged would have already volunteered themselves out of the gene pool.
One of the most fun things we’ve done was the pugal stick matches. Yours’ truly again “represented proper” for the elderly soldiers who remember the bi-centennial. I was surprised at my sped and innate ability, as I know I have bit of anxiety when it come to physical confrontation. But it appears that, in fact, if really helps me focus. In short, I kicked a bunch of kid’s asses and almost made it to the finals for Company Champion, had it not been for my aforementioned friend who went on to win it for himself and for the glory of our Platoon.
Being Platoon Guide has changed things for the worse with a few platoon members. Some of them forget themselves entirely when the Drill Sergeant is around and have no problem with debating me when I ask them to return back to their position in formation. It’s still very much a “Me vs. authority” mentality that is understandable being that a lot of them left their parent’s home to get on the bus here. I get accused daily of being “unfair” or of picking on a select few, but only by those select few who can’t see the difference between their chronic childish defiance and the occasional slip of a soldier trying his best and thereby earning my gratitude for making my job easier. They immediately accuse me of favoritism. I know they’re just kids, but Damn! The lack of introspection and self-awareness is phenomenal.
We did the gas chamber a few days ago as well. It was interesting and it was novel as it is a right of passage shared by all that serve, but aside from burning the shit out of my eyes and producing a 10-inch snot stalactite from my nose, it was an anti-climatic experience. It was kind of a sadistic pleasure though to watch some of the more annoying soldiers freak out and flail about. A couple of them passed out right in the chamber.
The sleeping quarters (A.K.A the Bay) continues to be a non-stop soap opera of melodrama and interpersonal conflict. A couple of problem children that suffer from the same lack of self-awareness that is epidemic around here are the main sources of entertainment/annoyance, and they’re so hostile and anti-social I’m surprised a major incident hasn’t occurred sooner. Today it did, unfortunately. As Platoon Guide, and because I have the bad luck of sleeping right next to the one big problem child, I was caught right in the middle of it. Night after night this sociopathic individual would loudly make attempts at amusing other soldiers or complain loudly about some perceived injustice from his various daily conflicts. Even the most polite attempts at reasoning with this guy, heaven forbid asking him to do anything to help out, is consistently met with a strong verbal assault followed by a long period of profanity-laced grumbling. He was finally reported for his consistent misbehavior and instead of simply taking his punishment quietly, he chose to level allegations of racism on several others in the bay, blowing up an incident where, in a moment of camaraderie he and a white soldier exchanged their best racist jokes. Naturally, he conveniently omitted the context and it came down to the other kid being threatened with charges. The whole bay was assembled in front of the 1st Sgt, who is a bonafide asshole, I should add, and the grilling began. I had already given my story to the 1st Sgt. earlier that day since I’m Platoon Guide. But, I was again called in front of the entire formation to explain the previous night’s incident as well as the racial joke incident that I had witnessed. Although we all got “smoked” with some brutal P.T. Drills (try clapping your arms over your head 300 times in a row, then 50 slow pushup pausing every 5th one for 30 seconds, then do 100 flutter kicks) it actually turned out really well. I told of the incident as it happened including the curse words used, at which point the accused called me a liar and claimed that I was the one who had used foul language (which I had NOT). What a foolish mistake! I don’t know if he was so disillusioned as to think that anyone had any sense of loyalty to him or, if he is just an idiot (my bet is both), but when the 1st Sgt. asked if things had gone down as I’d said, every hand in the bay went up. When asked if I had returned the verbal assault as claimed, not a hand was raised. True colors exposed. It felt good to have that instant vindication and know that the men in bay stood with me. I hope it taught the little malcontent a lesson.