Basic Training: Week 1

I'm not great at remembering things, but if there's one thing I'm good at, it's writing things down. So I will be taking most of my experiences in the next blog posts from my journal entries I wrote during Basic Training. I was limited in my time to write while I was there, but when the entries jog my memory of other experiences, I will include those here too.

April 06

I feel kind of jipped that I've already been here a week and Week 1 is only now beginning. We are shipping out to the real Basic Training tonight. It's a lie when the recruiters tell you Basic is only 10 weeks. (The first of many lies, I'm starting to think.)

At least Reception week (the week before Week 1) is finally over and the drill sergeants have chilled way out. I didn't really mind being yelled at or insulted all the time (and the drill sergeants get really personal with some of their insults, going after peoples' "ugly-a** eyebrows" and stuff); but physically, it's been a lot harder than I expected. And we haven't even started PT (Physical Training).

It is hard to hold positions for sometimes hours, for no reason except to test your patience. It is hard to not sleep and eat when you want. I saw three different people fall asleep standing up in one day! It's hilarious, but then not really, 'cause you're afraid it'll be you next.

And it's just hard to be happy or friendly when you're exhausted and starving. So my whole mood was just glum last week. I even found myself praying that my blood results would come back with something wrong so I could go home. For a while there, I didn't care one bit about achieving my goal or proving that I could do this. I just felt done. The first couple days especially, they really try to deprive you of everything so you break. There's nothing you can do but just wait it out.

Besides breaking you, Reception week is full of in-processing things, like paperwork and getting issued gear and getting more medical checks done, etc. They really drill into you certain military practices, such as being productive with every minute by studying your soldier handbook any time you find yourself waiting (which is A LOT). I'm glad Reception is over, but I wonder if I am just getting "out of the pot, into the frying pan," as they say. I guess we'll see later today.

April 07

Our first day at actual Basic Training was a roller coaster. They put us on a bus and told us to put our heads down on our bags and close our eyes while we drove, so we couldn't see where we were going. It seems like we drove forever, but I know it couldn't have been that far because we were still in Fort Jackson, just a different part, when we got off the bus. We carried our big duffel bags in a line from the buses down to a pavilion where our new drill sergeants were waiting. Everybody was so scared, they wouldn't say a word the whole time.

For some reason, I didn't feel scared. I felt totally pumped to be here. I have a feeling it's gonna be fun. The drill sergeants were way more chill than the ones at Reception. Almost nice. They put us into four platoons and introduced themselves to us all friendly-like. In retrospect, I should have been suspicious.

Our platoon's drill sergeant showed us around the company a bit, then showed us to our bay. She told us we had 2 minutes to shower. For all of us to shower. All 12 girls.

We didn't know the game yet, so we just showered as fast as we could. Of course it took more than 2 minutes, just to get undressed and dressed! By the time we were all lined up with our toe to the line like she wanted, probably 15 minutes had elapsed. I was impressed.

The drill sergeant was not impressed. That's when all hell broke loose. She started yelling at us and made us do push-ups and planks until we literally could not anymore. But then she was yelling at us for not being able to keep up and punishing us with more push-ups. Girls were whimpering and crying, which earned us even more exercises. It feels like it went on all night long. I learned later, this is what's called "corrective action" or "getting smoked".

There were no more nice drill sergeants after that. Every night that's how shower drill goes. We stopped actually showering. We just turn on the water and wipe down with wipes or something. I think I'm gonna be growing all sorts of diseases by the end of this.

There was this funny moment when we very first got here. The drill sergeant called me and Durant (my bunkmate) to come with him in his truck to go pick up some boxes of MREs (which, by the way, taste terrible. But are sort of magical.)

We had to climb this wall to get the MREs, then we sat in the drill SGT's truck and waited for him to do something. Durant was telling me she passed gas in front of the drill SGT when she climbed the wall. "It sounded like--" A giant flatulence noise was on its way out of her mouth when the drill SGT suddenly appeared in the seat next to us. Durant tried to turn it into a cough, and I could not hold back my laughter, so I tried to turn it into a cough too. It was so intense. The whole ride back we kept having simultaneous coughing fits. I was so afraid the laugh would come out and he would have smoked us.

I am always getting smoked for laughing, or smiling. I can't help it. Sometimes the drill SGTs are so funny. Plus, sometimes our situation is just so awful, I can't help but smile. It's the classic Basic Training experience, like in movies. How can you not be kind of happy about that?

But my platoon hates me because I always get us in trouble. Today in the chow hall one of the other platoon's drill SGTs yelled at me for smirking. She said she'll make sure I don't graduate, even if I pass every PT test. She actually seemed livid. Afterwards, my drill SGT chewed me out in front of the platoon for embarrassing her. Then at night, she smoked all of us for it.

I'm really not trying to "have an attitude". I can't help it.

Also, I suck at marching. Big time. I got fired from the front line. One more thing for my platoon to hate me for. It's gonna be a long 10 weeks if they can't get over it. It's gonna be a long 10 weeks anyway. I hate it here. The thing I have to remind myself is, I don't really have anywhere else to go. So I may as well be here.

April 08

It's weird because every day here is a week. This week was much better than last week, because we're doing PT. I may not be a marching queen, but it turns out I am a PT queen.

But maybe also somewhat of a marching queen? Since I spent so much time being embarrassed in front of my platoon as my drill SGT made me do the marching steps over and over again (before I was fired), I am a little bit ahead of the rest of my platoon, who as it turns out, can not march as well as they thought they could.

Marching is weird because it sounds so easy, but once you start doing it in real time, your feet get all confused. I'm talking about all the counter-column, column-right, file-from-the-left-column-half-right, business. All these tricky little sequences. The only way to learn them is by practice. Practice is something I have a lot of now.

Last night during shower drills, Durant was hurrying so much, she slipped in the bathroom. She just lay there on the floor, completely naked, eyes rolled back into her head. We all stood there around her, trying to help. But then she jumped up and said, "Hurry! We only have 90 seconds!"

She was acting pretty weird after that. All paranoid and jumpy and mumbling frantically to herself. I'm worried she hit her head, but she won't see a doctor and swore on her life that she didn't hit her head. She gets really aggressive if you even bring it up.

She's actually aggressive all the time now. She didn't used to be, I think. But I can't tell if maybe it's just because she's stressed out. We're all acting a little weird. My friend Garrison came over to my bunk tonight to hang out, and mid-sentence randomly burst into tears. So I just sat there with my arm around her, and within a minute, we were laughing like a couple of hyenas. It's like we're living in a psych ward where everyone is bipolar.

I don't know, man. Emotions and drama are high in our bay. I can't get away from it.

At least people are starting to like me now. I'm a pretty fantastic person, so I guess it was inevitable. I don't know what I expected.

April 09

I'm suffocating in the drama. Even I'm starting to do petty things, like flush the toilet every time this girl I'm annoyed with tries to say something to everyone in the bathroom. She has to wait for the flush to finish, then start over, just to have another flush cut her off. I'm not proud of how much joy that brought me. You would think after the first few flushes, she would give up. But she was tenacious. ...Almost as tenacious as I was.

Most of the girls take a less passive-aggressive approach, though. There is a lot of fights and cussing people out.

To be fair, everyone is stressed to the max. We watched a grown man burst into tears in the chow hall today. Basic Training sucks, man. In a hilarious sort of way.

The thing a lot of people seem to not understand is, you can never win. It's like an abusive relationship. (Actually, under any other circumstances, the things that happen to you at BCT would probably be considered abuse. 😂) You can keep on trying harder to do everything right, but you'll never be right.

They tell you to organize your lockers, but don't give you time to do it. They tell you to braid your hair, but smoke you if you braid it, because there wasn't enough time to do that, therefore you must have been up during light's out. They ask you to wear clean clothes but forbid you from doing laundry for the first week. No matter what you do, you will be wrong. You're supposed to be wrong. To get strong, to learn submissiveness, to let the drill sergeants take out their personal problems on someone-- I don't know.

Too many of the girls are living in anxiety about trying to do everything right, so they don't have to get yelled at, humiliated, or do push-ups until muscle failure... Again.

But in my opinion, Basic Training is about making all the mistakes. It's almost like the person who makes the most mistakes wins. Because you quickly learn how to respond professionally in highly stressful situations, you get an opportunity to mess up in a training situation instead of on the battlefield, and also it's the only way to learn what's expected of you. (It's not like anyone's going to tell you.)

So I'm like the guinea pig in our platoon, because I'll try something and find out what's wrong with it. I might get yelled at the most, but in the end I'll know what I'm doing the most, and therefore can be the most confident. Sometimes you have to be confidently wrong to learn how to be confidently right.

The drill SGTs really pick on me. Not just in person, but even when I'm gone. They come in our bay and mess up my bed every day. It doesn't even matter who makes my bed, we found out. We had the best girl in the bay make it for me. It's still wrong, and I have to remake it 3 times a day, instead of using our 60-second bathroom breaks like everyone else. I have my suspicions about which drill sergeant it is...

So in some ways, I'm always 2 steps behind everyone else. But in another way, I feel ahead. For example, this week everyone started laughing and smiling. They can't stop. But I've already been through that phase and gotten a pretty mean poker face down. We all get smoked together anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter. We're a team. (A super dysfunctional, divided team... But a team.)

Every day is a roller coaster here. I'm feeling stressed out right now because we don't have any personal time. I have a lot of reasons to be stressed out. I am physically and mentally overtired. (All day we just work out. We got to bed at 10. Wake up at 4. Stay up on night guard duty. Get woken up every hour by the drill sergeants coming in and yelling about something.) But it would be manageable if I could unwind for a minute. Write, or even talk. But it seems like we're never allowed to talk, about anything. That's a right we lost when we joined the Army, they say. They say we're not humans anymore, we're trainees, so we don't have human rights.

We got our weapons yesterday (M4 carbines), just to get used to holding them safely. We have to carry them everywhere with us in a certain way, even when we eat. It gets kind of heavy. I hate them but I also kind of love them. I named mine Maybell.

Not that anyone will ever know. Because we can't talk.

I'm writing this now on fireguard duty but I'm dead if they walk in and see.


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