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Friday, November 30, 2012

Just a Basic Day - Rise and Shine

At 5:00 AM the lights in the barracks snapped on.  A voice yelled out "Rise and Shine, you have twenty minutes to s*&^, shower, shave and fall out, now get moving ladies."  Well of course there were no ladies around, it is just one of those terms of endearment that drill sergeants use now and then. 

We all scrambled and stumbled over one another to fulfill the DI's (drill instructor) "request" which of course was no request at all.  Some how we all made it outside and lined up the best we could trying to remember in what position we were in the day before. 

Our DI kept yelling at us to get in line, cover down, "are you all just stupid or lazy," and some how we all did a right face and marched to the mess hall.  We lined up and had to run through a gantlet of sorts to get to the entry door.  There was a run dodge and jump, low crawl through a sand pit, and a pull up bar we had to maneuver through and only then were we allowed to enter the mess hall three at a time.

We grabbed our trays and eating utensils as we were yelled to do, food was slapped on our trays while the cooks and servers kept telling us to "keep moving."  We were yelled at to sit at a table for four, hurry up and eat, and get back to the barracks and clean up around our bed.  I can't remember what we had to eat that morning but we usually had eggs, bacon, toast, grits, milk, juice. 

After the meal was gulped we ran back to our barrack bed only to find that our beds had been dismembered and we spent a good 5 minutes sorting that out and finished just in time to hear the DI yell for us to fall out.  We stumbled into formation again and marched off to get a haircut while being yelled at to cover down, stay in step and all sorts of derogatory comments about the way we looked and our intelligence in general.

After a very nice buzz cut we marched back to the company area.  Then marched off to an old movie theater I assumed, and told to take off our ammunition belts, helmet liners, and canteens and place them in front of us and take one side step to the right.  After bumping into each other because every ones right seemed to be different the "squad leader" who unluckily was the first guy in line was yelled at to make sure all the ammo belts, helmet liners, and canteens were in a straight row. 

We were then instructed to enter the building single file, go to an area to sit as yelled to do but not to sit down. 

A Sergeant of some sort got on the stage and yelled "Take your Seats!"  We had to do this several times because the instructor did not like the way we all sat down but eventually we all did it in close enough in unison to please him.  As we sat down we all had to yell out "C-8 -2, pride of the infantry."   Our first lesson on how to be a soldier was about to begin.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Basic Day - Sleep Tight

C - 8 -2 I found out meant Charlie Company, eighth battalion, second brigade.  To me it broke down further when I was told to go into the second platoon, third squad area of what is commonly called WWII barracks.  These are two story oblong buildings that were probably designed before WWI.  The design I suppose was adequate and efficient so when they needed a lot of them they didn't reinvent the wheel, just got out their rubber stamp.

Sand Hill was the place where all basic training trainees learned to be soldiers.  It was almost like it sounds, plenty of sand, rock, gravel, cookie cutter buildings, and little green vegetation.  The structures from barracks to admin buildings were all painted a sand tan color.  Ergo, Sand Hill.

There was another unique feature of Sand Hill - a lot of guys running around in Smokey the Bear hats yelling at everyone that did not have one, mostly us filing off the buss.  We were yelled at to run hear, store our duffel's, run hear get your bed material, run here to eat lunch, run here run there and then here again. 

Our particular nemesis was a red cheeked white drill sergeant named Redman.  As far as yelling drill sergeants go he wasn't that bad.  He in a voice of calm demeanor if drill sergeants have such things, taught us how to dress in military style, hang our clothes, make our beds, how to respond when spoken to, pack our footlockers, and numerous stuff that we all had an inkling on how to do, but not to army standards.  That old adage there is "right way, the wrong way, and the army way" was certainly true.

We were lined up, marched to the chow hall went through a line with the cooks and servers yelling at us to hurry up and someone else yelling at us to hurry up and eat.  As soon as you were done you had to run outside and go to your barrack and stand by you cot for inspection.  Before the inspection came we were told to "fall-in" next to the barracks. 

A captain, our company commander I found out later, said that if we did not like it here we could all go home at anytime.  He said out contracts with the army and ROTC allowed such but just as a warning our home draft boards would be notified and we would be placed on priority draft status and he would see us again in 6 months.  "Now is there anyone here other than the young boy I have already talked to that wants to leave?"  The use of the word "boy" did not escape any of us.

We were dismissed, told to go to our bunks and go to sleep immediately.  It was 7:00 PM.  We all went to our bunks but how many of us slept I do not know.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just a Basic Day - Arrival

When I arrived at the main gate at Fort Benning I was told to follow the signs that would lead me to the reception station for the ROTC candidates.  Instead I was directed by sign to a huge parking lot where I was told to park my car, get my belongings and stand behind my vehicle until a bus picked me up.  I was not alone, there were many cars already parked, there were about a hundred waiting for a bus, and the cars kept coming.

The army realized in the middle 60's that they were running out of officers, especially young lieutenants.  West Point could not keep up with demand, most draftees were not interested in going to officer candidate school, and the college ROTC programs were dwindling fast.  The army decided to offer incentives to colleges and universities if they would establish ROTC programs, which is what CMSC did.  The new programs needed senior cadre so they developed a two year program where by you went to basic training at a specialized facility which gave you credit for the first two years of ROTC training and you spent your junior and senior year attending military classes while completing your college degree.  After that you only owed the government two years of active duty, the same as being drafted.  Seemed like a deal to me, besides they paid you during the school year a small amount.  I think it was $50 a month.

It was a popular program.  Not only did you get paid to go to school you put off the inevitable draft and when you finally did go into the army, which back then was only a matter of time, you went in as an officer.  I really thought to myself that if I was going to have to go in the army any way I might as well make more money than a private to be shot at.

A bus came by and about 50 of us were herded on and taken to the receptions station.  We were told to go sit under "that tent over there" where they had all sorts of food and drink.  This isn't bad I thought to myself.  Eventually I and 25 others were told to get in line and we started being processed.  Name, date of births, family contacts, sign forms, it went on and on. 

The 25 were then taken to a small assembly area where this scare crow looking captain welcomed us to Fort Benning Basic Training Detachment.  He told us that this is where "we train you to be soldiers" and he hoped we would enjoy are stay.  Seemed like a pretty nice guy I thought. 

As soon as he finished some guy started yelling at us to get up, stand in line, do not get out of order, don't lose the foleder we were given and he marched us single file into a giant warehouse yelling at us all the way to keep in step and not get out of order.  The warehouse contained all the military clothing and other items we would need immediately.  We were given quick exams and then shots via air guns by guys who had probably gotten there the day before.  Some times the air guns would not be flush with the skin and the pressure would blow away part of the skin.  There was many an arm dripping with blood by the time we got out side where another bus awaited.

We all filed on and I was the last one to get a seat.  I heard the guy behind me who seemed to be in charge tell the driver, "Sand Hill, C-8-2."  Off we went.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Just a Basic Day - The trip

Around the middle of May in 1968 I pointed my 1964 Ford towards Georgia.  As far as I was concerned it was about as far away as Crisp Lake and Van Horn as I had ever been.  Not really I guess because I had been to Florida several times with my grandparents, but this was the furthest I had ever journeyed by myself.

My destination was Fort Benning.  I was being given the privilege to participate in a basic training sessions for two year ROTC candidates.  It was a privilege because if I had not wormed my way into the program I would have been doing basic in Fort Lenard Wood and my classroom the following fall would not have been CMSC (what it was called back then.)

I was not familiar with the interstate highway system back then, I don't really even know if they had one as such, so I cut across Missouri towards Memphis.  Once at Memphis I kept driving until I reached Tupalo, Mississippi, spent a short night and hit the road early.

Not much of the nitty gritty of the trip do I remember but I do recall entering Alabama and the first thing I saw was a great big sign saying Welcome to Alabama.  The next sign said George Wallace's White Way.  I noticed the highway was new and was pretty white.  I thought to myself that who ever this George Wallace is he has a nice road named after him. 

I spent the second night about 30 miles from the Georgia state line.  I called a friend of mine I had not seen since high school, Mike Putman.  I knew he was going to medical school in Georgia and his family had moved there also.  He was thrilled to hear from me and was ready to drive to where I was, which was pretty far, but his mother decided that wasn't a good idea.  I told him that when I got settled in at Fort Benning I would give him a call.

The next morning I sat out towards Columbus, GA located next to Fort Benning where I would spend the next six weeks or so.  I had no idea what to expect but knew there was no going back, at least that day.