The Drill Sergeant
It was very early in the morning when I arrived at the front gate of the base. As I drove up a soldier met me with a rifle slung over his shoulder. I gave him my name and informed him that I was reporting for duty. It was fairly easy for me to spot the other new people that had just arrived. Everyone assembled had the same look of fear and uncertainty that I had. After standing around for only a few minutes with my newfound colleagues, a short, mean looking man approached the group while yelling at us to form a single line. It only took about 1 minute to learn that the movies had it right after all. Indeed, the man who was in charge of my life for the next four months was not a happy fellow.
My game plan going into basic training was to initially lay low. That game plan went out the window within moments of lining up that morning. After a few moments of being yelled at for being to slow to carry out the order of lining up properly, the Drill Sergeant happened to be standing in front of me. Because this man was a great deal shorter than I was, and because he was yelling from the vantage point where his spit was hitting me in the chest, I made the mistake of looking down at him to try to understand what in the hell he was saying. Big mistake!
I particularly enjoyed the early morning jogs that became a normal part of life at boot camp. It was always pleasant to be up and running before the sun broke the horizon. However, my morning routine would have been more enjoyable if it were not for the Drill Sergeants’ consistent yelling drowning out my inner voice, which was usually telling me how tired I was. These people were machines; they never let up. To them, it was perfectly logical to complete a 6 mile run, climb up some ropes, jump through tires, and crawl under obstacles before I had a chance to have my morning coffee and read the major headlines in the newspaper! It sounds crazy, but I believe they actually enjoyed working that hard.
Mealtime at basic training reminded me of a pit stop at a NASCAR race. I never knew how much time our loving and caring Drill Sergeant would give us to eat a meal. He would sometimes give us five minutes to eat while at other times he would give us thirty minutes to enjoy our meal. It’s a practice that destroys picky eating. The goal was to get through the steam line — get some food, any food, sit down and eat as fast as possible. We had to. We could told form up outside at any moment. So at least I had some food in my stomach to fuel my body. One of my fellow candidates, who was a picky eater, took his time getting his food from the cafeteria-style food line and was the last of our group to sit down to eat his lunch. Just as he picked up his cutlery to start eating the Drill Sergeant came by our table and told us to form up outside in less than 60 seconds. I can still see the discouraged look on my fellow candidate’s face. He had to immediately drop his fork without taking one bite of food. To this day, the habit of eating quickly has stayed with me. I guess some skill sets were embedded so deeply that I don’t even realize I have them.
Learning the art of leadership is an important aspect of becoming an Officer in the military. After the first two months of learning basic military skills, such as weapons handling and survival techniques, our training switched focus to that of learning leadership skills. I was presented with basic leadership scenarios where I was required to lead a small group of my peers to solve problems and to accomplish common goals. I enjoyed these tasks as I got to think outside of the box, however, this was the part of my boot camp training where most of my friends washed out of training and were sent home. The bond formed with another person, at any kind of boot camp, is one that is based on mutual respect and complete trust. Deep and lifelong friendships are routinely formed at basic training.
Everyone is going through the same extreme training together. It was frustrating to see people get released who, in my opinion, were very strong team players and had the potential to have a bright future in the military. During my entire four months at basic Officer training, I never came to completely understand the logic of why some people, who I felt were strong candidates, were cut from the program while others, that I felt were much weaker, made it through to graduation. However, with 20 years of military experience now behind me, I can say that I am confident that the Drill Sergeants must have seen, or did not see, certain traits in these people that were unsuccessful.
As the weeks and months past, I found that boot camp was not all about constant yelling and screaming. In my opinion the military basic training system was designed to break down the new recruit so that they can be improved upon as confidence and skills are gained. Although most people in my particular group were in their early 20s and had some life experience under their belts, I was amazed at how many people let the Drill Sergeant get completely under their skin. I am not trying to minimize the importance of the basic training process. I only say that because I did not find it overly difficult to keep my focus on the task at hand while not allowing a short and angry Drill Sergeant to make me feel unworthy. I was aware that I had a great deal to learn. Not only did I have the need to learn about leadership, but I also had a great deal to learn about how the military system worked. I consistently tried to maintain my focus on the task at hand, which was to graduate, so that I could continue on in my military career and begin my flight training. As far as I was concerned, boot camp was a means to an end.