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First Place - "The Army Way"

2001 Anne Horton Writing Award

1st Place

"The Army Way"


Sarah McCormick


Get out of bed. Private! Does this look like the Holiday Inn? If you think I'm bringing you breakfast in bed you are wrong. Now, get moving!" My sleep was suddenly interrupted by a thunderous booming voice. Within the next few seconds, an overhead light was turned on. A drill sergeant continued, "Move, move, move!" Trying to escape the wrath of the drill sergeant I quickly got ready. I looked at my watch. Four o'clock! I could not believe I was being awakened at four o'clock in the morning. I had to light an overwhelming urge to crawl hack into my warm bed. My mind wandered back to not even two weeks ago when I had the luxury of sleeping in till ten or eleven o'clock I was being trained to be a soldier in the United States Army Reserve in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, commonly referred to as Ft. Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery. A typical day started at 4:00 a.m. and ended at 10:00 p.m. I will never forget the vigorous training of each day in boot camp: learning to shoot an M 16A2 rifle, throwing grenades, learning hand-to-hand combat, taking long road marches, training in the field, and going through a gas chamber. Beneath the surface of that vigorous training was something much deeper that I will never forget.


One of the first disciplinary actions the drill sergeants in our company introduced to us privates was the concept of getting smoked. "Getting smoked" consisted of various exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups, squats, flutter kicks, and frog kicks. These torture sessions lasted anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. One evening after dinner, our company was called to a mass formation. Apparently one of the privates had sneaked out of the barracks and had called a cab to pick him up at the barracks. When the cab arrived outside the barracks a drill sergeant was immediately alarmed and caught the private getting into the cab. Instead of punishing just that one private the drill sergeant punished our whole company. Somebody else's mistake was a typical reason for these "smoke sessions." which took place at the pit. "The pit" was a big arena tilled with dirt and wood chips. After supper the people in our company marched two miles to get to the pit" and filed into the arena. We ran the length of the arena rolled in the dirt and wood chips and did push-ups. All the physical activity in the closed-up arena caused a big dust storm. The dust mixed with sweat, producing mud. Coming back from "the pit." we were caked from head to toe in mud. As for the male private that brought this punishment upon us, the other males in our company talked to him later that night and convinced him to cooperate. I quickly learned what cooperation and group effort meant.


During the third week of basic training, our company was required to go through a gas chamber. This training would ensure that we knew how to seal our gas masks properly. After lunch a drill sergeant marched us out to the site. We lined up in groups of thirteen and anxiously waited for our turns. Finally the time came for my turn. Twelve other people and I lined up at a door to the gas chamber. A green light above the door flashed on signaling it was time for the next group to enter the gas chamber. A private who is first in line opened the door, and we proceeded into a dark small room. A big man in a far corner was enclosed in a glass-like cubicle, ensuring that the gas would not enter his area. Talking through a microphone he instructed us, "Listen very carefully to my directions. Do as I say and this process will go quickly. First ensure that the mask is properly sealed." Everyone checked and rechecked his mask. Now I am releasing the gas into the room. I want everyone to take nice deep breaths. If everyone has a proper seal, this should not he a problem," he stated with a chuckle. Everyone took nice deep breaths. So far, there were no problems. "Now I want everyone to lift his mask off his face just so I can see everyone's chin." Everyone except one scared private lifted his mask to expose his chin. "We will not proceed until that third private lifts his mask up. I want to see everyone's chin." The third private consented and lifted his mask. "Now put the mask down and reseal it." As we took a breath to reseal our masks there was a lot of gagging and coughing since the gas was in our masks. All right, now that everyone has a proper seal. I want everyone to take his mask off" Everyone slowly and cautiously took his mask off everyone but the third private in line. We seem to be having a problem with the third private. We will not proceed until everyone's mask is off." Everyone was coughing and spitting. The fourth private in line angrily ripped the third private's mask off. The instructor continued. "Everyone open your eyes turn around, and make sure the private behind you has his mask off:" Everyone turned around and. through watery red eyes made sure the person behind him had his mask off. While we had tears running down our eyes mucous running from our noses and drool coming from our mouths, the instructor slowly stated, "Now I want everyone to slowly make his way to the exit. Do not push, shove or run. Walk out in an orderly manner." The first private followed by twelve other anxious privates, jetted to a door that led outside. The fresh air was a relief. To get the gas out of our clothes we had to flap our arms like we were birds trying to take off: Our eyes were burning. Our noses were running like a runny faucet. Several privates were puking up their lunch. But those who had already gone through the gas chamber were cheering on and assisting those who had just come out. After I regained my sight and got hold of my salivary glands. I also started yelling words of encouragement to the other privates making their way out of the chamber.


Another requirement for basic training was going on road marches. One of the major and final road marches was a ten-kilometer road march. The march occurred during the last week of basic training. The march started at 4:00 a.m., when it was still pitch black outside. We had our full combat gear: a Kellar (helmet), a rucksack with wet weather gear and a poncho inside a belt with amino and canteen pouches attached, a protective mask strapped around our waist, and our M16 rifle. The company drill sergeants had arranged us from the shortest person to the tallest person so that the short people could keep up. I, being short, was the third person in line. Right behind me was a tiny Korean girl. Towards the end of training, she slightly fractured her hip. Thus marching long distances was a little painful for her, but she tried her hardest not to let the pain show. Our company was more than halfway home from the road march when I started to hear a small whimper. At first I ignored it but then it got louder. I realized that the whimper was coming from the little Korean girl, Private Bae. I turned around and noticed tears sliding down her cheeks. Prom the look on her face, I could tell she was in pain. I asked her, "Private Bae, are you okay?" She nodded. "Bae, we're almost home hang in there" I encouraged her. Again, she nodded with a slight smile. I turned hack around and continued marching clown a gravel road. Ten minutes later. I turned back around to sec how Private Rae was doing. But Private Bae was not behind me. She had fallen back two people. Knowing that she needed help, I also dropped back two people. I told her. "Come on, Bae. We're almost through. Just keep up with me. She shook her head and stated, 1 can't do it. Just go without me." I shook my head hack at her and told her, "No. I'm not leaving you." A drill sergeant announced that, with one mile remaining, she would get home if she could just hang in a little longer. Well many whimpers later we arrived back at the barracks. When we got up to our room at the barracks, she carne up to me and stated. "Thank you so much. I would have never made it without you. Thanks for sticking by me." I gave her a big hug and told her. That's what battle buddies are for."


By the end of basic training the people I had trained with had become my second family. VA's began basic training as individuals and ended basic training as a team. Through the vigorous training we had come to know the meaning of teamwork. Throughout this experience we relied on one another and supported one another through the good and the bad.