Before I came to my Basic Training, I would do everything in my power to “Pre-orient” myself with any information available. I read blogs of freshly graduated soldiers, Google image search “Ft. Benning”, “Sandhill”, “Basic Training”. Anything to break down that fear of the unknown. Now I find myself scraping together free time to write to people who want to know what I am doing. So I will take this time to attempt to describe my days thus far here at Sandhill, Basic Training, Ft. Benning, GA.
“First Call”, or getting woken up is usually 05:30 in the morning; much different from our first week in reception, when the drill sergeant woke us anywhere between 03:00-04:00. They would burst through the bay doors and start yelling, “Get out yo’ gotdang bunks and get yo’ dagone feet on the dagone flow!!” And we would all stand, red-eyed zombies, in front of our bunks. Standing straight at the position of attention. Straight back, chest out, feet at a 45 degree angle, thumbs down the seam of your pants, waiting to be given the time for “first formation”, thus determining the amount of time you have for your mandatory shave, brushing your teeth, getting in uniform, and of course, making your bunk.
Here at basic training, a few things changed in this morning routine. Now, the first night we were here, our drill sergeant snuck quietly into our bay after a peaceful six hours rest and blasted us with an air horn while screaming, “FIRE!! FIRE!! Fire drill…” We had to run out into the cold Georgia night in our shorts and T-shirts, flip flops and bald heads and stand in our “formations”. (Formations are pre-designated rows and columns we stand in at the all so silent position of attention. They then herded us back into the bay and put us back in bed only to wake us up an hour later to start day 1.
Yet, on a normal day, the responsibility of “first call” falls on the last shift of “fire guard”. Fire guard being the platoon’s duty to always keep two people awake and accountable for everyone at all times. Often I use this time for a mix of studying and writing letters. Unless you are lucky enough to have last shift, in which case you wake people up who asked for early wake up call. Once we wake up, from the time the lights come on to the time of first formation, we usually have 20 minutes to shave, brush teeth, get in first uniform and make sure our stuff is “squared away”.
At first formation, all four platoons in our company stand and play the quiet game. Usually we lose this game and hear “Open ranks, move”, which separates us, then “front lean and rest, go!” This lands us all in the push-up position and we “pay with pain”.
After first formation breaks, the whole company (about 200 guys) move to a sand pit where we start warm-up PT. It’s a series of low stress combined stretching and calisthenic exercises as a group. After warm-up we break down into individual platoons. My platoon, first platoon, either does push-up/sit-up improvement, which just means doing a shit load of each, or we do group ability runs. Group ability runs are awesome. I am in B group and they can run super fast. I really feel like I have made a lot of improvements on my 2 mile and one mile speed. We never run far, but we do run fast, which is good for me. I always ran far, but slow. On the other hand, I can’t for the life of me tell if I am improving on push-ups. We live in a constant state of perpetual soreness. Hopefully we have some amount of rest before our first PT test. Then I’ll just knock out like 50.
After PT, we have a platoon formation and then move back to the barracks. Occasionally after PT they let us shower. But usually, we are just given 10 minutes to switch our uniforms, then we have another formation outside for chow. We march to the “defact” (chow hall) and usually standing in line, we say our various “creeds” as a group, sing the Army song, and then move inside the defact and stand silently in line. (All of the above was done without talking). In line, and during our entire time in the chow hall, there are strict rules on the way you stand, the places you turn your feet, and how you get your food, and above all, ABOVE ALL, it must be done quickly.
We do have freedom of choice on what we eat but it is always the same options: chicken, chicken, chicken, chicken sausage, chicken french toast, chicken-cakes, rice with chicken chunks, over-cooked vegetables with a side of chicken. And always, a good amount of fresh fruit. But once you sit down, we have 7 minutes. Always just 7 minutes. 7 minutes, with your heels together, and if you’re caught without your heels together, you finish the rest of your meal standing up. You only eat with one hand visible. If you have two hands on the table, you finish your food with one hand in the air. And believe me, in week one, it was not uncommon to see a guy eating with his hand in the air like he has a question, bent over his food, legs locked straight up.
For first platoon, when we leave the defect, we do five pull-ups on the pull-up bars before we go back to the bay. When I came here I couldn’t do pull-ups, but now I can do one, and my buddies hold my feet for the other four. After everyone’s done, we then march back to the bay. After breakfast, the rest of my day can vary from more PT to classroom training, or lately we have been marching to different ranges on base to learn things like explosives, radios, nuclear-biological threats, IEDs and various things to come. And the ranges are often fun and make the day go by fast.
After the of training comes to an end, usually sometime around 19:00, we start to put our gear away and clean up. Sometimes have “classroom formation” which means we sit on the floor like kindergarteners about to be read a story and our drill sergeant reviews what we did for the day. And always the drill sergeants ask us if we have any questions, and we always do. And then they make fun of us and call us gay for like 20 minutes, but we all know it’s okay, cause we know what comes next. For most of us, it’s what we look forward to from first call…
“The Caloric-Augmantion” program…aka MILK AND COOKIES TIME! Okay, so they are not really cookies, they are Nutri-Grain bars, and the milk is strange and served in juice boxes and we only have 2 minutes to eat them, but in the end, when we have final formation and/or final smoking which usually takes us past 20:30 in which case we all put on summer PTs. Shorts and T-shirts until we get the word, “Commence shower operations.” At which time 56 guys get naked and try to pile into the shower, 8 shower heads.
The last thing is always mail call. We are either luck or lonely every night. For five minutes every night, we commence Language Arts. We read, or we write, or we think. Since I have been here, I have only ever slept on my back. I stare at the bottom of my bunk mate’s bed. I stare and I think and I miss. And I think till I dream…And that’s what a day is like here.