BCT Week 1, Day 1: The Shark Attack

There’s a lot of gears working around these parts these days, switching from tales from basic training, to the shitty days at OCS, some rare ABOLC stories, and posts completely unrelated to military life. Well hold onto your boots, because we’re traveling back in time to Fort Leonard Wood. Completely unbeknownst to me until this moment, almost a year to the day ago, it was Saturday of reception week. This was the day we were (dreading) waiting for: the transition from reception battalion to our new home–Delta Company of 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment. Here are our (my) stories.

This blog post comes to you in its entirety from my BCT handwritten journal, completely unedited and raw. Additions I felt necessary to add to my notes are in bold:

“Saturday we left reception at 1330. We brought our bags to the formation overhang and one of the reception drill sergeants did an accountability headcount alongside the Delta Company 1SG (First Sergeant–shout out to 1SG Lopez). Headcount formation essentially involved standing in a snaked line, holding your CAC and dog tags out so 1SG can come around and verify you’re squared away (and the photographers that will tag along with your company throughout the cycle can take pictures of your sweaty, fearful faces). We put all of our black duffel bags that had our personal items into the back of a truck and our green duffel bags containing our uniforms and military-issued items we carried with us onto a school bus. The truck carrying our black bags would meet us at our eventual company footprint, but best believe that our two green duffel bags would suffice in weight. 

I was unlucky enough to have to stand in the aisle of the bus with my bag, which was about a 10 minute ride. This was the first taste of drill sergeant life, as right when we got on the bus, one female drill sergeant was already beginning the yelling. The way seating works is that two individuals are squeezed into each seat and essentially the fifth individual is forsaken to the aisle where you are sandwiched between the person behind you and person in front of you in efforts to cram as many traumatized privates onto a bus as possible. Once at our new company, we had to run off the bus onto our company’s drill pad and do exercises. The whole thing was awful and kind of traumatic because…

Before I continue this installment, let me preface this next story by saying, looking back on it, it was HILARIOUS. At the time..not so much, but as with most of these recollections, they get better with age.

…I fell running from the bus, and while I was trying to get up got rammed in the back by another kid behind me. He was almost going to try to help me up, but the drill sergeants screaming at us told him not to help me (like really, that shit probably happens to new privates ALL the time, but I can’t imagine how funny me falling and then, while attempting to regain any sort of self-esteem, THERE SHE GOES AGAIN FROM THE REAR!). The whole thing sucked most because they wouldn’t let us use the shoulder straps on the duffel bags, so we had to run and bear hug the bags which was difficult for small people. (I still feel this is especially true. Those duffel bags were chock FULL of shit, and while they were heavy, what made carrying and running them so difficult was because my hands didn’t reach all the way around the bag, making having any sort of grip difficult. I ended up towards the rear getting to the drill pad, not only because of my dramatic fall, but because I was trying to haul ass with a bag I couldn’t get a handle on. This is just a lesson in embracing the suck early on.) 

So the whole “shark attack” scenario was pretty demoralizing and just as hard as everyone makes it sound. My mindset was only to get through it. Even when I couldn’t do certain things (like lifting the bag over our heads), and they were screaming in your face how weak and useless you were, I just knew it would eventually end, whether I was able to do it or not.

This is the end of what I have written for the shark attack itself. Looking back on it, there are some other things I want to mention that I hadn’t written. Firstly, I think that mindset I had written at the end was a good way to approach things. Ultimately, we were lucky because we arrived in peak summer conditions, so our shark attack only lasted about 20 minutes. Drill sergeants ended up separating people based on where they were in the grouping to arrive to the drill pad and whether they could perform the exercises or not. I arrived relatively late, and although I started with the first formation, once I couldn’t lift the bag over my head once, I was relegated to the back where you really just…do not want to be. 

I wouldn’t say I arrived to Leonard Wood weak by any means. I worked on my running, push ups and sit ups prior to shipping out because I knew those were the things I was going to have to perform. However, I have never been good under pressure and being berated for existing took things to a whole new level. So sure, those duffel bags were probably 50-60 lbs, but God knows that was enough for me to get the bag to about my stomach. I think once I got it to my shoulders. At one point, I had, who would turn out to be one of our drill sergeants, lift my bag over my head for me, scream in my face to keep it there, upon which I immediately dropped it when he let go. It truly is what it is, and the focus on survival is real.

We were separated into platoons based on only last names. Everyone that shipped on Saturday from Bravo 1 at reception was in Delta Company, split into first, second and third platoons. First platoon is made up of only males and was the beginning of the alphabet. Second platoon was the middle of the alphabet for males and the first half of the female names, and third platoon was the rest of the males and females from the end of the alphabet. Our platoon was lucky as far as females go, because all four Specialists from Bravo 1 ended up in 2nd PLT. We mostly get along well so far but that could change (LOL).

Basic Training Tips n Tricks:

  • I went into basic training as a Specialist (E-4) because I already had a four year degree. As I previously mentioned, there were a fair few of us, and a couple of 09S (MOS is an Officer Candidate), as well. Before I shipped out, I head briefly heard of individuals that chose not to wear their Specialist rank the entirety of basic training to avoid being a direct target for drill sergeants. My experience with that (YMMV), I wore my rank and wouldn’t have done it differently. That initial day, I do feel like I was targeted more by the drill sergeants (specifically the females, but that was probably just because I was a female) for being an E-4 (I know that because they brought my rank into their insults). However, later down the line I think I garnered a little more respect from them because they knew I was older and a bit more mature than some of my enlisted counterparts.
  • Prepare for a culture shock the first few weeks of basic training (especially once you’ve reached your actual company). Wake-ups are early, loud, and traumatizing for a good month, and you spend a lot of time standing around outside. I didn’t realize just how much time we wasted standing in formation outside during basic training until I looked back on it and realize how little time I stand around outside in formation now. That part just kind of comes with being in basic training and learning to #EmbracetheSuck.
  • Drill sergeants are a dime a dozen. In general, I ended up liking most of the drill sergeants in our company. Female drill sergeants just feel like they have something to prove, and you will learn to respect them but probably won’t ever like them. Aside from that, like I previously mentioned, I feel like I actually ended up with mutual respect from quite a few of the male drill sergeants, both within and outside our platoon. Each one of them has their role to play and they usually know how to do it well. Your platoon will have your senior drill sergeant, and (based on my experience) supplemented with 2 other drill sergeants. Our platoon actually ended up with a bit of a cluster because we also were the home to two drill sergeants in training and we had a couple come through our company for 2 weeks that were in the Reserve/NG component. We saw our senior drill sergeant a ton at the beginning, but as the cycle wore on, saw him less and less. Our female drill sergeant was on her last cycle and working on PCSing to her next unit, so we saw her a lot at the beginning and the end but not a whole lot in the middle (thank God). That left our male drill sergeant and training drill sergeants, who were there with us pretty much every day. My stint as PG is a tale for another day, but I learned that depending on what your drill sergeants think of you will have a major effect on your success as PG.

I’m going to try to take the rest of the cycle in bigger chunks since there are fewer big events that require longer posts, and more general feelings/takeaways from my time. P.S. to my basic training comrades reading, please help a girl out and send some funny stories my way! I have a couple to include in later posts, but I feel like I’ve suppressed a lot of my memories from early on in the cycle and could use your stories!

BCT Day 0: Departure Day

Wow. It’s been much too long and I need to get back into the blog game now that BCT and OCS are in the rearview mirror! I’m not going to lie–I’ve been putting off writing anything regarding my training because trying to remember everything comes out as bits and pieces of memory remnants, but the longer I put it off the worse my memories get. Luckily, at least during basic, I brought a composition notebook with me to basic and wrote as much down about each day as I could (between letters), so that helps.

This post is going to focus on the very first day of travel from my home RSP station in Bloomington, Minnesota to Fort Leonard Wood. To say it was a whirlwind of a day would be an understatement. At 0830 everyone leaving for their BCT destinations that was a part of Bloomington RSP met at the armory. We met with the civilian employee in charge of in- and out-processing from RSP who gave us a manila envelope containing all the paperwork we would need at and to get to BCT–our treatment folders from MEPS, plane ticket paperwork, and instructions on where to go once we arrived at our destination. From what I recall, there were two or three others there that were going to BCT, but none of them going to Leonard Wood. We left for MSP airport around 0930 in a cargo van driven by one of the RSP cadre.

What did I bring with me, you ask? That is a great question. Because I don’t remember. I know I brought everything in my NG backpack. I brought my notebook, a cheap book I bought at Target (at that point I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to throw it away as you’re not supposed to have ‘reading materials’ at basic), toiletries to last me the week or so at reception, and the clothes on my back.* Apparently parents/family members were allowed to sit and wait with us until we left for the airport, but I said goodbye to my family before I ever went into the armory. Even at 26, I suck at saying goodbyes, so I made it as short and to the point as I could.

Once we got to the airport and after getting our boarding passes, we were taken to the USO to wait until our flights left. My flight didn’t leave until around 1400, and at the USO I met a few others from Minnesota that were on their way to Leonard Wood (surprisingly, all of us weren’t even on the same flight). We boarded the plane at about 1420 and my trusty notebook tells me the flight was an uneventful 1 1/2 hours. We got to the St. Louis airport at 1630 and our instructions said to go to the airport USO. Now, us being the ripe Privates (ahem, Specialist) that we were, we did not check in with the USO before we went to a legit restaurant to get food. Somehow, we determined the next bus for Leonard Wood departed in 15-20 minutes, had to re-order our food to-go, and hop on the next bus out of town. The bus left at about 1730. We rode on a coach bus and were segregated by sex. There were about eight females that sat in front and an entire bus-full of males behind us. It was about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride from St. Louis to Leonard Wood, and we were free to use our phones as we wanted.

We finally arrived at Fort Leonard Wood around 2000. Let me tell you–I was shaking like a leaf as we got off the bus! For being so old I was sure not any more courageous. We were driven to the reception battalion and found out we were fortunate enough to be the first group of the night to arrive. We were told to get off the bus and form up into separate male and female ranks. We were led into the reception hall and for the next few hours, basically performed administrative tasks to hand in our paperwork, cell phones, and go over what we could and could not bring with us into the barracks. Per my notes (I don’t remember this), there was more/more aggressive yelling than I was prepared for. I do know I was told leading up to basic that the DS’s in reception are pretty lax, and I just recall being a bit surprised by their demeanor. I think I was also just naturally on edge most of the night (I walked into the reception hall literally shaking), so didn’t appreciate the fact that most of their yelling came when people were just in general not following instructions and/or being the 18 year old morons they were. Hint: if you don’t want to be screamed at, don’t be an idiot!

We were assigned to Bravo 1 Company, which would be our designation throughout the entirety of reception. It ends up that everyone assigned to Bravo 1 would be in the same Company once we actually shipped out to basic training. Each individual was also assigned a line number, which was determined literally only by how we formed up outside after getting off the bus. Typically whenever we were in any type of formation in reception, whether going to and from the barracks, lining up for uniform handout, etc., we would form up in line number order. It ended up being a blessing that there were only about 20 females in Bravo 1 because determining our line number order was super easy. We were issued a fair amount of stuff our first night, like our Blue Books, PT uniforms, Camelbak, laundry bags, linens, and wall locker locks. The non-personal items would be turned back in as we left reception and would be reissued at our basic training company.

At about 2200 we were led to our sleeping barracks. Like I previously said, we were lucky enough to be the first group to arrive that night and were shown into an empty bay. We were able to wash up, brush our teeth, and went straight to bed. It was a pretty sleepless night as more groups filtered in throughout the night at intervals of 2-3 hours and turning the light on to unpack their belongings and get to sleep. The last group (bless their hearts) arrived at like 0330 when we had to be up at 0345.

*Female note: I brought Hanes undies that covered your entire ass (like the ones worn to MEPS). I had heard that you’re only supposed to bring white, but didn’t have a problem bringing solid colored ones. I also brought my birth control prescription!! If you’re like me and wanted to stay on your prescription, it’s not that big of a hassle. All the extra work it required was telling the DS’s at reception that you’re on birth control, and they sent me to the hospital with an ‘escort’ (aka a holdover from a previous company), to get my new birth control prescribed. It took a few hours because I was competing with all the band-aids that were in BCT at sick call, but it was worth it for me.*

Obviously I don’t have everything written down in my notebook from every day, and random stories pop into my head that, usually, were terrifying at the time but I’ve learned to laugh at since. In each blog post, I’ve decided to share a random story from basic as well as any tips and tricks I can think of to make your time a success. I’m not going to lie, as foreign as the military world was to me before going to BCT and OCS, I actually did very well in both of them and hope I can help others be da best they can be, too! Without further ado, here’s your:

Legends from Leonard Wood, Installation I:
It was a place where children had forlorn looks on their faces and always had their eyes averted to their feet. It was the place where dreams died and hopes disappeared, never to be heard from again. It was the place we had only heard horror stories of and never dared to enter: it was…the reception DFAC.

In all seriousness, the DFAC was, without a doubt, the worst place to be from day 1 of reception through the last day of basic training. Surprisingly, reception DS’s were at their worst in the DFAC, where they could maneuver about the poor, lost souls of Bravo Company, just trying to figure out what table and what seat was supposed to be taken next. Stop yelling at me, Drill Sergeant! I’m just trying to eat my powdered eggs!

One rule DS’s tried to hit home throughout reception and BCT was fraternization. With how angry higher ups got about fraternization throughout training, I thought it was going to be a much bigger problem than it actually was. Well, to put the fraternizing fear of God into me ASAP, I got the $h!t screamed out of me in reception. I pride myself on not having been yelled at a whole lot at basic (aside from evil DS Medusa, but that’s a story for a different day), but I sure screwed the pooch on day 1.

Our dear Private Pendley, who will be a signature individual in weeks to come, showed up to breakfast with a black PT shirt on under his uniform. Why do you ask? Well, to give you the short answer, because it was Pendley. Quite literally, while eating my powdered eggs in peace, the guy next to me (to this day I don’t even remember who it was), casually leaned over and smugly commented how Pendley was about to get his ass chewed for being an idiot. What did I do to get screamed at? I looked at the dude next to me and smirked. I’m from Minnesota. I’m a generally nice person. I felt the need to acknowledge that yes, in fact, Pendley was about to get his ass chewed for being an idiot.

Well let me tell you, that minuscule one second moment earned me a REAMING from the nearest DS. He hunched over the end of our table, and pointed at me, singling me out. He started on a tirade about fraternizing and the level of offense he took from it. I was so taken aback that I didn’t even realize he was singling out ME until about the third time he asked me if I was listening to him. Oh shit, Drill Sergeant, yes I’m listening: I see you and I hear you when you tell me to, from this point forward, never give 18 year old high schoolers the time of day. ROGER, SARN’T.

That anecdote leads me to your:

Basic Training Tips n Tricks:
Never give 18 year old high schoolers the time of day. Don’t look at them, don’t talk to them, and God forbid you smile at them. For everyone’s benefit, including your own, make like the Minnesota Wild during playoffs and disappear. (AYYY!)