Life of an AGBOLC Student

Greetings, blogosphere! Long time no see!

Since we last spoke, I returned back to Minnesota from Benning and re-branched from the Armor world to Adjutant General (AG). Ultimately this was the best course of action for my physical and mental well-being, and definitely more my speed. I transferred units to the 1-151 FA BN staff section where I am S1, and currently attending AGBOLC at Fort Jackson, SC. AGBOLC is 12 weeks long and we are 2/3 through the course, starting week 9 this week.

The past year or so has been pretty crazy. Between branch and unit transferring, I missed out on my opportunity to go to grad school to become a Pathologists’ Assistant this year, planning to attend University of Maryland-Baltimore in July. I wasn’t able to attend due to AGBOLC classes starting in the summer, but it’s probably for the best. I will be moving to Hawaii upon BOLC graduation (still drilling in Minnesota, though!) to live with my active duty fiancé, Jake, stationed at Schofield Barracks. I decided to take up an online Master’s degree in Public Health through UAB that will begin in a few weeks, and hoping that once Jake and I return stateside I can look into the Uniformed Services University to become a doctor! I spent the greater part of my adult life telling myself I wasn’t smart enough to go to med school, but if I can hit grad school and the MCAT out of the park, I think I can make it happen.

AGBOLC has been a pretty decent experience so far–definitely very different from ABOLC. There are 31 officers in our class compared to ABOLC’s 70-some and we are lucky to have a class that is pretty evenly split between active duty, reserve, and National Guard Soldiers. The vast majority of the class were commissioned via ROTC, with only five of us being OCS grads and even fewer Green to Gold. I’m a firm believer that the relaxed aura of our class is a direct reflection of having zero West Point graduates. ABOLC was ~75-80% West Pointers and everything became a competition. It was rare to hear students encouraging one another, rather everyone felt the need to be #1 in the class. My AGBOLC classmates are the complete opposite; in general we are a very lax class, doing our best to accommodate and aid others. Maybe this comes with being non-combat arms, but this was definitely the right career change for me.

Our class began on June 16, and we are set to graduate on September 10. We finished up our first CAD week last week (to be discussed at a later date), and are going to begin gearing up for our CTE (culminating training exercise) in the near future. We were provided with our CTE OPORD two weeks ago and are separated into seven battalion or brigade level teams of four. CTE will take place the last week in August, bringing us up to our four day Labor Day weekend. The following week will be out-processing, and then graduation will be upon us!

I have nothing but glowing remarks for our class instructor. I truly believe we were blessed to have the best and most experienced instructor in the AGBOLC core. Upcoming details on week-to-week activities, living accommodations, and everything AGBOLC coming soon!

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!

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The ABOLC Story

To say that my (hopefully) last training stint at Fort Benning went worse than expected would be an understatement. After two trips to the hospital, weeks spent following up at the medical center, and countless sticks for lab draws, I am in the process of clearing out from ABOLC and returning to Minnesota 3 months too soon.

This long charade began on Friday, July 13 (fitting), when we conducted our first ruck march of ABOLC. Having already spent 12 weeks at Benning during OCS and having performed four separate 3, 6, 9, and 12 mile ruck marches with little issue, looking back I feel like I may have underprepared thinking our first 3 mile would be a breeze. To say weather in Georgia is a 180 from summer to winter would also be a massive understatement. Essentially the entire month of July was 85-95 degree weather from dawn til dusk, and on this particular ruck morning, I could tell as I was bringing my ruck out to my vehicle to head to squadron that the humidity was killer. Not only that, but simply the pace of the ruck was something I was not quite prepared for, and being a 62 inch female in the fifth out of six platoons, I spent the majority of the back half of the route shuffling to keep up. I have always been adamant about drinking enough water throughout the ruck itself, and never felt like I was physically overheating, just that I was never able to catch my breath and caused myself anxiety over that.

Long story short, I ended up falling out near the end of the ruck (embarrassing, I know), and being taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with mild heat exhaustion. I sat in the ER for about three hours while they pumped me with fluids and sent me on my way. Not a big deal. People recover from it all the time, and at this point, my labs were slightly elevated but nothing to be too concerned about and I had barely missed any training. I went to our classroom instruction that afternoon and spent the rest of the weekend doing virtually nothing. The following Monday was I told to follow up at the Harmony Church TMC (Troop Medical Center) with one of their providers where they would re-draw labs and make sure things were trending downward.

I would come to learn the importance of creatine kinase (CK) labs in upcoming weeks. When my labs were drawn at the ER on the 13th, my CK level was 213 which was just slightly above normal. I began my journey with Lieutenant Colonel Davis at the TMC, a huge man with a booming voice and bright smile–a silver lining to this entire experience. The rest of that week I was put on my first ever profile (a title I was hoping to carry with me, well, forever), where I could do no PT at all. Unfortunately, that week was the first week we started doing actual hands-on work with the Abrams. We spent every day, all day at the motor pool, and Thursday, July 19 we were to take the ABOLC HPDT (high physical demands test), involving a random assortment of physical assessments including carrying/transferring tank training rounds (those bad boys weighed probably ~60 lb?), grenade throwing, simulating lifting a casualty out of a tank, etc., all in full kit including IOTV, ACH, et al.

Feeling pretty good, I asked cadre if I could attempt the HPDT as this was the first major task I was going to face falling behind in. To say things went awful was ALSO an understatement (I’m sensing a pattern here…). Our platoon began with the simulation of transferring training rounds from storage to gun tube, and aside from the movements being awkward and cramped, I simply wore down extremely quickly. It definitely would have been a challenge for me without having been a heat cat the week prior, but I think it would have been doable. Instead, I spent five minutes attempting the motions before actually being tested, wearing myself down harder and harder to the point where I could barely catch my breath again and ultimately not being able to test.

Throughout the entire process, cadre were more than willing to work with me to catch up on things I had missed. This was the first, and should have been the last instance, of trying to climb back into the saddle and do everything everyone else was doing before I was ready. However, the following Monday (the first day I was ‘cleared’ to START doing PT) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The second phase of the heat exhaustion profile was to start doing bare minimum PT–I wasn’t supposed to be doing troop PT yet and was limited to walking and light weight work. I tricked myself into thinking everything was A-okay again just because I was feeling good. That morning’s PT was a modified Murph (when I say modified, I mean really modified), where we ran one mile, did 25 pull ups, 75 push ups, 100 air squats, and finished by running one more mile. I went into the first mile telling myself I wasn’t going to go full out, however ended up running faster than I would have liked simply because it’s hard to slow the pace down when everyone around you is going full speed. The first mile was a bit of a challenge but not too bad, and then proceeded to the full body exercises. I finished them all (with some help on the pull ups obviously…I suck at pull ups), and began feeling the repercussions. I did what I could to take extra water breaks and not wear myself down too quickly, and knew I was the last one to start the second mile. At that point, I was hurting. Running absolutely has never, and will never be, my strong suit, but for God’s sake, an APFT is two miles, and I was majorly struggling the second mile.

I was to follow up at the TMC the following Tuesday morning. Even though PT was a challenge the day prior, I woke up feeling pretty good again, and figured I was going to have to go out of my way to push myself to get back to normal. Boyyyy, was I wrong. My CK levels on Tuesday were over 5,000 and AST/SLT levels (indicative of liver function) were also slightly elevated at 95/32. Looking back, I am slightly surprised I wasn’t put on bedrest, but instead allowed to go to the motor pool so long as I stayed in a “cool environment”. Well…that wasn’t exactly going to happen at the motor pool, but the fear of already starting to fall further and further behind in training took over and I did everything everyone else was doing–including sitting in a tank for hours outside in 95 degrees.

During most of these TMC follow ups, I wasted hours and hours of my life in a bed being given fluids and given hope that this was the highest my CK levels were going to be, to follow up in a few days unless I felt worse. Tuesday afternoon, after feeling awesome in the morning, it was all downhill. It became harder and harder to haul myself out of the gunner’s hatch in the Abrams, and I felt massively fatigued. When I got home that evening, my arms and shoulders were so sore that I couldn’t lift them to brush my hair without significant pain. The next morning was when the leg pain and back pain began to start.

For those that are unaware (as I was before this all happened), the classic triad of pain in rhabdomyolysis is the shoulders, lower back, and thighs. Rhabdomyolysis can happen as a result of a variation of events including muscle trauma, drug usage, and (ahem) extreme physical activity. In short, rhabdo (per WebMD) is extreme muscle breakdown, which releases myoglobin into the bloodstream. The problem is that, depending on the severity of muscle breakdown, the kidneys have to filter all this myoglobin out and can ultimately lead to renal failure if it gets too out of the control.

Wednesday morning, feeling as awful as I did, I went back to sick call at TMC to see my ‘ol friend LTC Davis, where my CK levels were over 14,000 and AST/ALT 196/63. While I spent another four hours being given fluids, LTC Davis spent that time calling hospital staff to see if I needed to be admitted. I was sent home and placed on bedrest, to follow up at sick call on Thursday where I was told if my CK levels were the same or lower I would be hospital-free, however if they had continued to rise I would be admitted to Martin Army Hospital on base.

Thursday morning arrived and my CK levels had risen to over 30,000. By Thursday, the pain in my arms and legs had slightly subsided and I felt more pain starting in my back (however, I’m convinced laying in bed for multiple hours at a time everyday didn’t help). I was admitted Thursday morning where I was told my CK levels had peaked at 32,450 and AST/ALT at 429/118, indicating some liver damage (but Dr. says good thing the liver regenerates itself so we can all continue to drink so I guess I’m fine). I was given around the clock fluids from Thursday morning to Saturday afternoon when I was released, with labs drawn every six hours (not to mention having to get up to pee every hour and a half). And with that, my stay at ABOLC had virtually come to a close. Because I am National Guard, I am being sent home (eventually) and will have to be cleared to come back at some point in the future.

I want to make it clear that I’m not looking for advice nor sympathy with this tale. I am writing it because this nonsense happens all too often. Another female from a prior class was inserted into our cycle before I was ever dropped because she also ended up with rhabdo. If there are any takeaways for those that are starting any military training:

  1. Heat injuries are no joke. I actually don’t recall any heat injuries during basic training at Fort Leonard Wood despite starting training in August. And because I attended OCS in the fall/winter, heat injuries weren’t a concern and we never faced any cold weather injuries either. For the love of God, follow the doctor’s orders. Profiles are there for a reason, and just because you feel okay does not mean your body is ready to jump back into training.
  2. To follow up on that, profiles are also not a joke. I don’t think virtually anyone was on profile during OCS. And during basic training, the unspoken rule was that if you went to sick call for any reason, you were put on a profile, and at the point it become a revolving door of being on profile. For that reason, I felt like being on a heat exhaustion profile was a sign of weakness and like I was dramatizing what had happened. Well sure shit, Sherlock. My body WAS weak. And it needed time to rest. But that didn’t make ME weak. I guess I would just really urge people to take care of themselves while they have the option to. If that meant I couldn’t participate in PT for a month with my class because I needed to ease myself back into it, that’s what needed to happen, because the short duration of a heat exhaustion profile turned into a multiple month long rhabdo profile that sends me home.
  3. Listen to the people that matter. Doctors matter. LTC Davis mattered. The cadre, classmates, and other assorted people that continually told me that drinking more water was going to solve all of my problems didn’t know shit about it. I don’t know how many times I was lectured on wearing two pairs of socks on that ruck (for the record, every single day of my military career I have worn two pairs of socks while wearing combat boots. Just because Sergeant Stuffy and 2LT Joe Schmo really think one pair of socks was the answer to my prayers….I do not, and never will care. And also! I didn’t ask for your advice in the first place!). So take your time, do what your providers tell you to do, do what your BODY tells you to do, and fuck the rest.

That’s all I got. See you soon, Minnesota.

Reception Week

So after (another) long sabbatical, I’ve motivated myself enough to get back on the blogging train and continue reminiscing upon my BCT/OCS/continuing journey. Had a really great e-mail conversation with blog reader, Hoang, and I realized just how much easier it is to write about my experiences when I’m answering specific, guided questions, as opposed to having to pull all of this out of my ass. But, nevertheless, we will persevere.

After covering departure day and the first reception welcoming, I’m going to throw as much info as I can into one post about the rest of reception week. As I previously said, I left on Monday, August 7, and everyone else that filtered in throughout that night became Bravo 1. We all shipped off to our actual training company that Saturday, August 12, so we spent about five days total at reception. You’ll always hear soldiers say the worst part about basic training in reception. To be truthful, I didn’t find reception to be all that bad. Sure, it’s boring. It’s tense. But I found other parts of basic training to be much worse (cough first wakeup in Delta 1-48 cough).

Our saga continues on Tuesday, August 8 at 0345 wakeup. We had 15 minutes the first morning to be formed up outside the bay in our PT uniforms with Camelbak, laundry bag, and shipping paperwork (honestly, I remember that first week always having to carry that damn laundry bag around to carry our shit in, and I don’t remember why that was ever necessary. Literally the paperwork and our Blue Book was pretty much all we ever had so I feel like the laundry bag was just a hazing ritual to make you recognize how lowly you were). The first reception day, I listed the events that took place in my handy-dandy notebook, which included: chow, blood draw, getting our CACs and Eagle Cards for our visit to the PX, vision test, and OCP issue. We were back to our bay by 1800 and the first fire guard shift started at 2100 while new recruits that would make up Bravo 2 started rolling in. Fire guard was somewhat similar to what it would become in basic, but less strenuous (not that it was ever that strenuous…).

Two females volunteered that first day to be bay leaders, and were responsible for creating the fire guard roster as well as keeping tabs on who was arriving and in what bunk. Honestly, there was only supposed to be one bay boss, but for some reason two females really wanted to do it so they were both allowed, and it just created a mess. Note: more hands in the pot is not always better or more helpful. I think I maybe did fire guard twice the entire time I was at reception since there were constantly more females coming in almost every night. Fire guard was super lax in reception, and as long as you stayed awake, there wasn’t much else you were expected to do unless an emergency arose (it never did).

Unfortunately, I literally have no more notes from reception week, but remember fragments here and there. There are obviously medical stations everyone has to complete in order to continue to their training company. There wasn’t any movement in cohorts, and you were allowed to go to whatever station was closest or had the shortest line, but generally the reception DSs would tell you where you needed to be. The civilians and soldiers that work the medical stations aren’t generally very friendly, but that’s because they deal with hundreds of inept, immature recruits every day. Keep your head on, and actually listen to what they say and it doesn’t create an issue.

This is the week you’ll also get your Army issued glasses if needed. You’ll do an eye exam, but as long as you pass them with your current glasses, they’ll just read the prescription on the lenses you brought from home and put some fancy ass black frames on them. Don’t worry, I know ya’ll are concerned that you won’t be provided with a strap that connects the glasses’ temples behind your neck. You will be! And if you want your glasses to actually stay on your face during training, you will wear this strap!

As for the PX trip–you are given a list with mandatory items you must buy. The reception drill sergeants will tell you you NEED to purchase all of the mandatory items for basic and will be checked when you get to your training unit. I brought paper/notebooks from home, so didn’t feel the need to buy a ream of paper that they deemed ‘mandatory’. Basically, if you bring items from home that will suffice, you don’t have to buy everything they tell you to. When you get to the training unit, they’re basically going to check that you have all your issued items as far as OCP/socks/boots go, and that’s it. They don’t care if you bought the 100 pack of blank notebook paper. If you don’t get it and find you need it–that’s on you.

You will, however, be forced to purchase their tennis shoes, so I wouldn’t recommend spending $80 on some new Nikes under the assumption you’ll be able to wear them at basic. Just like everyone else, you’ll be forced to wear whatever the heck colored ASICS they have in your size. For the record–the DS will ask what size shoe you were and hand you a box. If the shoes don’t fit, ask for a new damn size. Don’t suffer with too small/too big shoes just because you’re afraid to ask. (This goes for issued boots, too, but more on that later).

Basic Training Tips n Tricks:

  • You will be expected to sit very closely to one another for very extended periods of time in reception. You can get away with chatting quietly, but eventually, as always happened, quiet chatting turned into more raucous talking, and with 200 people in one room, you’re bound to get screamed at. That part is what it is. Keep your head down and study your Blue Book as much as possible during reception, because that’ll set you up for success later on down the line. There will be other times you’ll be able (and be expected to be) studying during basic, but you are expected to know a lot of information from the Blue Book going into the training unit.
  • If there is letter writing materials you would like, bring it from home. You will have opportunities to buy stamps and super high speed Army logo-ed materials, but don’t waste your money during reception buying all that type of stuff when you can bring it from home. Same goes for pens/pencils/highlighters/shampoo/body wash. They’re not going to make you re-buy mandatory shit that you already have.
  • With that being said: you WILL have to buy a hygiene kit that has an assortment of items in it. Unfortunately, I forget all that’s in there, but I know there is a bar of soap, soap dish, foot powder, and I think a toothbrush and toothpaste? So I wouldn’t bother bringing some of that stuff from home if you can get away without it for a few days before you make the PX trip.
  • FEMALE NOTE: buy the goddamn hair gel! Your options at the PX (at Leonard Wood, at least) are basically Aussie hairspray and Dark and Lovely hair gel. I’m a tiny white girl with thin, relatively short hair, and you bet your ass I bought that black girl hair gel. Sure, I had some jokes directed my way (I didn’t actually realize it was for ethnic hair when I bought it), but you know I had the tamest white girl hair there. The hairspray doesn’t do shit! Don’t waste your money! Just get the gel, for Pete’s sake.

 

 

 

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!)