On November 5, 2003, my husband officially became an American Soldier.
As the men reached the end of basic training, many of the rules relaxed. I was able to spend a little more time on the phone with DH and he was still wonderful about sending me daily letters. His letters made me feel connected with this part of his life and provided me with something to look forward to every day. Usually there was a sad day in the middle of the week, a result of the lack of Sunday mail service. However, the following day I often had two letters to make up for the interruption.
I have them stored in a binder with clear plastic sheets and still enjoy reading them when he is away in the field. I consider myself lucky to have a husband who makes communication with me a priority.
Life in Basic was definitely a different world for DH. His latest night of Âmandatory funÂ was a trip to a local high school football game. After warnings about dire consequences if the men did not respect the cheerleaders (remember, most of the soldiers were 18) they were herded into a stadium to root for the brigade commanderÂs son. So, DH enthusiastically supported the Vikings against the other team, also the Vikings. (surreal)
On October 27, the men completed a "Confidence Course." DH identified the highlights as "the Skyscraper, the Weaver, the Zipline Descent, and the 'Tough One.'" The Skyscraper required DH's team of four to form a human pyramid and raise themselves over successively higher platforms. The weaver involved snaking their bodies through the rungs of a log pyramid. For the Zipline, they climbed a tower and then lowered themselves down a steep, diagonal rope. The Tough One involved a series of acrobatic feats at dizzying heights, with only "meager" nets and mats for protection! One challenge involved a 7-foot wall that DH needed to vault over. Marc says that each challenge looked insurmountable until he conquered it, bringing the promised confidence.
The next day brought more of the sort of training one would expect from boot camp. The men learned about grenade launchers, antitank rocket launchers, claymore mines, and light machine guns and then the fun part--firing the weapons. The weapons produced a satisfying whoosh sound and parachuting airborne trainees provided the perfect background.
Between these two days of hurling himself against walls and firing large weapons, DH was declared "too bruised to move" by the doctors. Apparently, as the body works to heal bruises, it produces byproducts that the kidneys need to process. DH was bruised so extensively that the doctor insisted on running tests. The doctor placed him on a three-day no-PT profile. Although the drill sergeants usually give people on PT-profile a hard time, DH has been so consistent with his physical efforts that the sergeants actually seemed concerned about him. DH began to do some push-ups and a sergeant walked over and said, "Just donÂt blow a gasket."
Despite being the human bruise, DH completed the final PT test with impressive scores on November 1. Technically, this test was the last requirement but Field Training Exercises still awaited the men.
To get to the FTX site, the men road-marched 10 miles. DH carried one of the large Squad Automatic Weapons (SAWs), much to the delight of his fellow soldiers. Impressed by the size of DH's, ahem, weapon, they called out such witticisms as, "The defense rests!"
Once at the site, the company formed a circle and each platoon prepared to guard a quarter of the perimeter. DH's squad leader chose DH to share the foxhole so someone "squared away" would man the foxhole solo while the squad leader patrolled throughout the night. They dug and chopped through roots with shovels, pickaxes and axes for most of the afternoon and then set up the pup tents.
According to DH, that evening's Night Infiltration course was one of the highlights of the training. Again, DH's own words convey the most dramatic moments best:
"Our entire platoon lined-up in a trench and, on command, hopped over the wall, yellingÂ
[We] began crawling toward a machine gun emplacement that was throwing real bullets at us. We had to keep our heads at 18" above the ground, or below, or else we would be hit. The machine gun spewed tracer bullets, so bolts of red sailed overhead as we frantically crawled the length of a football field. As we moved, explosives also rocked the earth around us, sending showers of dirt flying over us. During the crawl, we had to negotiate barbed wire fields and logs. We scrambled beneath the wire on our backs and slithered over the logs, always maintaining a low profile to avoid enemy fire. It took us about 10 minutes to make our way across the dark field. Whenever a flare went up, we had to freeze so the enemy would not notice our movement and direct fire accordingly."
The following day, encrusted with dirt, the men dealt with "near" and "far" ambushes during patrol training. DH was a squad leader in one of these sessions. Once the enemy was spotted, he silently directed the group in a flanking maneuver and poured fire (blanks) on the would-be ambushers. After the patrol training, the men went to a range to practice night fire. Some of their tracer bullets started a fire in the wood behind the targets, producing a dramatic backdrop for their nighttime practice.
Returning to camp at 2000, the men received warning that "enemy units" would be probing their perimeter until dawn. At 2200 (10 pm), DH's foxhole companion needed to use the facilities. To provide cover, DH followed him halfway up the hill and then took a defensive position and waited. Somehow, though, the soldier returned a different way and ended up in another platoon's perimeter! DH waited for about 15 minutes and then, when the soldier did not show, returned to his platoon's area. The soldier was not there, but DH heard that he had been brought to the drill sergeants.
DH headed to the drill sergeants' encampment and discovered his companion handcuffed around a tree. The drill sergeants decided that DH, as the battle buddy of this prisoner, must be an enemy, too! Since he was being treated as an enemy, DH refused to give up information despite the interrogation techniques of one of the drill sergeants (tightening the handcuffs, shining bright lights in their eyes, etc). So, DH ushered in his birthday handcuffed to a tree--and not in a good way!
After being freed, DH and the others returned to their camp and raised a raiding party. His battle buddy's crew provided a distraction and DH's crew mowed down the unsuspecting guards and fired into the tents to eliminate the rest. With a real enemy and live ammo, this might have worked. In this case, however, the corpses ignored their recent deaths and surrounded DH's crew. The drill sergeant of this platoon, one of DH's early captors, exclaimed, "I said I wasn't going to release you because you'd turn around and attack us. You did. Good stuff."
On November 5, DH's birthday, the men broke camp and killed some time with skits and impersonations. To much amusement, DH led the company in a song parody he had created. After a night fire training session, the men who completed graduation requirements had their Rite of Passage Ceremony.
Judging from DH's letter, this is an intense ceremony, with flashing grenades, machine gun bursts, patriotic and "mosh-inducing" music. On this day, my husband officially became a soldier in the US army.
In preparation for graduation, the men acquitted themselves well in a Drill and Ceremony competition. They would have won but their drill sergeant forgot to call out two of the moves. The loss of those points was enough to knock them to second place. The drill sergeant felt terrible -- and even did push-ups as penance -- but the men were in good spirits nonetheless. The following days mainly involved cleaning in preparation for Fort Benning's reorganization.
For our Soldiers:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.