Kilroy Joins the Army – Part IV – Basic Training (BCT)

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My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part IV – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 11:

The dawn of a new day is soon approaching, but I’m awake long before it around 0400 [4:00 AM]. We’ve barely just woken up and they already have us jumping and running in cold wet grass. Afterwards, we have mealtime at 0700 [7:00 AM] in the same prison-like atmosphere as always, before going back out for more running and pushups. The post-breakfast workout consists of walking out of the DFAC, doing 25 pushups, sprinting to a shed, then a drill pad, followed by another 25 pushups and situps.

Many of us are getting sick. The symptoms include but are not limited to cough, sore throat, general malaise, and a variety of other things that you’re likely to get when being constantly exposed to 50 other people 24/7. I’m attempting to prevent getting sick by taking a dose of vitamin C with every meal, but my efforts are being hampered by the near constant exercise and lack of rest. My immune system feels noticeably compromised.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, we’re not allowed to simply walk places – everywhere we go is either done in formation marching or running. We are also never supposed to be left unattended; we’re required to have a “battle buddy” with us at all times, even for the simplest things (including going to the bathroom). Even if you want to have a private conversation with the chaplain, you can’t do so without a buddy nearby.

Today’s agenda has actually been quite sparse. We haven’t had anything aside from running, eating, and classroom presentations concerning ear protection and land navigation.

We got ear plugs during the first presentation. The second presentation was frustrating to sit through, as many people couldn’t seem to comprehend even the most basic aspects of land navigation, including how to read maps or how to use a compass.

As a team, we’re having teething problems regarding leadership and teamwork. Victory Tower awaits us tomorrow and that activity will make or break us. [To quote Wikipedia, “Victory Tower is an exercise where recruits must navigate through several obstacles at extreme heights, including climbing and traversing rope ladders and bridges. They must then rappel down a 50-foot wall (back-first, with rope harness). In the Teamwork Development Course, squads must negotiate a series of obstacles, with emphasis on working as a team rather than as individuals.”]

Day 12:

Today is Victory Tower, and it’s hotter than hell – it feels like my brain is cooking. As dawn broke, the temperature already had entered Heat Category V [Temperature of > 90°F].

The individual trials weren’t difficult; they were comprised mostly of fairly basic rope and wall climbing activities. However, one member of my platoon tore both of her ACLs doing the practice (miniature) rope swing on the ground floor. The goal was to just swing from one side to another, but she landed wrong on both knees and was told to do it over and over until she got it right, despite consistently landing on her knees. After about 4 or 5 times she was told to proceed to the next station only to find out she couldn’t stand up anymore. She was then removed from training. [Kilroy ended up running into her again later, so he expands on her story later in the series].

Afterwards, someone manage to screw everything up by telling off the First Sergeant. He had been asked to do something and told the First Sergeant to “fuck off”, not realizing or caring who he was.

We still haven’t gotten it together as a team yet. Morale is slipping, and people have been letting their tempers get the best of them, rushing to anger and instigating all sorts of petty arguments.

As bay boss, I’ve learned it’s best to just solve our issues with a series of unpopular but necessary decisions. People always seem to take it personally when you assign them a task, and I started out trying to take people’s concerns into account. I no longer have that luxury, and I’m sick of dealing with it anyways.

We still haven’t been given the opportunity to do laundry, so none of us have access to clean clothing. There simply hasn’t been enough time to be able to do laundry, and we’ve run out of new clothes as well. Though even straight out of the packaging, the new clothes start out with their own weird smell.

Unfortunately, I’m more often than not simply regretting my decision to be here and it hasn’t even been a full week of BCT yet. To top it off, I’ve picked up some kind of rash on the inside of my elbows from doing PT [physical training] in the grass.

However, the actual time to reflect on the misery is nonexistent since we are constantly rushed from task to task. The actual knowledge they expect of us to retain is basic, but they expect it to be memorized and repeated verbatim with no exception.

Soon we’ll be losing one of our own to a medical discharge, the one who fell in the shower and concussed himself. He’s been back with us since the accident, following us around with a ‘non-trainer’ status, meaning he’s not allowed to participate, though that hardly matters since he’ll be discharged soon anyways. I’ve noticed symptoms he’s experienced since the accident, which include confabulated memories, some general confusion, and a loss of visual acuity in the right eye.

Basic training feels like Kabuki Theater. Everything feels scripted, not real, causing a mental disconnect. You do things because you’re told, and have no independent thought of your own. You know everyone around you is an individual with their own personality, but they’re required to adapt to the demands of BCT. Even the Drill Sergeants have to shed their personalities and take on a ‘Drill Sergeant persona’ for the sake of maintaining the act.

Day 13:

Morale is at an all-time low. At least today we finally got to do laundry, though the sacred personal time we were promised passed by far too quickly.

An incident turned the previously good mood of our group into misery in short order.

My job as bay boss is all downside. I have no real power to actually decide anything beyond who gets to do what, but my unit seems to blame me personally for assigning them tasks, despite the fact that they’d be assigned either way.

I miss having time to myself to just think. I miss writing; this journal isn’t enough. I miss the sound of my typewriter. I miss tea. I miss quiet. Granted, I knew I’d have none of those things when I volunteered for this, but it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable.

Our two Drill Sergeants are enlisted men to the core; they would probably bleed red, white, and blue if you cut them. My point is just that I can tell they are really here trying to help us. I also like that out of all the available Drill Sergeants, ours are the most straightforward with us and the least unnecessarily loud, especially compared to those assigned to other platoons.

Day 14:

We were issued our rifles today. My M16A2 has a lot of play between the upper and lower. We haven’t been asked to name our rifles, which I’m perfectly happy with.

Time is beyond a luxury for us, and today we had none to ourselves, it was spent doing a ton of things with no breaks at all. In truth, this day went by so fast I had no time to actively document it. Consequently, my day was filled with shouted instructions and a haze of lost hours and military jargon.

Day 15:

My time here has left me with a distaste for military things as my mind appears to have fixated on just the negative aspects of being in the military. My feelings of regret have peaked, and I’ve been dreaming about life after the military – the freedom to do what I enjoy, like quiet mornings and time alone to think and drink tea [Kilroy really loves tea].

I would love to have just one morning to myself again, without all the hustle and bustle of the barracks. Being up at 0400, in the dark, to make beds under the light of a dim red light lens is aggravating, but I’m already well past my mental burnout point. [For reference, the light Kilroy refers to is the flashlight they’re given, a Fulton MX991/U Flashlight with a red light filter].

Today has been filled with classes again, all of which take place in a dimly lit room that puts us all to sleep. The strangest part of my experience in BCT is that none of the rooms on the base have any clocks. Our sense of time relies on the feeling of our schedule.

Despite all the promises we were given and told were guaranteed, we have yet to have a large enough chunk of real, usable time to ourselves to decompress and prepare for bed at the end of the day. According to TR 360-6 [TRADOC, US Army Training and Doctrine] we are required to have an hour of personal time at the end of each day. Even when provided with the hour, 15-30 minutes of it are killed by a formation just prior to lights out.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part IV – Basic Training (BCT). Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues with Army Basic Training. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part V – Basic Training (BCT).

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