Kilroy Joins the Army – Part V – 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 V – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 16:

Today begins like every other day – in the dark, dressed in soiled camouflage, and waiting for the sweet release of death. [Kilroy is clearly enjoying himself]. I’m on fire guard duty, doing a whole lot of nothing during a whole lot of empty time I could be using for sleep. [This fire guard duty happened to be the midnight shift, which happens to be approximately the halfway point for their sleep schedule].

I’m a year older today, though there’s no time to consider it. In any case, if anyone knew, the Drill Sergeants would smoke me. [The Drill Sergeants will usually make people do extra pushups/sprints/etc. on their birthdays].

The entire day was consumed by obstacle course challenges from early in the morning until late in the afternoon. Courses were split into two separately named activities: “Fit 2 Win” and a “team building challenge course”. The “Fit 2 Win” course is a traditional obstacle course run, and the “team building challenge course” was a set of thinking puzzles meant to foster group development.

We started the day dressed as trainees and ended it dressed in mud. The South Carolina sand clings to everything; it’s a fine grit that refuses to let go no matter how much you try to brush it off – especially since no one is given the luxury of running water or the ability to wash up. Even after returning, there was no time to shower and I spent the rest of the day wallowing in my own filth.

Laundry is starting to pile up again and the rancid smell of multiple days’ sweat and grime hangs in the air of our bay. The Drill Sergeants complain of it, yet it should be blindingly obvious whose fault it is that we have no time to do laundry.

Day 17:

Today began in the dark as usual; the call coming for all of us to proceed downstairs where they had us march 2 miles under the load of a heavy rucksack. After that, we were sent off to do the Land Navigation activity. Despite my initial trepidation, the team worked out well.

The Night Land Navigation activity went just as well. I wrote down all the points we came across during the day just in case, and it turned out to save us from having to redo them manually at night, which made the task supremely trivial.

After another day in the South Carolina outdoors, I get the sense that I may never be rid of the South Carolina sand that inundates every outdoor activity we do, with fine particles clinging to everything. Somehow no matter what, you always seem to find the sand permeating all of your belongings, even if they’ve just been washed. The Army slogan should be: “Join the Army, eat sand.”

As always, I’m missing a variety of things available to you in civilian life. I’m looking forward to watching a Hong Kong film next chance I get. We’re almost two weeks into BCT and I’m somehow feeling even more burned out than before. Even with these daily changes to break the monotony, I’m still desperate for sleep and time to myself. All of us are constantly tired, yawning and miserable, but it seems we’re becoming acclimated.

Day 18:

Yesterday ended with us staring up into a midnight blue sky occluded by the branched canopy of the forest. Today began the same way. [In case it isn’t obvious, they camped in the woods overnight].

Immediately, they’re having us hurry to pack, hurry to play security in the not-yet-light woods, hurry to meals, hurry, hurry, hurry. They herd us into bottlenecks of time we can’t control and then complain and yell at us when we aren’t perfect. This perfectly exemplifies the military practice of “hurry up and wait”.

Many of our own standards have fallen; getting parts of a heater meal are the most enjoyable thing we’ve had. [From what Kilroy tells me, they’re even worse than MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat)]. I haven’t enjoyed any of it, but at least it’s not the cold food we’ve been given as of late.

This morning I’ve started thinking about my career choice again. I still feel the call to write, but that’s not the path I’ve chosen. Instead, I chose a job that requires physical challenges along with a willingness to abstain from critical thinking. However, the appeal of being able to choose my own life – especially in a creative position is starting to feel significantly more alluring.

I haven’t had any dreams the past few nights – the lack of long portions of sleep robbing me of my mental escape. Occasionally I have quick dreams in my various seconds of micro-sleep, but upon waking I’m left with nothing but faint recollections of colors and lights that have no meaning outside of the dream.

Today’s activities thus far have been a full ruck march back from where we had camped and into the CBRN [Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear] training range – a place where they had us dress in our MOPP suits [Mission Oriented Protective Posture, just a fancy name for a HAZMAT suit] and don gas masks. The heat was sweltering and I was effectively blind with the suit and mask on.

[Once inside the gas chamber, they had the trainees remove their facemasks to experience what the CS gas (tear gas) feels like].

Exposure to the gas itself was not as bad as it was hyped up to be. The phrase I associated with it was “like Taco Tuesday with the special sauce.” The actual feeling of burning subsided rapidly from the initial exposure, but the pain in my eyes, nose, and throat wasn’t any worse than pepper spray. [Since I’m sure you are wondering why Kilroy knows what pepper spray feels like, the short story is that he had a pepper spray canister, a friend didn’t know what it was and pressed the release button to see what it did, accidentally spraying it in a small dorm room].

The rest of the day was filled with more classroom instruction. We had a general feeling of exhaustion hanging in the air between us all. I’m adjusting mentally; some aspects of my thought process have continued to shut down while I struggle to keep others alive. The Army likes to do your thinking for you, so you adapt to that mentality to get by, but it’s not something I want to become long-lasting.

A running joke I have with Ryan [that’s me!] is that if he ever joined the military, he’d have a rucksack full of nothing but baby wipes, opting to dump out all additional gear to make room for more wipes. The used wipes would weaponized in the absence of firearms or ammunition.

The funny thing is that to clean ourselves in the field, we bring baby wipes. I’ve found myself in the field with my FLC [Fighting Load Carrier, basically just a vest with a bunch of pouches] on and my spare mag pouches shoved full of wipes. They’ve been used to clean ourselves, our weapons, our hands, etc. They’re surprisingly helpful to have handy.

Day 19:

Reality cuts out and cuts back clearly, like a quick scene change in a movie, the time in between lost to me. [In plainer English, Kilroy went to sleep, but was up again quickly, feeling like no time had passed]. I’ve been assigned the midnight shift fire guard again, just sitting around waiting for something to happen.

Being bay boss is wearing my patience thin due to being inundated by constant queries about whether or not people are on fire guard, as if they expect me to have more personal time than anyone else. The fire guard schedule is written on the damn board, do not ask me.

There’s more variety in our daily morning PT now, with a new running activity that I managed to struggle through. Beyond that, each day is more of the same – a kind of rhythm comprised of hectic mornings and low energy afternoons, which ends with evenings of frustration.

I’ve run into a few people I know from reception battalion, all pretty bright kids. The catch is they are all being chaptered out to go home, either due to injury or because they want to quit. One of them was someone I flew out from Los Angeles with.

It’s a surreal experience knowing that your peers are leaving one by one – people you thought would make it. The question is what they’ll do now that this career path is no longer available to them. If I were to fail at this for some reason, the idea of being a monk seems to have some appeal to it, as ridiculous as it sounds. [There’s a 0% chance of Kilroy becoming a monk].

The advice I received about this place was to do my best to stay positive, but in light of seeing my peers disappear, that’s harder than ever. We’re just about at the end of the second week of BCT and the number of people who are sick is rapidly increasing, possibly even outnumbering the amount of people who aren’t. One of the recruits in our bay has even gone to sick call because they were spitting up blood.

Morale is low – The systems for fire guard are making everyone crazy. However, my responsibilities have lightened up. Thankfully, the task of assigning fire guard and bay boss duties have finally been passed on to someone else.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part V – 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 VI – Basic Training (BCT).

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