Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave

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.

This week’s entry in the series is a bit different from the rest, as it will not be comprised of Kilroy’s journal entries, but rather my own observations of Kilroy during his Con Leave.

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

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave.

 

Kilroy arrived back home from BCT with a buzzed haircut and a pair of crutches. He spent his first few days at his parents’ home, but eventually headed down to San Diego to hang out here with me and a few other friends.

He seemed to be in pretty good spirits despite being in constant pain. The doctors told him he needed to stick to the crutches for a while before he could switch to a cane for walking.

It was clear Kilroy was still on an east coast military schedule, as he had the tendency to wake up ridiculously early, even after some adjustment he tended to wake up at 6 AM at the latest.

The first weekend he was here, Kilroy and I went to a specialty soda store and bought a selection of different colas. Kilroy tended to love Coke, but ever since we discovered Boylan’s Cane Cola, that became our new favorite. We figured that we could taste test a variety of colas and take notes to determine which one was the best.

Kilroy and I would split a soda during lunch, sip it, and take notes on the aroma and flavor (much like you would a scotch). For those who might be curious, our favorite cola from our rigorous taste-testing still ended up being Boylan’s cola, with Mr. Cola coming in as a close second.

We spent a fair bit of time catching Kilroy up on movies and TV shows he missed during his time at BCT, and he took the opportunity to get some gaming in as well. Fortunately, we were able to indulge our Kung Fu movie addiction as well (my Jackie Chan obsession is well documented).

Kilroy and I were able to spend a fair bit of time experimenting with perfecting homemade Neapolitan pizza, which we had been working on before he joined the Army as well I had ordered an Uuni 2 wood fired pizza oven before he shipped out, but it didn’t arrive until he was already at BCT.

Finally, Kilroy had a chance to try out the 840°F oven for himself. It really makes a significant difference when compared with a traditional electric oven and pizza stone, cooking a pizza in about one tenth of the time and provides leoparding on the crust as well. The Uuni 2 also does a fantastic job with steaks – it sears and chars perfectly and leaves the inside medium-rare.

Most of the time Kilroy and I spent together during his Con Leave revolved around food for two main reasons. The first is that we tend to iterate well when collaborating on food. The second reason is, because after the food in BCT, Kilroy was anxious to drastically increase the quality of the food he was eating. He wanted to get as much good food before heading back to Ft. Jackson for FTC (Fitness Training Company) and another round of BCT.

Life for us during that month was basically a throwback to college. We were just hanging out, gaming, watching Kung Fu and Hong Kong action films, and experimenting with food. All of these activities seemed quite necessary for Kilroy to help decompress after BCT and surgery.

Kilroy was annoyed by his situation, mostly seeing it as an inconvenience. He was anxious to be done with BCT already and start AIT (Advanced Individual Training) as soon as possible, so there was definitely a sense of restlessness during his time off.

Once he was back home, any feelings of regret he might’ve harbored about joining the Army were not present. He seemed content with his decision to join, and it was clear to him that it was the career path he wanted to take.

He even spent a fair amount of time doing research on Army policy, as well as reading accounts of other people’s experiences in FTC. Kilroy wanted to know what to expect and how likely he was to succeed in his goal of recovering fully during the timespan mandated by the Army.

Luckily, things worked out for the best for Kilroy. When he shipped back out, he was feeling much better both physically and mentally. He ended up making a full medical recovery and continued on in his military career, but I’ll leave the details of those experiences for future entries in the series.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave. The next article will pick up with Kilroy going into the FTC (Fitness Training Company) for physical therapy. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XIII – FTC.


Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XI – Non Trainer Status

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 XI – Non Trainer Status.

 

Day 58

Not much happened today; I just had a follow up appointment at the hospital. The class had a convoy operations course that I missed for the appointment, but it’s not as if I’d have been allowed to participate anyways.

Day 59

This morning is Victory Forge [I’ll just quote from this article to define Victory Forge: “Victory Forge is a 72-hour exercise that climaxes Army basic training at this post. The Army created Victory Forge using the Marine Corps' 54-hour-long Crucible as a model.”] and I'm just tagging along for the ride.

We'll see what I end up doing in the woods while the rest of my unit does their thing. My role as a non-trainer prevents me from joining in on the fun. In the meanwhile, I’m stuck taking care of administrative tasks and watching some of the non-training ‘chapters’ [people who quit the Army] do busy work that exists as both punishment and a waste of time.

Day 60

Today is day two of Victory Forge. It was a cold night and we’re all chilled to the core. The other non-trainers and I have been left to sit around with nothing to do but freeze until they’re ready to get moving.

I feel like I've fallen through a hole in the bureaucracy. My condition limits my ability to participate, but also grants me a unique perspective into how BCT is run from an administrative level, along with the dynamic and interactions between the Drill Sergeants themselves.

Even more people have gotten injured now. The National Guard girl I noticed when I first started has been dropped out of BCT with a popped hip. It's sad to see so many going down like this. I hope my next time through BCT I manage to make it through without injury.

Day 61

We had another freezing night. Thankfully, I was granted a small reprieve during the day by being sent out of the cold and into a medical appointment that took me out of the field. Day three of Victory Forge appears to be comprised of more drills and a tent setup.

Day 62

Today is day four of Victory Forge. We were allowed to sleep in the tents on cots last night. The night was not as cold as the previous few, but it still made for a miserable experience.

Alpha Company’s Drill Sergeants continue to emphasize how bad the company is, giving speeches and more physical training exercises.

The cold makes the pins in my leg shrink at a different rate than the bone – causing me pain and tightness in the leg. I've also run out of Percocet, so the pain is very noticeable.

My daily activities are limited. What little time I do have to spend with the platoons is comprised of doing nothing because of the condition I'm in.

[Later that day, Kilroy continues below]

The rest of the company is doing their 10 mile march towards the end of Victory Forge. I've been driven back to wait with the other non-trainers and to help set up for rites of passage.

At this point, I’m looking forward to the 30 days I’ll get of Con Leave. I hope I'll be able to maintain some of the friendships I've formed here. The end of BCT will be bittersweet. I'm happy for and proud of my comrades and friends, but I’m disappointed that I wasn't able to complete the final challenges with them.

For now, I'm down but not out. In due time I'll be able to come back and finish this, but right now – in this present moment – I'm no better than those who quit and those unworthy to serve.

The sergeants and captains assure me I'll do just fine when I return because my personal resolve will get me through it, but at the same time I'm tired of the fact that everything I do seems to be an uphill battle.

Day 63

Thanks to Army bureaucracy, I've been delayed in my return home. I'm currently scheduled to go home five days from now. I've really said all that can be said about bureaucratic inefficiency in the Army.

My days are significantly more boring now that training is winding down. With no training exercises to tag along for, or tasks to assist with, I have increasingly less to do.

In truth, I’m growing more anxious for the small modicum of freedom that will come with my leave. I still feel somewhat shell-shocked in a way about the situation – I remain outwardly positive but inwardly numb.

Part of me does want to quit – the feeling is ever-present. The thought of being done with this whole mess sits in the back of my mind. However, I continue inexorably onward, that part of my mind turned off as I keep moving forward.

Day 64

There was an interesting thing that happened today. During the downtime of outprocessing, I met a man of legend in the latrine.

We had heard rumors of Bravo Company finding two people having sex behind one of the storage sheds. I thought it was just one of those stories people tell as a funny cautionary tale, but apparently this was the guy.

I asked him why he was still here, and he told me they had allowed him to continue on through Victory Forge without any notice aside from a counseling statement (DA Form 4856). Unfortunately, afterwards they informed him that he and the girl he was having sex with would be chaptered out of the Army.

Day 65

Today was Graduation Day practice. I've been relegated again to sideline “duties” doing Weapons Guard, which requires you to literally sit next to a stack of rifles just in case someone runs up and tries to steal one.

Day 66

This is the final Sunday at BCT. I should be gone by now, but because of that bureaucratic hiccup I’m still stuck here. Not much to do and not much to say about it.

Day 67

I have mixed feelings about still being here. On the one hand, I've been given more time to spend with everyone, but on the other hand, it emphasizes the miserable feeling of ennui and being left behind by my peers.

On a more positive note, the doctors said I should heal back fully and return to duty without issue. All this does is delay me – not kill me. If it plays out like that, it’ll end up being a minor speedbump in my military career.

Day 68

Separation anxiety. I'm gone and so are they. For now, my experience is over. It's like being pulled out from the water moments before drowning – the reality of the world at large rushing in with ragged breaths as everyone around reassures you. My journey in this moment must be alone.

The test of fortitude against a dulled heart. I made friends here, comrades. I spilled blood and tears here with them and now the show is over – the curtains close on this on this production and the audience awaits the next act expectantly. I want there to be a future in this, and yet, I'm afraid.

The idea of viewing this as complicated theater has been an apt metaphor – all of it hangs by a few threads and we wonder what amount of drama will define us. Now, the wait to go home seems to have relieved a lot of weight from my shoulders – I'm alone and allowed to meditate the only way I know how. My mind has been cluttered without end for the past two months, and now that I return home I wonder about all the things that led me here.

Every time I think my situation is about to improve I seem to be dumped into a fresh new hell. I’ve been put into the holding battalion at the 120th. It is like the other parts of Reception, but even more depressing. I only hope my stay here will be as short as possible.

The Reception Holding Battalion (Reception Holding Unit, in 120th AG battalion) is near where Reception is, and the buildings have the same build quality as a seedy 1960’s motel.

We are “guaranteed” four hours of sleep but are given more. The rest of the time here is just filled with boredom.

I already miss the people I have come to know during Basic Training.

Day 69

Sweet freedom. I’ve left the Reception Holding Unit behind me and have set out on my way home.

I arrived at Columbia airport with two others who are headed home as well – we’ve already gone our separate ways and I’ve been catching up on what’s been going on with my friends through the magic of social media.

I’m conveniently heading out for Con Leave on Family Day, experiencing the lows of being injured and alone while my cohorts spend the day rejoicing with their families.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XI – Non Trainer Status. The next article will be a bit different, as it covers Kilroy’s Con Leave, but will written by me from my perspective. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XII – Con Leave.


Kilroy Joins the Army – Part X – Med Quarters

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 X – Med Quarters.

 

Day 50:

I had my surgery this morning. They’ve put three pins in my left femur and have a plan to get me back on track eventually. At least they ended up not needing to put pins in my right leg.

My day has mostly been spent in a state of narcotic inebriation. I'm in pain – not so much that I can't deal with it, but I am hurting. Also, knowing the pins are there is discomforting. It’s an unpleasant feeling knowing that you have something extraneous now permanently residing in your body.

I'm determined to return myself to my previous level of mobility and fitness.

Day 51:

Sick quarters remind me of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, except instead of a crazy nurse holding dominion over my life, it is a Drill Sergeant. The worst part of this is knowing that I’ll be stuck here for at least 3 weeks until I get sent home for con leave. [“Con leave” is short for Convalescent Leave, which the Army provides to people who need time for recovery].

I stopped by my company earlier to get my things – a lot of it felt surreal. My progress is on a separate path from theirs now. I'm glad to have made the friends I did, though I have the feeling we’ll lose touch, especially now that we’re no longer on the same track.

My first impression of Med Quarters is its desolation. The people stuck here appear to be miserable and hopeless, ambling about aimlessly and just sleeping to pass the time. There is no energy here – a lack of ambition defines the place.

I hope to escape it as soon as possible, and the only way I can accomplish that is through aggressive healing. I need to concentrate and focus on healing and doing whatever I can into shortening the amount of time spent in this hole.

Day 52:

Today is day two in the hole, or maybe it’s really day one since this will be the first full day I'll have spent here.

More people have been assigned to my room, making it seem fairly crowded. [At this point there were five people including Kilroy in the room].

The Captain [Kilroy’s Company Commander] wasn't lying when he told me this place would suck.

I'm curious to know how my friend has managed to deal with this place for so long. [The friend that he’s referring to here was the recruit that tore both of her ACLs swinging in the ropes course early in BCT. (Day 12 in

The sick quarters are arranged linearly along one floor – a hallway full of doorways that lead to rooms with bunks and minimal amenities for approximately four people. It is technically neither a hospital nor a prison but it feels like both.

Everyone here is either sick or injured, but we are treated as prisoners – marched to meals and told when to wake up. Many people here claim it is better than BCT, with all the time during the day to sleep and write letters, but I can't stand it.

Many of my fellow inmates are on their way out – some being discharged for anxiety and depression, others because their health problems were filed as preexisting conditions that the military doesn't want to deal with. These people were removed from training during the first few weeks of their BCT cycle, destined perhaps to never complete it.

I seem to be the only case here that doesn’t plan on leaving the Army. I’m still willing to fight to be here.

Day 53:

Day three in the hole.  I feel myself degenerating mentally and it seems like I’m losing my mind.

There is nothing to do, nothing to see, nothing to talk about. Days are separated by meals and loss of consciousness.

Silence dominates the times between. My roommate suffers from the kind of sleepy depression that puts him to sleep between meals. It's a wonder I haven't turned to the pain pills I’ve been provided as a means of escape. My own moral fortitude dictates that I shouldn't.

I predict my future journal entries will be pretty sparse, there isn't much to say about life here; even Reception was better than this.

Day 54:

Today is day four and thankfully there’s been some progress. I have a small list of daily appointments I need to be attending now. Perhaps the worst part is that I’ll be here at least one additional week for physical therapy.

[Later that day, Kilroy continues below].

I had a follow-up appointment with my surgeon today and told him I couldn’t stand this place. Thankfully, he gave me a profile that allowed me to rejoin my company with a non-trainer status.

Conveniently the CQ Sergeant had come by to pick someone else up, so I slipped in and escaped with her that way.

My best success for the moment has definitely been securing my release from Med Quarters.

Day 55:

As expected, wandering around as a non-trainer has proven to be a much better experience than Med Quarters.

I caught up to my platoon in the middle of grenade qualifications. I'm disabled by a profile and my injury, so I've been forced to stay with the group of non-trainers, which is comprised of two vastly different groups. The non-trainers are split into a group of people who are injured and still want to be here and another group of people who want nothing more than to go home (some of whom are healthy and some are injured or sick).

The days seem less filled now in comparison to how every day used to be in BCT.

Most of the time we do menial chores and wait. The grenades produce a sound like thunder which booms over the hilltop while we try to converse over the noise.

The actual lack of activity has started to bother me as I watch my peers advance, feeling that I’m stagnating and not progressing.

I know I'll return to be successful, but the day-by-day struggle to heal makes it feel that much further away.

Day 56:

Another day of non-activity. I exist outside the kabuki theater narrative now, looking at the stage as an audience member. It's a surreal feeling of not belonging.

Being uninvolved places me in a position of disadvantage – I'm stuck without purpose. My medical appointments take me away from my platoon into areas that are not part of the training environment.

My stitches came out today, leaving me with a modicum of paperwork to do in order to have my transfer toward con-leave pushed forward. I may end up leaving here before my peers graduate.

Day 57:

Today was yet another day of lounging around as a non-trainer.

I received another letter from my BCT pen-pal and have something to keep me busy at least.

Today is Buddy Team Live Fire Training – something I'll sadly be unable to do until I’m fully healed and back in BCT for another round.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part X – Med Quarters. Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy continues spending time with his unit as a Non-Trainer. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part XI – Non Trainer Status.


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

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 IX – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 41:

Not much happened today. We were taken to the electronic training range wearing full gear, which included a vest [FLC - Fighting Load Carrier], a ballistic vest [IBA - Interceptor Body Armor], and helmet [ACH - Advanced Combat Helmet]. They just had us fire a few rounds for qualification.

Day 42:

Today is APFT day [Army Physical Fitness Test]. I've made progress on most fronts but I've managed to screw myself over on my run time. I want to believe that my running is better than it was when I first got here, but I still can't confirm it. Our day and night was spent at a field range with night fire exercises taking up most of our time. I was unable to use the NODs [Night Optical/Observation Device] because they were poorly calibrated, so I only got the chance to use the laser.

Day 43:

We had a late start today, having to get up by 7 AM. Today was spent with more time in the field. Most of that time was divided between shooting briefly over barriers, sitting/standing around doing nothing, and cleaning the range weapons.

I've been waking up in quite a lot of pain these days, trying to deal with a limp in my right leg that seems to show no sign of abating.

Day 44:

There was another incident in the bay regarding one of the people waiting to leave the Army.

Last week, one of the people being chaptered out went crazy and attempted to light the bay below mine on fire. His tried to shove toilet paper into a seat cover dispenser and ignite it using the matches found in an MRE.

He was then moved into my bay as a result of the previous incident. What happened today was that he was accused of stealing someone’s “US ARMY” tape, which almost started a fight.

I got on the intercom and called a Drill Sergeant, and they moved him to a cot in the CQ office. [CQ stands for “Charge of Quarters”, which basically has people monitor the front entrance of a barracks, so the CQ office would be at the front].

Unfortunately for us, they also have put him on watch throughout the night, which requires two trainees to be in the room with him at all times, in addition to our regular Fire Guard.

The only thing reporting the incident did was cause trouble for the rest of us. We're constantly told to “do the right thing,” but doing so only seems to make things worse for us.

Day 45:

We spent most of the day in an outdoor training area. The day’s training was comprised of the kind of practical skills we likely won’t get to follow up with subsequent training, such as room clearance, IED identification and destruction, and small squad movements.

As soon as night fell, we did the NIC [Night Infiltration Course].

The NIC is basically what’s always depicted in movies; they have us crawl under barbed wire across a field while live ammo is being fired overhead, complemented by the simulated mortar blast pits nearby that have been rigged with propane.

The night course itself was actually a fairly simple task, though the crawling section was long enough to be annoying. There were flashing lights and gunfire that went over our heads while crazy Arabic music was blasting from some speakers. It felt more like a strange theme park than a training exercise.

My injury hurts even more now, the crawling and running from the NIC not doing anything to improve my situation.

Day 46:

Today was pretty busy. We started with combatives training, and then spent the rest of the day in different classrooms. I’m pretty sure at least one of the rooms was a trap; the lights were dim and everything was darker than usual. Then, when people started to nod off, they were taken outside and smoked for an hour, doing stationary exercises interrupted only by sprints to the shed.

My injury is causing me serious problems. It's gotten worse, and now running is next to impossible.

Day 47:

It’s finally Sunday – another week down. I'm living in constant pain now; the pills aren't effective.

I can't run at all and tomorrow is a required training event. I can only hope for some miracle to get me through it. Hopefully whatever this is won’t turn out to be something that will get me thrown out. I've gotten too far through this to fail now.

Day 48:

I finally went to Sick Call today. The pain was bad enough that in the morning I had to be here. I don't want to admit defeat but my body seems to be failing me.

I’ve been sent to the hospital, which is a depressing experience. I want to be back in training rather than just wasting time, but many of the people here just seem to talk about wanting to go home and leaving the Army.

My day has felt surreal; just a series of waiting rooms and brief conversations with medical personnel with not much substance. You could set this place to a Dutch angle and intermittent lighting, and David Lynch would volunteer to direct my day.

This is definitely not what I was expecting my experience in BCT to be like. It turns out I’ve developed stress fractures at the top of both of my femurs, as well as “over-used” knees and ankles.

Day 49:

Today was another day at the Army hospital. Somber but organized – it’s really all I can compliment this place on.

It feels cliché that I'd make it so close to the end, only for something catastrophic to happen. It’s not like I told someone I was “two weeks from retirement” or something.

At the end of the day, I have some of the respect of my peers as well as their pity. I don't want that. I just want to finish training.

I've been put in a “non-load bearing status” and confined to a wheelchair. To make things worse, I’ve been told I need surgery. They plan on putting two sets of pins on either side of my femoral heads because I've managed to fracture them both.

The doctor told me that I'll have a month of leave followed by physical therapy for 4-6 months before I can go back to complete basic training. That's my singular goal for the moment. Adversity seems to be a constant theme in my life, but the only way I know how to deal with it is to fight until I’ve overcome it.

My only goal at the moment is to get back to BCT and finish it.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part IX – Basic Training (BCT). Next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy experiences life in Army Med Quarters. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part X – Med Quarters.


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

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 VIII – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 32:

My day begins earlier than usual. I had the final fire guard shift of the night, which comes with the privilege of staring at the door in stifling heat and humidity. We’re all suffering the consequences of the air conditioning breaking down.

Morale is low. We were initially told we’d be transitioning to White Phase already, but apparently that was a lie and some of us actually have more stuff left to do in Red Phase. People are upset because usually you get more privileges in each subsequent phase of BCT, which we’ve now been denied. Plus, the Drill Sergeants are treating us more harshly than usual.

The real part of the day began in the same darkness and confusion typical of mornings here, followed by combatives classes [hand to hand combat training], and some manual lawn care for “character building”.

The heat here is oppressive. Though the temperature isn’t any hotter than the deserts of California, the humidity makes it seem like we're trapped in a damp hell.

At the moment, I'm solidly regretting my decision to join the military. I'm having a hard time trying to keep my head in the game. The lack of sleep and constant daily challenges make the whole experience pretty unenjoyable. This was all expected, but it doesn’t make it suck any less.

The day dragged on with more classroom activity, though we had a brief interruption from a plaque salesman trying to part us from our recently earned money.

Day 33:

It’s finally Sunday. Despite a rare full night's rest, I’m still in pain and more drained than ever before.

The hours have been spent doing laundry but were filled with an air of apprehension. Our upcoming week will be chock full of activities and I'm not looking forward to it.

I’m feeling pretty severe pain in my hip. They say we should go get our problems checked out when we can, but in reality they do nothing but criticize us for going to see the medical staff.

We were given an unprecedented amount of free time to clean the bay or do whatever we pleased. However, that time came to an end shortly after people returned from the PX [Post Exchange].

That was followed up with more classroom activity about first aid. We then rounded out the day with an MRE dinner.

Day 34:

Woke up again for fire guard, guaranteeing my being tired in the morning. Sweeping the floors in the dark with nothing but a dim red lens flashlight is a Sisyphean task. I might as well be sweeping blindly. [Although it’s been referenced earlier in the series, the light Kilroy refers to is the flashlight they’re given, a Fulton MX991/U Flashlight with a red light filter].

The video company in charge of recording our progress to sell back to us is here, though their policy prevents them from showing us doing pushups. I guess that makes the Army look bad?

I'm slowly shifting from general annoyance to a kind of loathing of this place. The policies and administration annoy me on a basic level and I find myself questioning why I'm here almost every day. There are very few things keeping me going each day that provide peace of mind, and as more time passes I have to be even more careful of how I utilize them.

We began the day with a long ruck march out to familiar territory. Once there, they had us do a CLS combat drill. [CLS stands for Combat Lifesaver Course].

After marching back, we were taken back to the electronic range training facility to try to get us to score better on our qualifications. I'm still working on getting my scores up past expert level. I'm aiming for a true 40/40, but in my current state I'll only just barely qualify at expert.

The rest of the day played out like so many before; cleaning the sand out of our weapons and wallowing in our own misery. The fact that we’re supposedly half way done with BCT still hasn’t sunk in. Five weeks have passed and I'm still feeling like it's day one.

Day 35:

Today has been a stressful day. I had to jump through a number of hoops to get a bottle of Ibuprofen. Sick call gave me crutches but I managed to avoid a profile in the end. [A profile is a document issued by the medical staff that restricts participation in activities due to physical injury or illness].

The rest of the day was dedicated to range time. My scores are steadily improving. I started with a score of 26 which eventually improved to 30. If my improvement continues to follow this curve I'll be at least able to qualify for expert.

Day 36:

Today was our first time at the real qualification range. I got a 31/40, not good enough. Hopefully I'll get another chance today to improve that score, or else I'll have one last chance to make it happen tomorrow.

I'm disappointed in my current score. I got a second chance, on which I got a 33/40. It’s still not quite good enough but at least it’s a small step forward.

Day 37:

I've failed at my goal. I didn't qualify as expert. I don’t have much more to say about that.

The day was long and we experienced the same oppressive heat that seems to define this place. Maybe I really did die and go straight to some humid hell.

I'm at full burnout, no motivation, no joy. It’s frustrating to know there was something I could do but still failed to accomplish it despite my best efforts.

Day 38:

Today was full of administrative tasks. They've taken us back to reception and given us more vaccinations. Army medical remains as impersonal and miserable as always.

Afterwards, we were taken to be fitted for our dress uniforms. This activity is like all the others; more lines and waiting around. I'm more used to it by now, numbed to the experience.

We’re still berated for being undisciplined and having poor personal standards. I don't agree, but I have no will left to fight to prove them wrong. We're all tired, and the sand and gravel weighs us down.

Day 39:

Looking forward to Sunday tomorrow. However, today is the same as many others; PT after a 4 AM wake up. It’s raining today, so PT was followed up by classroom instruction in lieu of outdoor combatives training.

The rain itself comes as a nice change – a small taste of mercy I suppose. In other news, although my letter writing partner hasn't actually replied with a letter, we've had some very good conversations in person. That provides some mental respite.

[Later at night, Kilroy continues below].

Fire guard yet again. This happens often enough now that I'm seriously lacking in things to write about. Hanging around in the dark waiting for something to happen and spending our time cleaning the latrines rather than sleeping is one of the more annoying parts of this experience.

Day 40:

Today is yet another Sunday. Since we're in White Phase now, the Drill Sergeants don’t care as much what we do with our time or how we do it, within reasonable limits. Time passes quickly here – the hours to myself are gone before I know it. After a short classroom session we were tasked with doing more area beautification.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VIII – 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 IX – Basic Training (BCT).


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

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 VII – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 25:

Red Phase testing began today. The day started with a group run, followed by meal time. From there, we were immediately hustled to take the test.

We basically were given the answers verbatim just before the test, and yet, people still managed to fail somehow. Human incompetence knows no bounds.

The hands-on portion of the test was just as simple – answers were given and help was provided so long as you were making an effort.

I suppose I should be thankful for the ease of testing; the more people that pass, the better for us.

Day 26:

Week 3 is over and we've finally found a rhythm. I got to do laundry again today, but didn’t have as much as last time due to proper planning during the week.

My first set of letters to fellow trainees have been passed along, and a set of replies have already come back to me.

We have been granted a brief reprieve; more hours to ourselves and a bit of time to decompress. I still long for silence and solitude. However, that’s unlikely to happen any time soon.

I still find this place to be frustratingly poorly managed. For all the hundreds of people we have, there’s only a very small number of washers and driers available, and at any given time, up to half of those are broken, some in more subtle ways than others.

After our short stint of personal time, we've been herded to the DFAC [Dining Facility] and then back for more classroom activity.

Class today was designed to try and get soldiers to adjust to stressful situations and learn how to bounce back afterwards. [Kilroy mentioned it was referred to as ‘Master Resiliency Training’].

However, the class is comprised of material you’d get from an introductory psych class, after watering everything down and passing it along through a game of ‘telephone’. Trained doctors teach the NCOs a dumbed down version of the material, who then have to teach an even more dumbed down version to us recruits. Having already covered this material in much greater detail before, it's a bit of a joke to me. I kind of miss the academic side of formal psychology.

Later in the day they had us do some area beautification, which mostly involved cutting grass with an E-tool [shovel] and edging lawn. It went over without much hassle, but our mealtime afterwards was interrupted by a storm developing very suddenly overhead.

Lightning lit up the area and the thunder rumbled in with almost no delay. As a result, they took us inside to let us finish our meal while rain continued to come down by the bucket-load outside. A nearby tree was struck by lightning not long after we went in.

Day 27:

Today is a holiday apparently. On a regular government schedule we would have had a four day weekend – but here it's just another day.

The day began with PT and mealtime in the darkness of morning and was followed by more classroom instruction.

Most of the class time today has been yet another CLS class [Combat Lifesaver]. Sleep remains a rare luxury to most of us, and the cool, dark classroom we were in made staying awake a Sisyphean task.

We got a break to eat and received a lecture about the importance of stretching, but then we were driven back to the classroom for more instruction.

Morale has definitely improved, but it seems to have not affected our discipline. The problem-children remain problem-children, and dealing with them is like watching your own kid run the ball down the field the wrong way in a football game.

Day 28:

The one benefit of midnight fire guard is that it gives me some time alone to reflect. My own personal morale seems to be hanging by a few threads – that feeling of burnout somehow still building up. We are near the halfway point, but that doesn’t seem to help my mental state. They talk to us about motivation, but I find no fulfillment in the things we do.

Never in my life have I spent five hours trying to zero a weapon. Honestly, I didn't think such a thing was possible. An off-the-rack M16 seemed to perform poorly when I applied my usual shooting technique, although I'll be the first to admit that my riflery skills aren’t as good as they should be.

The rest of the day seems like it will be either spent on this bleacher in hundred degree weather or ruck marching back to base. I’ll be the first to admit I'm definitely not cut out for infantry if it's mostly this type of activity, especially the marching and rucking aspects.

Day 29:

Today s another day at the range, but with one major caveat. I finished zeroing my weapon and got a good grouping yesterday, so I got bench-side seats to observe while the rest of the group went about their business still trying to set up their rifles.

I'm not normally a vocal protestor of doing nothing while there’s nothing to do (as opposed to doing nothing when there IS something to do), but I know the day will heat up dramatically and I’m not looking forward to more of same misery from yesterday.

[Later in the day, Kilroy continues below].

The day has warmed up considerably. They've given us busywork to do since there are enough of us who have finished by now that it's become unfeasible to keep us all on the bleachers.

The night ran extremely late, and ended with another march back in the darkness.

Day 30:

New range, new day, same shit.

After morning PT we were herded onto a bus and taken to a better maintained range than we were at yesterday, which had a computerized LOMAH system (Location of Misses and Hits).

Quite a few people in our platoon have yet to be able to zero their rifles properly. The day passed rather uneventfully, but I turned out to be as good of a shot as I had hoped to be, and I was complimented on my shooting by the range master. A nice change of pace from my experiences here so far.

Although I haven't received any additional letters from my local pen pal, we did manage to get more time to converse in person.

While we waited for the rest of our platoon to finish zeroing their weapons, we were given voluntary lessons on infantry troop movement and returning fire.

My focus remains scattered and I’m still worried about the limits of my own body. I’m really feeling the aches and pains of everything we’ve done so far, despite having worked out quite a bit in the months leading up to this. According to the staff here, toe numbness is considered normal and knee pain is something to be ignored. [Unsurprisingly, that assessment turned out to be wrong, as will eventually be made clear].

My day ends with another hour of non-sleep. Another night of fire guard requires me to wake up and change out of my PT uniform and into my ACUs, before doing it again in reverse when my shift ends. The worst part of this is that even though the shift is an hour long, you need to be awake 20 minutes before the shift begins in order to be properly dressed and ready. It really puts a damper on any REM sleep you might be hoping to get.

I've already done my best to prioritize sleep over everything else and yet there never seems to be enough to go around.

Day 31:

Today comprised of an all-day activity which began with an AGR run in the morning and then range time on the live fire testing course in the afternoon. [AGR stands for Ability Group Run, which has the trainees running in formation at different speeds depending on the group’s capabilities].

I felt that my performance was lacking on the shooting course today, and I hope to be able to improve before the day of the real test. I place value in my identity as a shooter and I plan on doing my best to justify that value.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part VII – 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 VIII – Basic Training (BCT).

 


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

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 VI – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 20:

Today is the second Sunday of Basic Training. Just seven more weeks to go. As usual, I fear I'll be too burned out to continue for even another week.

At least so far today has gone almost as promised – breakfast and some time to ourselves. That’s about to change as the rest of the day will be filled with field work.

Our meals are slowly being replaced with MREs, which are just tasteless packaged food. Getting used to them makes me think when I manage to make my own food again it will be a sensory overload.

I'm still pondering what the purpose of all this is. They call this the soldierization process, but what I've noticed is that there hasn't been much change in who I am. The things I have noticed are how annoying most of the military courtesies and customs are, and how the culture in BCT seems to have no setting other than shouting as loud as possible.

A few others have also admitted to feeling totally burned out; we wonder if this situation is going to get any better. The arbitrary rules and smoke screens of lies and military decorum have contributed heavily to that feeling. Also, most classroom instruction seeks to somehow bore us to death or maybe teach us some kind of values that have not yet become clear.

Day 21:

The previous night ended miserably – another restless night of not enough sleep and a hacking cough that brought me to sick call today.

Army medical is just as faceless and impersonal as the rest of this place. We're herded through like cattle, and treated like criminals because we dared to get sick during basic training.

The treatment clinic they herd us into is built out of a portable classroom trailer; floors tiled with cheap linoleum and a layout that betrays the details of their budget (or in this case the lack thereof).

The in-processing personnel express annoyance at all of us, telling us how badly we're doing. To be fair, some of the others are coming in with only a few symptoms but I've waited until I had an opening in my scheduling to come in with a laundry list of symptoms that require some amount of attention.

The benefit of being here allowed me to converse with a girl from a different platoon that I wanted to talk to some more. She's agreed to correspond in letters, despite it being prohibited. Not much choice since people aren’t allowed to have conversations in person here. It feels like the cliché elementary school situation, stuck passing notes during class. The situation is reminiscent of 1984 – a set of heavy handed rules that forbids personal contact between two people as well as the old fashioned form of conversation – personal letters that served to express feelings and thoughts without hindrance.

The most ridiculous part of my military experience thus far is the amount of hatred every member of the cadre staff seems to have for sleep and talking. No one is allowed sleep and any attempt to get more than the prescribed amount is met with anger. In moments of inactivity, idle talk and conversation is met with the same hostility and yelling to make us fall back into silence.

On the other hand, when we are told to speak, they expect us to yell as loudly as possible or else we are accused of lacking motivation. To have time to dwell on the situation, I hate some of the aspects of being here – many of which I’ve noted already but at the same time I don't want out. I need to complete this training and make it to the end. I may be feeling burned out but I’m not going to quit.

Day 22:

I’ve lost my voice, which I mean in the literal sense and not the metaphorical one. I’m still feeling pretty sick and everything is a haze.

The day has proven uneventful thus far; morning PT was followed by classroom activity. Afterwards we were walked out into the field again to make some range cards, learn the basics of how to use them, and learn individual movement techniques (Low Crawl, High Crawl, 3-5 Second rush).

I'm a little annoyed since this has made all of my other paper sopping wet. It's surprisingly difficult to find and keep good paper dry in these uniforms. The rest of the day went by in a blur of exhaustion and illness. We ended up camping in the woods overnight.

Day 23:

We awoke just before the sound of mock incoming mortar fire manifested itself. It’s one hell of an alarm to have what approximates to a flash-bang going off a hundred meters away.

Rucking back the way we came felt harder than the initial journey, the final extension putting us out near a sandy training range. Our morale runs low, but we're becoming hardier, more people seem still in it to win it. I'm still occasionally wondering if this was all a mistake. I'm going to continue struggling through it, I’m already here and I’ve made it this far.

The feeling of sand in my mouth is a constant reminder of where I am and what I need to accomplish. All my eggs are in this one basket, my only desired career path is a military one. I'm just super burned out though, that's really what it comes down to.

We were taken to weapons training today using the EST system [Engagement Skills Trainer, there’s a video on it here if you want to see how it works] firing airsoft light-guns at virtual targets. I did fairly well, qualifying on my first run. There are a few people who are struggling and can't seem to get any of their virtual bullets onto virtual paper.

Day 24:

The first of the real APFTs [Army Physical Fitness Test] was this morning. My score was high enough qualify for White Phase, but I’ll need to score higher in order to graduate from BCT. At least that's a significant load off my mind for now.

Morale has improved despite the fact that we're all totally exhausted. I have yet to find even a moment of time to start writing the letters I mentioned earlier.

Later in the day were told that we need to return to the virtual range area again for people to finish their training – yet another march through the hot sun. Mail came later at night, filled with care package items that I plan on making good use of and bringing news of the outside world. [I sent him baby wipes, toothpaste, and a pen, along with a summary of the news that happened during those few weeks].

Day 25:

Today has been more of the same, but with a small twist: we were taken to the PX and made to purchase another haircut in addition to being allowed to purchase additional supplies. [The PX stands for Post Exchange, which is basically a retail store that sells goods and services to military personnel].

I'm more run down than ever before, feeling even sicker than I was a couple days ago.

So far, after PT, the day has been laid back in comparison to the days prior. Most of our activities have been centered around Red Phase review and learning random facts for the upcoming test that will allow us to move us into White Phase.

Mistakes were made that landed us a free smoking by the senior Drill Sergeant. [A smoking is usually comprised of pushups, sit-ups, and/or running].

Physical activities aside, I'm still surprised how low key the day has been. The sensation that BCT is basically just Kabuki Theater continues to develop as I have more time to observe the activities of the Drill Sergeants. I'm unsure if Kabuki Theater is really the best analogy, but it's the one that stuck.

Each of the Drill Sergeants wears a mask of a demon, playing their role with dedication. We, the trainees, are involved as an active audience, and the central component of the story is always us, never them. In this play, we control our own successes and failures, and the demons will eventually fade away when we fully succeed.

The demons all have individual roles, some doing good cop, some doing bad cop. Some Drill Sergeants are much harsher than others. One in particular has been especially severe, which has worn the patience of his platoon thin, while my own Drill Sergeants have been much more agreeable.

I still haven’t fully pinned down the narrative since it seems to vary wildly on a day to day basis.

 

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


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

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).


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

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).


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

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 III – Basic Training (BCT).

 

Day 7:

[It’s still Day 7, Kilroy shipped out around midday on Day 7 and arrived at BCT (Basic Combat Training) in the early afternoon].

As soon as we arrived, we were met with a shark attack. [The Drill Sergeants rush the new recruits and start yelling at them and issuing commands/orders. You can see a video of it here]. It was not as bad as it could have been, just some running and speeches that served to get us into position.

I was assigned a leadership role for the platoon as bay boss – in charge of getting everyone together and in order, as well as assigning various tasks to members of my platoon. Sadly, I was set up to fail, as we were told ‘lights out’ as soon as I was given the assignment. Many of the men were unable to make their beds – since no one can see in this darkness.

Fortunately, I was assigned an assistant; another Specialist like me. He has a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in finance math. I find it odd that he chose to join up, but to each their own I suppose. He seems to have realized the same thing I did, and has simply given up on the whole affair, opting to sleep since we can’t finish our tasks for the night.

I’ve decided to go ahead and try and get the assignments done anyways, since I don’t want to incur the wrath of our Drill Sergeants. I envy his sleep though. In the past week I have not been able to sleep more than 6 hours at any given time – the average has been 4 hours, and I think we can all feel what it is doing to us.

My sense of regret flared up again today, wondering exactly what it was that made me sign up for this. I still have that nagging feeling that I should just quit, go home, and write. I miss the comforts of home and life in the 21st century. I also desperately need clean clothing. We've been cycling through the same dirty uniforms and underwear for the past week, and there’s been no sign we’ll be given the opportunity to do laundry anytime soon – I see why other accounts of BCT made such a huge deal about clean clothes.

Day 8:

I don't remember what it feels like to be well-rested. There's never enough time, and the completely arbitrary nature of the duties and tasks they assign us wears heavily on the group’s morale. As the day progresses, I’ve started to fall asleep on my feet.

Thankfully, the particular Drill Sergeant who leads us now is a bit calmer than those assigned to other platoons. At least today we’re getting some classroom instruction, so that we have something moderately worthwhile to do most of the time.

My experience in the Army so far seems to be particularly miserable. Meals have changed from occurring in a chaotic and aggressively overbearing environment, into a more prisonlike environment. They have specific rules about how we are meant to hold the trays, how we need to walk to acquire food, how many drinks we can have, how we drink our drinks, and have even limited the time we get to eat down to next to nothing. [The Army requires the Drill Sergeants to allow the recruits a minimum of 10 minutes to eat, so of course the Drill Sergeants don’t allow them more than 10 minutes]. It occurs to me that I haven't enjoyed a meal since I left home.

Earlier this afternoon, I was hanging out in the bay, and someone walked out to tell us that one of our fellow recruits (I’ll call him X) had just fallen down in the shower. I was shocked, considering everyone here signed up for the Army, which relies almost exclusively on reflexive action, that no one had already tried to help him.

I yelled at someone to call a Drill Sergeant immediately, and then ran into the showers. I found X there, holding his head and wearing nothing but a towel. One of the other recruits was crowding around him but not really doing anything, so I told him to clear out.

I got X to lie down to make his spine level and get it in line. I then did some basic first aid and started asking him questions to determine his mental state. Unfortunately. he was clearly concussed. X thought we were still in Reception, and couldn’t remember how many siblings he had.

One of the Drill Sergeants arrived soon after, asking me if I was an EMT. I said I wasn’t, but I knew some basic first aid, and that X had clearly sustained a concussion. The Drill Sergeant called the actual EMTs and they took him away almost immediately.

It’s sad to see someone go like that, especially this early on and not even related to our training. I hope he’s ok.

[Since Kilroy doesn’t address this later on in his journal, I figured I could cover it. Sadly, X sustained a pretty severe concussion and was chaptered out of the Army. Chaptering is another way of saying he’s ‘been let go’, but can occur for a variety of reasons such as illness, physical injury, getting in major trouble, or simply quitting, etc. As a result of the concussion, he also lost partial vision in one of his eyes. Last I heard from Kilroy, he was doing ok though].

Day 9:

They had us do the 1 -1 -1 test today. [The 1-1-1 test involves 1 minute of pushups, 1 minute of sit-ups, and a 1 mile run. You are required to complete a certain number (based on your age) of pushups and sit-ups within a minute, as well as required to run the mile under a certain time (also based on your age) in order to pass]. Thankfully, I was able to get enough sleep last night to keep me going and participating during the test.

The day has been filled with mostly classroom activities. They’ve covered the history of the Army as well as the sexual harassment and prejudice prevention programs. We were also given a brief from the chaplain.

Morale seems stable in the platoon as we learn more about marching and military manners. [Military manners refer to how to act around other soldiers, such as standing at attention when officers are present, or standing at parade rest when NCOs (non-commissioned officers) are present]. The military manners bother me since it’s mostly a huge inconvenience and you always have to be on the lookout for officers and NCOs.

The little annoyances build up, and hopefully won’t end up piling up enough to cause me to reach my breaking point. Others have promised that after today, we should be getting more rest at least. However, my body is really starting to adjust to the abbreviated sleep schedule to an extent. Sometimes, waves of extreme fatigue flow over me and the struggle to keep my eyes open is a war in and of itself. Other times I feel wide awake without any issue.

As has been occurring lately, I’m still having some feelings of regret and a desire to get back to writing. Also, all the motivational and supposedly inspirational speeches our Drill Instructor gives us does nothing to improve my morale or motivation, it’s just not in my personality.

I’m also concerned about improving physically. The way our exercise is structured allows for very limited improvement; the lack of recovery time is definitely a factor. I'm nervous about passing the running portion of the physical fitness testing as I’ve never been particularly quick in distance running.

The benefit of experiencing military training is to see what it’s really like – though the military culture and lifestyle is really draining. The rules are obviously different than in civilian life, and the option of leaving is gone. A regular job doesn’t take over your life the same way.

The life you live under UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] and the rules of random military customs makes it feel more like volunteering for prison than having a job. Then again – nobody said this would be fun. I feel like I've disabled parts of my personality to be here – I don't enjoy anything and I don't have anything to enjoy. I suppose that’s sort of the Army’s philosophy though – turn your brain off, Uncle Sam thinks for you.

Also, for some reason the Army appears to have a Hollywood budget for their PSA videos. [Kilroy was referring to this video which they showed them during their classroom time].

Day 10:

For some odd reason, all of the dreams I've had since passing through Reception have had end credit sequences. The latest dream ended while set on a theater stage with red curtains, while a marionette danced next to the card where credits were rolling.

I found out today that I failed the 1-1-1 test’s running portion. [Kilroy finished in 9 min 10 sec but based on his age was required to finish in 8 min 30 sec to pass]. I have to do better than ever to stay in this, or more accurately – I need to do better to prevent being recycled and restarted back to day zero, which is what happens if you fail.

Last night I lost more sleep than usual, since a couple of us were woken up for 2 hours in the middle of the night to clean a bathroom during CQ shift [Charge of Quarters]. I've transitioned to a state of micro-sleep in the day where I nod off for a brief moment of REM before snapping back awake again.

The Army's classroom portions are done almost entirely as PowerPoint presentations – something that seems to be a symptom of trying to teach to the lowest common denominator, with a crowd comprised primarily of people just out of high school. Sadly, we're only halfway through the day and I'm passing out.

Also, turns out the Army doesn’t just use Federal Prison Industries, Inc. as a contractor for their supplies. The contractor for miscellaneous items appears to be Skilcraft [National Industries for the Blind] – they make all our pens, clipboards, jackets, and other various things.

 

This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part III – 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 IV – Basic Training (BCT).