Against The Grain

All Rights Reserved ©

Summary

Brenda McCoy is a good girl who always did what her mother asked of her. She even went off to a good college as her family had always advised her to do, but things suddenly changed once she finally arrived at college. Brenda is eager to see what she can do on her own. The military culture that surrounds her is so rich and influential that she unthinkably enlists into the United States Army. Immediately, she’s shipped off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Will she be able to get through the initial army training? The minute Brenda steps foot off the bus on the grassy courtyard of 369th Delta Company Infantry Regiment, she realizes she may have been in over her head. Yet and still, Private McCoy rises from her bunk and assembles into formation before sunrise every day, ready to learn the warrior tasks and drills. She already knows she’s courageous, but if she plans on getting through basic training she’ll have to choose her battles wisely.​

Genre:
Other / Adventure
Author:
K.B. Krissy
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
2
Rating:
4.2 5 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

Nothing could’ve prepared us for the challenge we’d have to face. We just had to experience it. I braced myself and pushed on through the grassy field with the rest of my squad. With a droopy head, I quietly shuffled along with the others until we were forced to stand still. We stretched the rubbery masks down over our faces as we were told. My pulse throbbed, a sure warning sign of the danger I’d face up ahead. I could barely breathe and was already beginning to choke.

I slapped my hand over the mouthpiece and blew into it. Then I fully inhaled and felt the suction of the snug mask nuzzling my face. The mask was the only thing that could protect me.

We marched forward into a dark and gloomy gas chamber, one after the other. My stomach lurched with anxiety, like I was standing at the edge of a cliff, as we moved along in our single-file line. We entered the confinement slowly. Yet, I wanted to ease back into the rear, but I couldn’t. Every bit of moisture in my mouth crept to the back of my throat and I took a hard swallow as I drug myself forward.

“Hurry up and move down!” one of the instructors shouted. Her mask barely muffled her loud voice.

We moved faster, but remained uncertain.

“Up against the goddamn wall!” I heard the other one shout from behind me.

Inside, a flickering orange light lit the chamber as we ambled forward along the dark wall. Sweat dripped from my armpits and under my breasts. The inside of the chamber felt like a sauna. My skin was on fire underneath my vest. It felt like there was no air, but we had to keep moving along in silence. There was enough oxygen in the chamber for a fire to flicker, but I couldn’t seem to inhale any of it. Even though I’d tried to seal my gas mask, it clearly wasn’t sealed properly. I wanted to cough up a lung. The saliva inside my mouth strangled my throat while everyone else seemed to be breathing just fine. Placing my hand on my thyroid, I tried clearing my throat, but that only made it worse.

The blue-eyed instructor, the one in charge, peered at me and I dropped my hands down. Quickly, I turned my head forward and continued shuffling down the line like everyone else. Again, drawing my palm over my mouthpiece, I tried clearing my throat, but only managed to muster up a gag. His eyes were all I could see in his gas mask. They stayed fixed on me and my demeanor remained cool.

Somebody help me, I thought. They’re trying to kill me! My upper body remained stiff as we inched along the pebbled dirt. In front of me stood my battle buddy Chapman. We were all packed snugly in the chamber. My heart began to pound slightly harder and my glands leaked sweat. The metal trashcan that held a steady flame reminded me of hell. Everyone around me looked like aliens in their black masks.

Facing forward, we stood waiting to be released. My eyes dripped tears as they scanned the dim chamber. I could sense Chapman next to me, a soft female like me but much friendlier. She’d been my biggest supporter since I’d entered training. Her eyes were full of tears too and that made me feel a little better. It wasn’t our fault we didn’t know how to seal our gas masks properly. It was the instructors’ lack of thorough training on the task. They’d rather challenge us, and make us figure it out. Everything is dummyproof they told us. Regardless of how everyone acted, it was clear to me that I wasn’t alone.

Minutes felt like hours as my mind drifted. My thoughts whirled around the idea that there was a price only some of us have to pay for our Freedom. There were only some of us who would fight, live to see tomorrow, or make progress in this country. My mind recollected clips from a historical documentary I’d seen; horrifying footage of nearly a hundred men and women, stripped completely naked and made to march into a gas chamber without protective masks.

Oh God! What if I become a prisoner of war some day? Don’t imagine it. While standing in the chamber waiting for the instructors to let us out, I asked myself, How did I end up in this predicament in the first place?

Fall 2004

It was my first semester at Hampton University as an undergraduate, psych major. I was nineteen years old and I also held a job as a part-time sales associate at FootAction in Patrick Henry Mall. It paid for the bare minimum. Financial aid and student loans provided me with on-campus housing and facilities, but I hated living on campus. I barely made time to eat within my schedule and I was beginning to slim down. My whole world functioned around my job and school schedule, but I was still somehow search for a little more out of life.

Hampton was a new place to me, an opportunity to break away from what everyone else wanted me to do with my life and find out what this world had to offer me. I knew myself, but I was unsure about anything else.

The armed forces were everywhere on the southeastern tip of Virginia. There were ships in the ocean and people in uniforms of all kinds, everywhere. Military installations surrounded Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay while police cadets roamed and maintained order on the streets. The Norfolk naval base fostered sailors who lived, partied, and made pre-deployment babies. The traditional ole’ American spirit thrived in Hampton.

All the service members around me were able to make a nice living and they were respectably employed during our nation’s economic recession. Just like them, I wanted to have something for myself too. The service members also seemed more like adults than the college students. They seemed to be doing something even greater than going to school, so they could have a better tomorrow. I also wanted to be successful and acquire more. During this time, my independence was just as new to me as the area.

One morning, I marched myself down to the Reserve Officer Training Corps building on the far end of campus nearer to the lake. While walking through the uneven fluorescent hallway, I glanced around at all the trophies and honorary placards against the old rickety building walls. Every last one of the office doors held an engraved bronze title that provided the rank, last name, and position of each U. S. Army official in the building.

I moseyed on down to the office of Sergeant First Class Blu. The door to SFC Blu’s office was slightly open, but I still extended my arm to knock on the frosted glass square while chewing on my bottom lip. My toes tingled. Inside the office a golden-haired, slender woman dressed in a freshly creased army green uniform turned around in her grand leather chair and acknowledged me.

“Come on in!” she announced.

I maneuvered myself into the office and walked over to her desk.

“Good Morning! Are you Sergeant First Class Blu? I’m interested in joining the military,” I greeted her.

“Well, good morning to you too,” she replied, rising to her feet and extending her hand. “I’m Carolina Blu.”

“Sweet name! I’m Brenda McCoy. I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to actually meet you!”

We shook hands and her loose grip felt more like a gentle hug. Her hands were just as small as mine. Her caramel complexion and oval face complimented her slim figure. She’s military?

“Everyone’s been telling me to come by and see you if I want to join the service. They all said you’re the one to go to because you’ll get me in,” I said, standing over her desk.

She smiled at me and then glared down at the stack of papers, piled nearly six inches high, on her desk before peering back up at me with a strange expression.

“Have a seat,” she finally told me.

She slid the stack of papers aside as we both sat in wide, cushy leather chairs across from each other. Blu wasn’t the average recruiter. I assumed she’d be stern and militant, but I was wrong. She didn’t even introduce herself as a sergeant.

“Soo, young lady,” she continued in a motherly tone.

I sat up straight and then leaned forward in my seat.

“What made you decide you wanted to join us?” she asked. “And why the army?” She shrugged her shoulders and raised an eyebrow.

“Well . . . umm . . . not sure.” I sighed. “I’m not really sure how to put it into words.”

“Are you sure you don’t know? You seemed so . . . determined when you walked in here.”

Why should she let me into the U. S. Army? I asked myself.

The truth of the matter was, I didn’t know anything about the military, but I wasn’t gaining the experience by just asking her questions. My focus honestly wasn’t the military. It was survival. I could potentially pull myself through the military in order to fund my college education and somehow find the time to complete the classes. It was possible.

At eighteen, my place was somewhere out in the world, outside of school. My job was only a little part-time position at the mall, and it didn’t interest me any longer. It wasn’t an experience.

The military, on the other hand, was more of a career move. It would provide me with necessary financial support and help me maintain a decent lifestyle. Everyone seemed to respect the service members. They were privileged around the city. They had discounts, benefits owed to them, and status.

So, why not wing it?

“I just wanna do something different,” I said. “The military is gettin’ paid. I would join any of the branches, really. I’m not convinced that school is the only way to gain knowledge. Been in school all my life. I’m sick of it, but I do need to graduate. I want to be a real adult and I need a secure career because school is so expensive. I want to make honest money at a faster rate, than just waiting until after college. What could I potentially get out of the service, right now? I’m certain there’s opportunities for people in it.”

She gazed at me curiously for a moment, like she was getting a feel for me. I gave her a straight face to show my sincerity.

Sergeant Blu’s baffled expression transformed into a smile. I knew right then she’d recruit me.

It was my little secret. I hadn’t told anyone I was joining the service and after several weeks of anticipation, it was time to push forward. Sergeant Blu did her best to guide me with pointers on what to expect from the initial training. I had enough knowledge to pass an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam and was ready to get on with it. The exam was in a month. My first semester of coursework was already complete, so I didn’t even bother studying for it. Instead, I let all of my professors know the enlistment date. Since the semester was so close to an end, every last one of my professors cooperatively accommodated me with an accelerated curriculum. Unsurprisingly, my professors were lenient about adjusting my workload. The armed forces were everywhere in the Tidewater community, and accordingly, the university provided ROTC programs for both the Navy and the Army.

When we arrived at the Military Enlistment Processing Station (MEPS), I sat in the waiting area where all the recruiters dropped off their new recruits. After spending some time alone with the other prospective service members, I began to feel unsure of myself. Mostly, all of them were either part of a military family or they knew a lot about military culture. I’d never in a crowed of people, who spoke so proudly about the service. They were excited to join, even during a time of war. So, I remained silent and continued listening to their conversations.

They all introduced themselves and asked each other which branch of service they wanted to join, as if that were the most pressing question. They took pride in saying they would serve in the Army, the Navy, or the Marine Corps. They spoke about their efforts in trying to become eligible for the service. Some of them had to lose weight, some had to improve their run time, and others had to get a medical clearance. A few just had to wait until they were old enough to join.

They shared an admiration for their friends and family members who served in the Operation for Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Many of them knew the names and addresses of camps and Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) where they’d sent handwritten letters and holiday cards. I could hear the new recruits talking about their goals of becoming NCOs, drill sergeants, air assault troopers, and airborne rangers. I listened to them use terms like “tanker,” “M-16,” and “unarmed combat.” I knew nothing about the military, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from joining. Discovery was apart of my adventure.

Soon enough, we were relocated to a classroom. We each received a pencil, scrap paper, and a test. The ASVAB consisted of multiple-choice questions in the areas of general science, mathematics, electronics, mechanics, word knowledge, and so forth. The timeframe for the test was broken up into two one-and-a-half-hour periods—three hours in all to finish the test.

A sense of relief poured over me and I let out a sigh after taking it. It wasn’t common for anyone to fail the ASVAB, so I didn’t worry. It was a placement test. A couple of us at a time spoke privately with our recruiters. As each recruit returned to the waiting area, I listened to them talking about their results. The recruits around me boasted about their high scores and claimed that the exam wasn’t complex enough. I thought the exam was fairly comprehensive and hearing them talking like that caused me to doubt myself. It didn’t matter. They were probably lying anyway, just putting on a front.

Just moments later, Sergeant Blu retrieved me from the waiting room and we crossed into the corridor. She slipped a sheet of paper out of a large manila envelope and held it where I could see. There were various numbers aligned next to coded words. I examined the paper, not knowing how to read my results. She held it in front of us and pointed to several numbers in various boxes as she explained my test scores. I had strong organizational skills she told me. After a bit more explanation, she then congratulated me. For what, I didn’t quite understand just yet. She directed me back to the waiting area, while she headed over to another department.

It took a few hours before I finally linked back up with my recruiter again. She and I settled down at the desk of a contracted civilian administrator. He spoke to us as he sat in front of his computer clicking away at the buttons on his keyboard. He revealed to us that I was being assigned human resources as an occupation specialty upon enlistment into the armed services. My “package” also came with an enlistment bonus of six thousand dollars. A smile spread across Sergeant Blu’s face.

“You’ve done very well! Your results are good!” she insisted.

I returned her smile with less vigor, but I was happy about the profession that I could potentially build into a career. For me, the human resource specialist occupation was doable. I signed the contract to join the Army at MEPS just days before I turned nineteen years old.

“You did what?” my mother shouted through the phone.

I eased my cell away from my ear while standing on the steps of DuBois Hall.

“They only want you to fight in this war! The military could be the death of you, baby girl! Didn’t you even take the time to think about it?” Joye ranted.

Our breathing filled the silence for a few seconds. There was an inner voice screaming inside me.

“Sure I did, Ma,” I said.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“Gotta call you later.”

It was best to just get off the phone with her. Yet, I knew hanging up on my mother would be disrespectful and cause more problems. She made me listen to her final sigh of exhaustion, the same one that she’d always given me whenever I worried her.

“Bye, Bren.”

Joye hung up the phone.

The sky above was clear, but my mind became cloudy. I took a seat on the red brick platform near the bushes, almost in tears. Of course my mother wouldn’t support my decision to join the military! I’m her youngest daughter, the one who was supposed to be the smartest. I read more and spoke better English. I was the more promising one. My face grew hot with anger and I held my breath as if that would stop my tears from falling. Despite my efforts to stop crying, the floodgates burst open and I began to wail.

Discouragement consumed me. What options did I have? Graduating from college was always the goal, but it was too expensive. There was nothing my family could do to help me out. They couldn’t afford it either. I wasn’t the only one feeling the economic decline of the nation. The population was experiencing the effects of the recession en masse. I didn’t really want to join the military, but opportunity was knocking. Staying afloat was the hard part. Anxiety poured over the hasty decision I’d already made.

“Bren!”

I glanced over toward the front entrance of the dorms. It was my friend Zonnique, who then came walking over to me. Her skin was a rich dark brown against her long, blond dreadlocks that dangled at her back.

“How ar-re yuh now?” she greeted.

Zonnique lived next door to my roommate and me. Her hometown was Spanish Town, Jamaica, but she’d grown up in Queens, New York with a proud Jamaican American heritage.

“Oh, I’m fine.”

“Yuh, no look it, sista! Tell mi wat ’tis gwaan?” Zonnique questioned.

She stood on the concrete stairs and dusted off her expensive basketball shoes beside me on the brick platform, trying not to appear stressed out.

“I’m good,” I lied.

Zonnique peered at me with her head slightly cocked to the side, giving off an expression that meant there was no fooling her.

“Yeah, well . . .” I began to explain, “I’m about to join the service.”

“Ar-re yuh now? ’Tis great! Wut branch?” she asked.

“The Army.”

“Ya, mon! Proud of yuh! We still fightin’ a war!”

“My mom just reminded me of that.”

“Yuh, gwaan cohame back in one piece, yuh ’ere me now?”

“My recruiter says I might not even have to go over.”

Zonnique glared at me as if she didn’t know whether she wanted to scold me or laugh at me.

“Bren,” she said, looking at me sternly. “Yuh go over!”

“Well . . .” I began, not sure of what to say.

“Listen ta meh now, dey need dem boots on ground.”

“What you know about the military?”

“Meh pah and meh unkal served dis country an dey earn der rights!” she declared, holding out her index finger and moving it up and down as she emphasized ‘earn der rights’.

I let out a deep sigh while listening to her.

“Gawann to eat someting wit’ meh?” she asked.

I nodded my head slightly in agreement and quickly rose from the platform.

“Yeah, well? Guess I’ll be going over.” I said, shrugging my shoulders as we trotted leisurely down the stairs.

“Zee, I just need to survive. You feel me? I’m just trying to stay afloat while I’m so far away from my family.”

“Yuh doin’ good. Meh roommate es makin’ ’er money dat ought to be illegal,” Zonnique told me.

She paused for a moment, glaring at me with a straight face.

“Strippin’!” Zonnique revealed. “Takin’ off hah clothes foah money, yeah! ‘Tis sad! Meh know, es er’ recession out ’ere, but women got-ta be more valuable den dat. A’least you don’t do dose tings.”

“I know, right?”

“Ders got ta be a bet-der way!”

The start of in-processing wasn’t difficult. In the pitch dark morning at four a.m., I awoke to the sound of the alarm on my cell phone. Once up, I turned on the light on the nightstand and got out of bed, nauseated. Despite the feeling, I quickly slipped into the same clothes I’d worn the previous day.

Outside, we gathered around and took turns shoveling our belongings under a blue and white tour bus. The bus driver was an old guy who sat in his place at the wheel and appeared exceedingly pale. I glared at him the very second he opened the flapping tour bus doors.

He was an overweight, hunchback man with long white nostril hairs that stood out on his face. He wore a loose button up short and black slacks. Without the slightest hello or good morning, I hopped on, headed toward the back of the bus out of habit and also because the heater was located back there. It was the best way for me to remain warm during the ride, without a jacket.

I snagged a window seat one row up from the very back of the bus. A short Latino-looking kid first said hello and then asked if he could sit beside me. I told him that it was fine and he took a seat. Once everyone loaded onto the bus, the driver took off down the street in a hurry.

The bus jerked to a halt. I awoke and stared out the window. I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep during the ride. We’d arrived in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. There was absolutely nothing in sight but a plain brick building with an orange shining light projecting from it. Yet, I could see figures in the distance moving toward our bus.

“Get the hell off my bus!” the driver shouted at the top of his lungs.

We all began moving quickly. The driver continued shouting over and over as we all tried to make our way off the bus by the narrow walkway. He hollered and hollered until we began moving even faster. We moved in an orderly fashion, without bumping into each other, as if we’d practiced it already. The driver continued shouting that same phrase, over and over until the very last of us marched off the bus. Luckily, we had it together.

The minute I stepped past the open partition of the tour bus, the heat hit me. It was so humid outside that it seemed I was about to suffocate. The smell wasn’t fresh, but rather stale and musty. The sergeants met us at the bus. They had already opened the storage compartment underneath the bus and pushed out all of our belongings into the dirt. We had a few seconds to grab our suitcases and personal items. The sergeants explained nothing to us. They only commanded us into a single file line, facing the building. Like ants, we gathered into an organized segment right outside the door.

The yellow fluorescent lights were extremely bright inside the building. The farther I inched into the doorway, the more recruits I saw sitting on the floor in gray fatigues. The voices of the sergeants could be heard outside. They were in there commanding them to throw out any contraband. These were any items such as lighters, cigarettes, alcohol, and any sharp objects we may have possessed.

I could finally see the toiletless stalls to my right. More than likely, that was where we’d take off all our clothes, including our underwear, and put on the gray fatigues they provided us. There were only four stalls. So, it was one recruit in after the other one came out.

At the front of the line, a soldier referred to me as ‘you.’ She was a black-haired woman, maybe some kind of Hispanic, but I couldn’t pinpoint her racial identity exactly. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-eight. The expression on her fresh face remained stern.

“Get over here!” she yelled, pointing down in front of her.

Before I could get close enough, she threw a stack of clothes at my chest and it dropped to the floor when I failed to catch it. Two of the women soldiers quickly began yelling at me to retrieve my apparel from the floor. I sluggishly maneuvered to pick up the sweatsuit and the black-haired soldier moved toward me.

“Hurry up!” she shouted in my ear.

After picking up the sweatsuit, I stood stiffly with my fatigues in hand.

Finally, she took one step back and scribbled something on her clipboard. I watched as the other sergeants yelled at the recruits who’d just come out of the stalls. They were to dump their belongings on the floor.

The one in front of me only glared as if I’d done something wrong. I stood there without moving for nearly two minutes. Then a guy came hurrying out of one of the stalls. The woman soldier shouted for me to get inside of it. I grabbed my suitcase to wheel it along with me.

“Pick it up and carry it!” shouted one of the male sergeants.

I scooped up my suitcase and smothered it against my chest with my packaged fatigues. The soldiers provided us three minutes to strip down and redress. After getting dressed in my fatigues, I exited the stall with my other clothes in hand.

I was forced into a corner and told to dump out everything from my suitcase. The recruits, who’d just exited the stalls, were doing the same. We were picking through our backpacks, duffle bags, suitcases, and fanny packs.

The soldiers paced back and forth, watching us pick through our stuff. They kicked around our personal belongings if they rolled in their path and if they didn’t kick them, then they deliberately stomped them. After that, they carried on about their business like they did nothing wrong at all.

We had to turn in our cell phones. They were to be placed in an envelope and mailed back home. We watched as our valuables were enveloped, sealed, and confiscated. We were to sign away all of our personal belongings on a sheet of paper. The form served as some kind of inventory receipt that was never explained to us.

Soon after, the sergeants yelled at us to get back on the same bus and once we were all filed on again, the same driver continued transporting us for nearly two hours through unfamiliar territory.

Once we came to a stop, the bus driver yelled for us to get the hell off his bus again. I rushed off the bus for the second time, carrying two featherweight duffle bags, one in front of me and one on my back.

Bugs and pollen flew around in the wind and only a few clouds drifted up above us. Ample pine and palmetto trees surrounded the base while the fresh scent of greenery lingered about in the air. As the chaotic atmosphere moved out of control, I took the time to take in another deep breath.

That was my introduction to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.Nothing could’ve prepared us for the challenge we’d have to face. We just had to experience it. I braced myself and pushed on through the grassy field with the rest of my squad. With a droopy head, I quietly shuffled along with the others until we were forced to stand still. We stretched the rubbery masks down over our faces as we were told. My pulse throbbed, a sure warning sign of the danger I’d face up ahead. I could barely breathe and was already beginning to choke.

I slapped my hand over the mouthpiece and blew into it. Then I fully inhaled and felt the suction of the snug mask nuzzling my face. The mask was the only thing that could protect me.

We marched forward into a dark and gloomy gas chamber, one after the other. My stomach lurched with anxiety, like I was standing at the edge of a cliff, as we moved along in our single-file line. We entered the confinement slowly. Yet, I wanted to ease back into the rear, but I couldn’t. Every bit of moisture in my mouth crept to the back of my throat and I took a hard swallow as I drug myself forward.

“Hurry up and move down!” one of the instructors shouted. Her mask barely muffled her loud voice.

We moved faster, but remained uncertain.

“Up against the goddamn wall!” I heard the other one shout from behind me.

Inside, a flickering orange light lit the chamber as we ambled forward along the dark wall. Sweat dripped from my armpits and under my breasts. The inside of the chamber felt like a sauna. My skin was on fire underneath my vest. It felt like there was no air, but we had to keep moving along in silence. There was enough oxygen in the chamber for a fire to flicker, but I couldn’t seem to inhale any of it. Even though I’d tried to seal my gas mask, it clearly wasn’t sealed properly. I wanted to cough up a lung. The saliva inside my mouth strangled my throat while everyone else seemed to be breathing just fine. Placing my hand on my thyroid, I tried clearing my throat, but that only made it worse.

The blue-eyed instructor, the one in charge, peered at me and I dropped my hands down. Quickly, I turned my head forward and continued shuffling down the line like everyone else. Again, drawing my palm over my mouthpiece, I tried clearing my throat, but only managed to muster up a gag. His eyes were all I could see in his gas mask. They stayed fixed on me and my demeanor remained cool.

Somebody help me, I thought. They’re trying to kill me! My upper body remained stiff as we inched along the pebbled dirt. In front of me stood my battle buddy Chapman. We were all packed snugly in the chamber. My heart began to pound slightly harder and my glands leaked sweat. The metal trashcan that held a steady flame reminded me of hell. Everyone around me looked like aliens in their black masks.

Facing forward, we stood waiting to be released. My eyes dripped tears as they scanned the dim chamber. I could sense Chapman next to me, a soft female like me but much friendlier. She’d been my biggest supporter since I’d entered training. Her eyes were full of tears too and that made me feel a little better. It wasn’t our fault we didn’t know how to seal our gas masks properly. It was the instructors’ lack of thorough training on the task. They’d rather challenge us, and make us figure it out. Everything is dummyproof they told us. Regardless of how everyone acted, it was clear to me that I wasn’t alone.

Minutes felt like hours as my mind drifted. My thoughts whirled around the idea that there was a price only some of us have to pay for our Freedom. There were only some of us who would fight, live to see tomorrow, or make progress in this country. My mind recollected clips from a historical documentary I’d seen; horrifying footage of nearly a hundred men and women, stripped completely naked and made to march into a gas chamber without protective masks.

Oh God! What if I become a prisoner of war some day? Don’t imagine it. While standing in the chamber waiting for the instructors to let us out, I asked myself, How did I end up in this predicament in the first place?

Fall 2004

It was my first semester at Hampton University as an undergraduate, psych major. I was nineteen years old and I also held a job as a part-time sales associate at FootAction in Patrick Henry Mall. It paid for the bare minimum. Financial aid and student loans provided me with on-campus housing and facilities, but I hated living on campus. I barely made time to eat within my schedule and I was beginning to slim down. My whole world functioned around my job and school schedule, but I was still somehow search for a little more out of life.

Hampton was a new place to me, an opportunity to break away from what everyone else wanted me to do with my life and find out what this world had to offer me. I knew myself, but I was unsure about anything else.

The armed forces were everywhere on the southeastern tip of Virginia. There were ships in the ocean and people in uniforms of all kinds, everywhere. Military installations surrounded Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay while police cadets roamed and maintained order on the streets. The Norfolk naval base fostered sailors who lived, partied, and made pre-deployment babies. The traditional ole’ American spirit thrived in Hampton.

All the service members around me were able to make a nice living and they were respectably employed during our nation’s economic recession. Just like them, I wanted to have something for myself too. The service members also seemed more like adults than the college students. They seemed to be doing something even greater than going to school, so they could have a better tomorrow. I also wanted to be successful and acquire more. During this time, my independence was just as new to me as the area.

One morning, I marched myself down to the Reserve Officer Training Corps building on the far end of campus nearer to the lake. While walking through the uneven fluorescent hallway, I glanced around at all the trophies and honorary placards against the old rickety building walls. Every last one of the office doors held an engraved bronze title that provided the rank, last name, and position of each U. S. Army official in the building.

I moseyed on down to the office of Sergeant First Class Blu. The door to SFC Blu’s office was slightly open, but I still extended my arm to knock on the frosted glass square while chewing on my bottom lip. My toes tingled. Inside the office a golden-haired, slender woman dressed in a freshly creased army green uniform turned around in her grand leather chair and acknowledged me.

“Come on in!” she announced.

I maneuvered myself into the office and walked over to her desk.

“Good Morning! Are you Sergeant First Class Blu? I’m interested in joining the military,” I greeted her.

“Well, good morning to you too,” she replied, rising to her feet and extending her hand. “I’m Carolina Blu.”

“Sweet name! I’m Brenda McCoy. I’ve heard so much about you. It’s nice to actually meet you!”

We shook hands and her loose grip felt more like a gentle hug. Her hands were just as small as mine. Her caramel complexion and oval face complimented her slim figure. She’s military?

“Everyone’s been telling me to come by and see you if I want to join the service. They all said you’re the one to go to because you’ll get me in,” I said, standing over her desk.

She smiled at me and then glared down at the stack of papers, piled nearly six inches high, on her desk before peering back up at me with a strange expression.

“Have a seat,” she finally told me.

She slid the stack of papers aside as we both sat in wide, cushy leather chairs across from each other. Blu wasn’t the average recruiter. I assumed she’d be stern and militant, but I was wrong. She didn’t even introduce herself as a sergeant.

“Soo, young lady,” she continued in a motherly tone.

I sat up straight and then leaned forward in my seat.

“What made you decide you wanted to join us?” she asked. “And why the army?” She shrugged her shoulders and raised an eyebrow.

“Well . . . umm . . . not sure.” I sighed. “I’m not really sure how to put it into words.”

“Are you sure you don’t know? You seemed so . . . determined when you walked in here.”

Why should she let me into the U. S. Army? I asked myself.

The truth of the matter was, I didn’t know anything about the military, but I wasn’t gaining the experience by just asking her questions. My focus honestly wasn’t the military. It was survival. I could potentially pull myself through the military in order to fund my college education and somehow find the time to complete the classes. It was possible.

At eighteen, my place was somewhere out in the world, outside of school. My job was only a little part-time position at the mall, and it didn’t interest me any longer. It wasn’t an experience.

The military, on the other hand, was more of a career move. It would provide me with necessary financial support and help me maintain a decent lifestyle. Everyone seemed to respect the service members. They were privileged around the city. They had discounts, benefits owed to them, and status.

So, why not wing it?

“I just wanna do something different,” I said. “The military is gettin’ paid. I would join any of the branches, really. I’m not convinced that school is the only way to gain knowledge. Been in school all my life. I’m sick of it, but I do need to graduate. I want to be a real adult and I need a secure career because school is so expensive. I want to make honest money at a faster rate, than just waiting until after college. What could I potentially get out of the service, right now? I’m certain there’s opportunities for people in it.”

She gazed at me curiously for a moment, like she was getting a feel for me. I gave her a straight face to show my sincerity.

Sergeant Blu’s baffled expression transformed into a smile. I knew right then she’d recruit me.

It was my little secret. I hadn’t told anyone I was joining the service and after several weeks of anticipation, it was time to push forward. Sergeant Blu did her best to guide me with pointers on what to expect from the initial training. I had enough knowledge to pass an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam and was ready to get on with it. The exam was in a month. My first semester of coursework was already complete, so I didn’t even bother studying for it. Instead, I let all of my professors know the enlistment date. Since the semester was so close to an end, every last one of my professors cooperatively accommodated me with an accelerated curriculum. Unsurprisingly, my professors were lenient about adjusting my workload. The armed forces were everywhere in the Tidewater community, and accordingly, the university provided ROTC programs for both the Navy and the Army.

When we arrived at the Military Enlistment Processing Station (MEPS), I sat in the waiting area where all the recruiters dropped off their new recruits. After spending some time alone with the other prospective service members, I began to feel unsure of myself. Mostly, all of them were either part of a military family or they knew a lot about military culture. I’d never in a crowed of people, who spoke so proudly about the service. They were excited to join, even during a time of war. So, I remained silent and continued listening to their conversations.

They all introduced themselves and asked each other which branch of service they wanted to join, as if that were the most pressing question. They took pride in saying they would serve in the Army, the Navy, or the Marine Corps. They spoke about their efforts in trying to become eligible for the service. Some of them had to lose weight, some had to improve their run time, and others had to get a medical clearance. A few just had to wait until they were old enough to join.

They shared an admiration for their friends and family members who served in the Operation for Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Many of them knew the names and addresses of camps and Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) where they’d sent handwritten letters and holiday cards. I could hear the new recruits talking about their goals of becoming NCOs, drill sergeants, air assault troopers, and airborne rangers. I listened to them use terms like “tanker,” “M-16,” and “unarmed combat.” I knew nothing about the military, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from joining. Discovery was apart of my adventure.

Soon enough, we were relocated to a classroom. We each received a pencil, scrap paper, and a test. The ASVAB consisted of multiple-choice questions in the areas of general science, mathematics, electronics, mechanics, word knowledge, and so forth. The timeframe for the test was broken up into two one-and-a-half-hour periods—three hours in all to finish the test.

A sense of relief poured over me and I let out a sigh after taking it. It wasn’t common for anyone to fail the ASVAB, so I didn’t worry. It was a placement test. A couple of us at a time spoke privately with our recruiters. As each recruit returned to the waiting area, I listened to them talking about their results. The recruits around me boasted about their high scores and claimed that the exam wasn’t complex enough. I thought the exam was fairly comprehensive and hearing them talking like that caused me to doubt myself. It didn’t matter. They were probably lying anyway, just putting on a front.

Just moments later, Sergeant Blu retrieved me from the waiting room and we crossed into the corridor. She slipped a sheet of paper out of a large manila envelope and held it where I could see. There were various numbers aligned next to coded words. I examined the paper, not knowing how to read my results. She held it in front of us and pointed to several numbers in various boxes as she explained my test scores. I had strong organizational skills she told me. After a bit more explanation, she then congratulated me. For what, I didn’t quite understand just yet. She directed me back to the waiting area, while she headed over to another department.

It took a few hours before I finally linked back up with my recruiter again. She and I settled down at the desk of a contracted civilian administrator. He spoke to us as he sat in front of his computer clicking away at the buttons on his keyboard. He revealed to us that I was being assigned human resources as an occupation specialty upon enlistment into the armed services. My “package” also came with an enlistment bonus of six thousand dollars. A smile spread across Sergeant Blu’s face.

“You’ve done very well! Your results are good!” she insisted.

I returned her smile with less vigor, but I was happy about the profession that I could potentially build into a career. For me, the human resource specialist occupation was doable. I signed the contract to join the Army at MEPS just days before I turned nineteen years old.

“You did what?” my mother shouted through the phone.

I eased my cell away from my ear while standing on the steps of DuBois Hall.

“They only want you to fight in this war! The military could be the death of you, baby girl! Didn’t you even take the time to think about it?” Joye ranted.

Our breathing filled the silence for a few seconds. There was an inner voice screaming inside me.

“Sure I did, Ma,” I said.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“Gotta call you later.”

It was best to just get off the phone with her. Yet, I knew hanging up on my mother would be disrespectful and cause more problems. She made me listen to her final sigh of exhaustion, the same one that she’d always given me whenever I worried her.

“Bye, Bren.”

Joye hung up the phone.

The sky above was clear, but my mind became cloudy. I took a seat on the red brick platform near the bushes, almost in tears. Of course my mother wouldn’t support my decision to join the military! I’m her youngest daughter, the one who was supposed to be the smartest. I read more and spoke better English. I was the more promising one. My face grew hot with anger and I held my breath as if that would stop my tears from falling. Despite my efforts to stop crying, the floodgates burst open and I began to wail.

Discouragement consumed me. What options did I have? Graduating from college was always the goal, but it was too expensive. There was nothing my family could do to help me out. They couldn’t afford it either. I wasn’t the only one feeling the economic decline of the nation. The population was experiencing the effects of the recession en masse. I didn’t really want to join the military, but opportunity was knocking. Staying afloat was the hard part. Anxiety poured over the hasty decision I’d already made.

“Bren!”

I glanced over toward the front entrance of the dorms. It was my friend Zonnique, who then came walking over to me. Her skin was a rich dark brown against her long, blond dreadlocks that dangled at her back.

“How ar-re yuh now?” she greeted.

Zonnique lived next door to my roommate and me. Her hometown was Spanish Town, Jamaica, but she’d grown up in Queens, New York with a proud Jamaican American heritage.

“Oh, I’m fine.”

“Yuh, no look it, sista! Tell mi wat ’tis gwaan?” Zonnique questioned.

She stood on the concrete stairs and dusted off her expensive basketball shoes beside me on the brick platform, trying not to appear stressed out.

“I’m good,” I lied.

Zonnique peered at me with her head slightly cocked to the side, giving off an expression that meant there was no fooling her.

“Yeah, well . . .” I began to explain, “I’m about to join the service.”

“Ar-re yuh now? ’Tis great! Wut branch?” she asked.

“The Army.”

“Ya, mon! Proud of yuh! We still fightin’ a war!”

“My mom just reminded me of that.”

“Yuh, gwaan cohame back in one piece, yuh ’ere me now?”

“My recruiter says I might not even have to go over.”

Zonnique glared at me as if she didn’t know whether she wanted to scold me or laugh at me.

“Bren,” she said, looking at me sternly. “Yuh go over!”

“Well . . .” I began, not sure of what to say.

“Listen ta meh now, dey need dem boots on ground.”

“What you know about the military?”

“Meh pah and meh unkal served dis country an dey earn der rights!” she declared, holding out her index finger and moving it up and down as she emphasized ‘earn der rights’.

I let out a deep sigh while listening to her.

“Gawann to eat someting wit’ meh?” she asked.

I nodded my head slightly in agreement and quickly rose from the platform.

“Yeah, well? Guess I’ll be going over.” I said, shrugging my shoulders as we trotted leisurely down the stairs.

“Zee, I just need to survive. You feel me? I’m just trying to stay afloat while I’m so far away from my family.”

“Yuh doin’ good. Meh roommate es makin’ ’er money dat ought to be illegal,” Zonnique told me.

She paused for a moment, glaring at me with a straight face.

“Strippin’!” Zonnique revealed. “Takin’ off hah clothes foah money, yeah! ‘Tis sad! Meh know, es er’ recession out ’ere, but women got-ta be more valuable den dat. A’least you don’t do dose tings.”

“I know, right?”

“Ders got ta be a bet-der way!”

The start of in-processing wasn’t difficult. In the pitch dark morning at four a.m., I awoke to the sound of the alarm on my cell phone. Once up, I turned on the light on the nightstand and got out of bed, nauseated. Despite the feeling, I quickly slipped into the same clothes I’d worn the previous day.

Outside, we gathered around and took turns shoveling our belongings under a blue and white tour bus. The bus driver was an old guy who sat in his place at the wheel and appeared exceedingly pale. I glared at him the very second he opened the flapping tour bus doors.

He was an overweight, hunchback man with long white nostril hairs that stood out on his face. He wore a loose button up short and black slacks. Without the slightest hello or good morning, I hopped on, headed toward the back of the bus out of habit and also because the heater was located back there. It was the best way for me to remain warm during the ride, without a jacket.

I snagged a window seat one row up from the very back of the bus. A short Latino-looking kid first said hello and then asked if he could sit beside me. I told him that it was fine and he took a seat. Once everyone loaded onto the bus, the driver took off down the street in a hurry.

The bus jerked to a halt. I awoke and stared out the window. I hadn’t realized I’d fallen asleep during the ride. We’d arrived in the middle of what appeared to be nowhere. There was absolutely nothing in sight but a plain brick building with an orange shining light projecting from it. Yet, I could see figures in the distance moving toward our bus.

“Get the hell off my bus!” the driver shouted at the top of his lungs.

We all began moving quickly. The driver continued shouting over and over as we all tried to make our way off the bus by the narrow walkway. He hollered and hollered until we began moving even faster. We moved in an orderly fashion, without bumping into each other, as if we’d practiced it already. The driver continued shouting that same phrase, over and over until the very last of us marched off the bus. Luckily, we had it together.

The minute I stepped past the open partition of the tour bus, the heat hit me. It was so humid outside that it seemed I was about to suffocate. The smell wasn’t fresh, but rather stale and musty. The sergeants met us at the bus. They had already opened the storage compartment underneath the bus and pushed out all of our belongings into the dirt. We had a few seconds to grab our suitcases and personal items. The sergeants explained nothing to us. They only commanded us into a single file line, facing the building. Like ants, we gathered into an organized segment right outside the door.

The yellow fluorescent lights were extremely bright inside the building. The farther I inched into the doorway, the more recruits I saw sitting on the floor in gray fatigues. The voices of the sergeants could be heard outside. They were in there commanding them to throw out any contraband. These were any items such as lighters, cigarettes, alcohol, and any sharp objects we may have possessed.

I could finally see the toiletless stalls to my right. More than likely, that was where we’d take off all our clothes, including our underwear, and put on the gray fatigues they provided us. There were only four stalls. So, it was one recruit in after the other one came out.

At the front of the line, a soldier referred to me as ‘you.’ She was a black-haired woman, maybe some kind of Hispanic, but I couldn’t pinpoint her racial identity exactly. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-eight. The expression on her fresh face remained stern.

“Get over here!” she yelled, pointing down in front of her.

Before I could get close enough, she threw a stack of clothes at my chest and it dropped to the floor when I failed to catch it. Two of the women soldiers quickly began yelling at me to retrieve my apparel from the floor. I sluggishly maneuvered to pick up the sweatsuit and the black-haired soldier moved toward me.

“Hurry up!” she shouted in my ear.

After picking up the sweatsuit, I stood stiffly with my fatigues in hand.

Finally, she took one step back and scribbled something on her clipboard. I watched as the other sergeants yelled at the recruits who’d just come out of the stalls. They were to dump their belongings on the floor.

The one in front of me only glared as if I’d done something wrong. I stood there without moving for nearly two minutes. Then a guy came hurrying out of one of the stalls. The woman soldier shouted for me to get inside of it. I grabbed my suitcase to wheel it along with me.

“Pick it up and carry it!” shouted one of the male sergeants.

I scooped up my suitcase and smothered it against my chest with my packaged fatigues. The soldiers provided us three minutes to strip down and redress. After getting dressed in my fatigues, I exited the stall with my other clothes in hand.

I was forced into a corner and told to dump out everything from my suitcase. The recruits, who’d just exited the stalls, were doing the same. We were picking through our backpacks, duffle bags, suitcases, and fanny packs.

The soldiers paced back and forth, watching us pick through our stuff. They kicked around our personal belongings if they rolled in their path and if they didn’t kick them, then they deliberately stomped them. After that, they carried on about their business like they did nothing wrong at all.

We had to turn in our cell phones. They were to be placed in an envelope and mailed back home. We watched as our valuables were enveloped, sealed, and confiscated. We were to sign away all of our personal belongings on a sheet of paper. The form served as some kind of inventory receipt that was never explained to us.

Soon after, the sergeants yelled at us to get back on the same bus and once we were all filed on again, the same driver continued transporting us for nearly two hours through unfamiliar territory.

Once we came to a stop, the bus driver yelled for us to get the hell off his bus again. I rushed off the bus for the second time, carrying two featherweight duffle bags, one in front of me and one on my back.

Bugs and pollen flew around in the wind and only a few clouds drifted up above us. Ample pine and palmetto trees surrounded the base while the fresh scent of greenery lingered about in the air. As the chaotic atmosphere moved out of control, I took the time to take in another deep breath.

That was my introduction to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.


Note from the author:

Hi there!! 👋 I hope you’re enjoying the memoir that I’m publishing as historical fiction. Don’t hesitate to tap the 💓 below or vote ⭐️ for it, to let me know you liked it. Thanks so much for your interest. This book wil be in stores soon!

Continue Reading Next Chapter
Further Recommendations

Lesley Baker: Another great read... I love the way you write 💕

James Harvey: This is one of the best ever on this app

Lilia: I have no words. You will find within this book everything perfect:The plot The characters The description of the world they live inThe angstThe cliffhanhersEverything you need to make the most enjoyable fantastic book on this app!

chrisshockey77: Not to bad some miss spelled words or not set in the sentence right but over all the story was pretty good

Lynn Payne: I loved this book. I can’t wait to read the next book. Thank you.

Rajalaxmi: Great book. Liked it

Pam Russell: The book is really good so far. I can't wait until the rest comes out

More Recommendations

Melissa Weldon: I love this book

Stephanie: Enjoyable book, wish Donna's character would finally be happy she's been through so much.. Not impressed how cherokee turned out I was rooting for him and Donna when they first met

Gpower: It has a perfect dose of every theme: Family, friendship, love, pain, mental health, etc. It's my favorite book so far, and I love how the author is committed to every character. I didn't think it was possible, but you effortlessly made another book as awesome.

Varsha: It's amazing as always and the plots twists are really great. I can't help but feel attacked to this story more and more. I would really like to recommend it to my friends and family .

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.