There were only five stragglers who hadn’t zeroed and Private Chapman was one of them. After lunch, our company headed back to the bleachers and our platoon only entered the range after first, second and fourth platoon. I watched Chapman from the bleachers where I waited around with the rest of the platoon. Chapman appeared identical to everyone else, except for her distinct range walk. I could tell she was hot and tired. It was something in the way she appeared that made it seem like she was doing her best to hold it together.
I heard the T.O.C. give the command to fire. I watched her appear stiff as a board when she fired her weapon. I readjusted my focus to the wannabes congregating below me. Private Clinton was one of the rowdiest wannabes in our platoon and she was beginning to really annoy me. She stood below the bleachers talking to Private Blackstone.
I scanned around the platoon and noticed the clique of males who appeared standing together socializing with each other. From what I could overhear, their conversation seemed to be a mixture of Spanish and English. Immediately, Drill Sergeant Andrews hurried toward them.
“Speak English, goddamn it!” He hollered at them.
The tawny skinned males turned speechless. I hated watching others get drilled, I felt sorry for them. Just like I would’ve hoped they’d feel sorry for me, but they weren’t like that. The Spanish-speaking males had been discriminated amongst the rest of the platoon. My eyes wondered over to Private Walker and Miller. They stood in a circle talking with Harvey and Ward who’d snuck away from their platoon. The drill sergeants didn’t pay us much mind because if we’d already zeroed our weapon, it was our time to remain at ease.
At 1530 hours we were commanded to assemble into our firing squad formation once again. We were commanded to pull back the charging handle of our weapon so our ejection port would fly open and the bolt in our rifle would be exposed. It was to be pulled to the rear. We were to hold our weapon in front of us, center it and point it to the sky. I pulled my charging handle back and held my M-16 in front of me with the black stock of the weapon lightly pressing against the clip of my protector belt. I glimpsed around to make sure I had followed directions properly. So far, I was in uniform with the wannabes. Drill Sergeant Drake and Drill Sergeant Andrews approached the firing segment and they began the shakedown process.
“No brass, no ammo, drill sergeant!” Private Rodriguez shouted to Drill Sergeant Mayor.
I followed the same steps and repeated the same phrase as the wannabes. The shakedown was a process that needed to happen for our safety. It was so none of these idiots would take a bullet back to the barracks and kill their battle buddy when we least expected it. Our entire company completed it in nearly thirty minutes and we left the range. Still, Private Chapman hadn’t even zeroed her weapon to be able to shoot targets.
The very next day, we prepared to load up on the white buses as a company again. I shuffled up the grassy hill to find a place in what would soon be a tight formation.
“McCoy,” Drill Sergeant Andrews called.
“Yes, Drill Sergeant?” I answered.
Drill Sergeant Andrews made his way over to me and here came Private Price voluntarily making her way over to me as well. The drill sergeant placed his knuckles on his hips as I stood at parade rest facing him. Private Price stood up straight. Clinton appeared on my left and Price stood on my right. Both females looked up at Drill Sergeant Andrews as he began speaking to me.
“What you supposed to do out there, McCoy?” he asked me, openly.
“I’m supposed to set up my sandbags, place my weapon snuggly in the pocket of my shoulder, place my check to stock, get a good sight post picture, open both eyes, aim above the sight post at the target, stop breathing, shoot and follow through?” I replied.
It didn’t matter to me if I’d said it wrong because according to the drill sergeants, everything in the army was dummy proof.
“Okay, McCoy.” He answered.
He then walked away abruptly. I felt my shoulders slouch back down automatically and I eased my hands into my BDU pockets.
“Get your hands out of your pocket, You!” Drill Sergeant Mayor yelled at me from where he stood on the grassy hill.
“Dis ain’t da doggone Air Force!” he snapped, as he eased over toward me.
I slipped my hands out of my pocket and looked away.
“You hear me talking to you?” he asked.
“I hear—” I started.
“Shut yo’ doggone mouth!” he barked.
Drill Sergeant Mayor then marched off. I only stood speechless in my heavy flack vest and ballistic helmet. On the drill sergeant’s command, we counted off as we filed onto the white bus. I sat in the seat next to Private Clinton because I had no choice.
“McCoy, why you such a dumbass? Why yo’ ass lost every single damn day?” she questioned.
In her bulging brown eyes, I could see her disappointment. A good twenty seconds had passed while we stared into each other’s eyes. She looked at me through my wide BCGs as if I were the scum of the earth. I stared back into her chubby mahogany face, feeling helpless. Yet, I kept a stern facial expression. I said nothing because I knew she had a lot of nerve.
Within our stare down, I’d noticed how big and hateful her brown eyes appeared. I was even more frustrated. After turning my head I let out an emotional sigh. I began to gaze out the window of the white bus and ponder off into a daydream. Clinton immediately used her right arm like a billy club to hit me on my sore left arm.
“Ditz!” Private Clinton continued.
“Do you hear me talking to you!” she roared.
I turned back around and stared into her eyes once again. Frustrated, I sat the butt of my weapon down on the bus floor, trying to buy some time to search for the words to defend myself.
“Pick up your weapon!” Private Parker howled.
I raised the stock of my weapon slightly so that it wasn’t touching the bus floor. Private Parker sat right across the aisle from Clinton and I sat nearest the window. She was a wannabe who hardly ever spoke, but she maintained uniformity all the time. She made training look effortless. She remained light on her feet and almost invisible at times. She stood tall enough to walk the runway and her saffron skin fashioned rosy undertones. It was her first time ever correcting me. She then granted me a half-hearted smile to make up for it. I only faced forward and looked straight ahead without reply.
I stood in the second squad of our formation already dehydrated from the sun. However, I couldn’t just drink water from my canteen while we stood at parade rest. I had to wait until we were out of formation or until we were commanded to drink water.
Many of the wannabes seemed amped up and ready to shoot. I still didn’t quite feel like I could do it, but I would get out there and try. We stood and waited for a good ten minutes on the next command.
Out of nowhere, Private Davis let out a loud obnoxious fart. I looked at the back of his neck with disgust. The potent odor slapped me right in my face. He turned around and looked into my oily face and laughed at me. A few wannabes began to laugh and their laughter encouraged the others to join in on the fun. Therefore, Davis became even more encouraged and he released another loud fart.
Quickly, I turned my whole body around, not wanting to smell his odor directly in my face. I looked up at Parker, who stood directly behind me, as I now faced her in formation. She shook her head in shame. She appeared to be feeling sorry for me, yet she said nothing. I had already broken uniformity by turning the opposite direction as everyone else, so I didn’t even worry about the drill sergeants. I reached for my canteen, opened it and began guzzling down the remaining water left inside of it.
Ten minutes later we were back out on the firing line. I laid my rifle on the rack to the right while I jumped inside the foxhole onto two large, wooden blocks. They were piled one on top of the other. Firing our first forty rounds in the foxhole required that the three green sandbags be placed in front of us on the dirt. The first step was to place two sandbags down side by side, leaving no room for space in between. The second step was to pile the third sandbag across the top center of the other two.
Once I set up my sandbags, I grabbed my weapon and scanned my lane. The range instructor within the T.O.C. only provided a small amount of time for us to set up our post. I managed to get my sandbags situated in front of the foxhole within a short amount of time. I shoved the butt of the M-16 into the pit of my left shoulder with the pistol grip in the palm of my left hand. I placed my face on the stock of the weapon, so I could test my sight post picture. I leaned my chest forward on the concrete edge of the foxhole as I stood inside of it. I imagined that I was poking straight out of the square foxhole like a jack-in-the-box toy. We all awaited the command to lock and load our rifles.
“Firers, at this time prepare to lock and load your weapon.” The T.O.C. commanded.
We grabbed our ammunition. Then we lock and loaded our weapons.
“Firers, take charge of your lanes.” The T.O.C. commanded.
The 250-meter target was the first target to sporadically pop up before my eyes. I stopped breathing, closed one eye, aimed and fired. All within a matter of five to six seconds. My rifle slightly jerked and I quickly took my finger off the trigger. I shoved it deeper into the pit of my shoulder. The butt of my rifle weakened my shoulder; yet and still I was beginning to enjoy the excitement of shooting.
Next, the 100-meter target popped up and I repeated the protocol. My anxiety level rose. I tried inhaling between shots. However, I had to remain stiff. Otherwise, the recoil of my weapon would overpower my strength and move me out of my position. The third target at 50-meters popped up and I quickly repeated the protocol, knowing it was an easy target. Immediately, the 300-meter target popped up. I held my breath, speculated my sight post, squeezed the stock into me and yanked the trigger. I removed my finger from the trigger just before the bullet split the target and it dropped. Within seconds the 50-meter target appeared once more and I shot it down. Next came the 250-meter target and I knocked it down as well. As I continued to fire, nearly ten more targets popped up and I knocked down at least seven of them.
“Seize fire! Seize fire!” the T.O.C. commanded.
“Drop your magazines, place your weapons on safe and prepare to fire in the prone supported position.” The T.O.C. commanded.
I placed my rifle on the rack to my right. I looked over at the others to see where I should be setting up my sandbags for prone supported position.
“McCoy! Get your body over in the square!” Sergeant Mayor shouted, forcing me to look his direction. He ordered me over to the dirt square without providing me any indication of where the square was located. I looked on the ground for a square. Well, I’m already in a square, I thought. The foxhole was the only square I’d noticed, so it took me at least a minute to figure out where I should move.
Again, I looked over to my left at Private Miller. Drill Sergeant Mayor had distracted me from watching her. I watched as Private Miller set up her sandbags and I noticed that she was in the dirt next to her foxhole. So I climbed out of my foxhole and proceeded to move to the dirt on my left. Drill Sergeant Mayor grabbed my attention again.
“McCoy! Hurry up! What in doggone mess you doin’?” Drill Sergeant Mayor questioned.
He rushed upon me as if he were going to physically hurt me. Once he pointed to where he wanted me to be, he continued standing over me. I only looked at him as I stood beside my foxhole.
“Get yo’ doggone tail over there and set up yo’ doggone sandbags!” Drill Sergeant Mayor shouted.
I continued to only look at him.
“Move!” he hollered.
I rose and walked over to the dirt square. Private Price began laughing at me as I glared at her over to my left. I looked over at Drill Sergeant Mayor and smiled as I grabbed one sandbag at a time to set up my next firing position in the square. Prone supported position required that I lie down in the dirt, flat on my stomach and breast. I hated being in the dirt, but I had to admit the dirt smelled good and fresh. I pressed my weapon between my breast and my arm. I placed the M-16 sharply into the pit of my left arm and smashed my breast into the black stock.
“Lock n load,” the T.O.C. commanded.
Drill Sergeant Mayor moved out of the way.
“Firers, scan your lane and prepare to fire.” The T.O.C. proclaimed.
The first target to pop up was the 150-meter target. I aimed at the target, but I was slightly out of breath. I couldn’t quite ease my breathing to steady my weapon. So when I fired I missed it. The 50-meter target popped up and I knocked it down. Then the 300-meter target appeared. I shot at it once and I missed it also. The 250 and 50-meter targets popped up simultaneously, but the only target I managed to drop was the 50-meter target. Once more the 150-meter target became erect. I aimed, shot and missed it again. Then I missed the 300-meter target. My arms grew weary, yet I continued holding onto my weapon as tightly as I possibly could manage. Heedless to the soreness in the pit of my weak shoulder, I was still determined to hit the targets. The 100-meter target popped up and it became hit immediately. A few more targets became erect and only three out of maybe seven targets were lying on the ground.
“Seize fire! Seize fire!” The T.O.C. announced.
The next firing position was called prone unsupported position. I dropped the clip of my weapon, placed it on safe, and then laid it back in the rack. I stacked my sandbags on top of each other and pushed them out of the way nearer to the foxhole on my right. I then prepared to settle myself in prone unsupported position. All the wannabes repositioned into prone unsupported very quickly, except for Private Miller. I overheard her getting drilled.
“Waitin’ on you, Privah! Waitin’ on you!” Drill Sergeant Andrews yelled.
Private Miller hurried into prone unsupported position as the drill sergeant waited.
I could hear Private Clinton and Private Price laughing at her like they always did. Miller turned her head and eyeballed them. I heard Miller saying something to Clinton and Price, but I couldn’t make out what it was she was saying because Drill Sergeant Mayor began talking over her.
“Shut yo’ doggone mouth!” Drill Sergeant Mayor snapped.
“I’m da only one who talks mess ’round ’ere!” he bellowed.
Drill Sergeant Drake observed her battle buddy drilling Private Miller from where she stood holding her white panel up over her head. She began charging over toward them. However, the T.O.C. instructor quickly interrupted them. At the sound of the T.O.C. instructing us to lock and load our weapons, all the drill sergeants immediately turned and headed the other direction. They eased away to shelter themselves from the firing rifles. They all moved to the other side of the tinplate shade in the dirt gravel nearest the gate away from the firing line. I faced forward and refocused my attention on the lane ahead of me.
“Firers, scan your lane and prepare to fire,” the T.O.C. proclaimed.
The 250-meter target popped up first and I swiftly dropped it down. The 150 and 50-meter targets popped up simultaneously and just like that, I knocked them down too. Next, the 200-meter target lifted. I pulled the trigger of my weapon and I heard a ‘click’. Shit! My weapon’s jammed, I thought.
I rose from prone position and maneuvered onto a bended knee. I attempted to doctor my weapon by applying S.P.O.R.T.S. I first slapped the bottom of the magazine and then pulled the charging handle. I observed the chamber of the rifle. After that, I released the charging handle and tapped the forward assist. I repositioned myself into prone unsupported and shoot at anything that moved. My elbows were pointed directly in the dry pebbled dirt. I shot my M-16 at the 300-meter target and I missed it. The target remained tall and erect in the distance. So, I shot at it again. Still, the 300-meter target remained erect in the kill zone until it timed out and fell to the ground.
“Seize fire! Seize fire!” the T.O.C. commanded.
Once our weapons were cleared and set on safe, our platoon was commanded to march off the firing line. We waited in the bleachers while fourth platoon filed through the gates in their firing arrangement. Just like yesterday, I remained aloof.
Private Chapman sat at the bottom of the bleachers with the others. She sat there with her head just about buried into her lap in shame. She wasn’t socializing with anyone. She suddenly began looking around. She looked to be searching for someone and finally, she looked up and spotted me sitting by myself up above her.
Chapman quickly rose from her place on the bleachers and began to climb up there towards me. I could understand why she may have thought I was the perfect person to talk to because I knew what it felt like to be different from the others. I was an outcast and I knew that’s just what she felt like. She wallowed over towards me, appearing sad. She started without hesitation because she already knew she could confide in me.
“McCoy, I just can’t do this!” she began.
Her crying slightly irritated me. I was trying to find a happy place to secure my own self-confidence and she was messing that up for me.
“You suck, Chapman?” I mimicked her, in the form of a question.
I pretended to be angry to match her expression.
“You don’t suck,” I objected.
“That’s so harsh. Is there a tiny lil’ drill sergeant inside you or something? Chapman, you always try,” I whispered.
Her eyes began to bubble with tears.
“You’re so persistent, just keep trying. You’ll make it.” I encouraged her.
“McCoy, I just now zeroed this time around,” she cried.
She dripped tears as she spoke aloud and I looked at her with astonishment tucked underneath my expression.
“I don’t think I could do this.” She admitted.
“Yes, you can!” I insisted.
“I don’t know anybody as persistent as you.” I encouraged her.
Some of the wannabes who stood beneath us quickly noticed that Chapman was crying. I’m sure she knew they were glaring at her, but she cried anyway. A small part of me wanted to shame her for crying in front of them, so I looked away. I couldn’t even look at her cry because the strength inside of me didn’t want to acknowledge it. Yet, another part of me yearned to wipe away her tears. I forced myself to look back over at her and without hesitation, I reached over to wipe her tears from her cheeks.
“Stop crying.” I whispered to her.
“I know you ain’t over there cryin’, Chapman?” Walker called out to her.
Walker drew the attention of the whole platoon. Therefore, anyone who hadn’t noticed she was crying did then. Majority of the wannabes started laughing at Chapman, especially the males.
Private Clinton pointed at Chapman from where she stood at the bottom of the bleachers conversing with Blackstone. Private Price only glimpsed up at Chapman and rolled her eyes in the other direction. She then refocused her attention back to her conversation with Private Kunert. The males were involved in separate conversations that didn’t involve a single female. Us females weren’t supposed to fraternize with them either. Therefore, we remained gender segregated like every other platoon in basic training. Still, that didn’t stop us from making snide remarks and laughter among each other.
“Yeah, so!” Private Chapman finally responded to Private Walker.
Inside my left BDU pocket, there were five squares of toilet tissue, which I handed over to her. She accepted it and slid it out of my hand. She began to roughly wipe away her tears.
“Everyone is frustrated, Chapman.” I whispered to her.
My eyes remained fixed on the gaggle of wannabes beneath us, who always masked their distress with ridicule. Chapman suddenly removed herself from our conversation and climbed down the bleachers. I took in a deep breath and I felt as if I’d inhaled a portion of her pain into my chest. So, I silently exhaled it out into the atmosphere and I felt relieved all over again. Immediately, I cleared my state of mind and tried one more time to find my happy place.
I hadn’t qualified along with several others, both male and female. I didn’t feel bad because we at least had two more days of weapons qualification before we would have to accept our outcomes. If I passed I’d graduate and if I failed they’d keep me at basic training as a restart. Therefore, it made no difference to me if I didn’t qualify. I’d just extend my stay at training and collect another paycheck. I was surprised that I actually liked shooting my M-16 rifle.