Against The Grain

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Chapter 18

Once our company arrived back at the barracks it was time for dinnerchow. I was starving and couldn’t wait to devour a hot meal. I was happy to be bused back to the company area and marching back to the chow hall. I didn’t want to be out in the field, eating MREs. We rough stepped back to delta company area after a filling dinner and we stood at parade rest as a company underneath the barracks. The drill sergeants left us there and they grouped back up in their offices.

I could see that some of the wannabes were excited as they chattered with each other. It was only fifteen minutes or so before the drill sergeants swept open their office doors and stepped back outside with us. All the wannabes immediately seized their conversations.

“At ease!” we all announced.

Drill Sergeant Mayor stood before the platoon with the news they’d all been waiting to hear. I already knew the wannabe they’d chosen and I wasn’t at all happy about it either. I secretly hoped Carter would receive the pin over Price. Our drill sergeant tried to make the announcement, but he first had to wait for some of the wannabes to shut their mouths. He made a straight face and remained unmoved. The wannabe quickly stopped talking and the entire company area became quiet as the sergeants from every platoon made us wait patiently for complete silence.

I could hear the drill sergeants talking from first platoon, which was all the way across the company barracks. There was a cool gush that rolled in through the breezeway as Drill Sergeant Mayor cleared his throat. I could feel it seeping through my flack vest to my damp BDUs on my lower back. It felt good. How badly I wanted to get out of this flack vest and lie down. I didn’t care about the soldier of the cycle pin.

Finally, he announced that none of the wannabes from our platoon were awarded the soldier of the cycle pin. He said this so flat in begrudgingly that I thought for a hot second that it might have been a joke.

A few seconds slipped and I wished I could’ve seen Price’s face, but she always stoodin firstsquad ahead of me. I felt as though the drill sergeants had played her. They knew earlier on that afternoon that our platoon’s wannabes weren’t going to be the soldier of the cycle, I thought. It didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t going to be dubbed soldier of the cycle, anyway.

“Although none of third platoon received the soldier of the cycle reward at the company level, Drill Sergeant Drake, Drill Sergeant Andrews and I would like to promote two outstanding soldiers to lead the platoon. These soldiers will be the platoon leaders for the remainder of our training,” he informed us.

“Platoon,” Drill Sergeant Mayor began.

“Atteeenhoon!”

We all stood at the position of attention.

“On the command of fall out, Private Carter and Private Price will fall out of the formation and stand before the platoon. Fall out!” he commanded.

Just as I thought! I noticed Drill Sergeant Andrews face become flush. The two of them fell out of our formation, walked around the first rank and stood closer to the drill sergeants. I couldn’t quite catch their faces as they moved to the front of the platoon. They spoke to Drill Sergeant Andrews quietly. I didn’t believe anyone else could hear what he was saying to them. Once the drill sergeants were finished speaking with them, they both shook their hands. The two private then simultaneously performed an about-face movement.

“These soldiers have achieved high scores in their physical fitness and warrior task and drill. They have shown outstanding leadership skills and performed above and beyond the army standard. Stand at ease!” he commanded.

On Drill Sergeant Andrew’s command, we all stood at ease in order to clap for the two of them. I barely put my hands together to clap. I clapped maybe three times slowly. Drill Sergeant Mayor stood staring directly at me while I held my hands clasped. I shot him a quick glare and focused back on the two wannabes. Carter stood before us with a smile from ear to ear across his masculine face while Price refused to crack a smile.

We were ready earlier than usual. Drill Sergeant Drake came stomping through our barracks to distribute our rifles to us at 0415 hours and everyone appeared to be zombies dressed in uniform. Although the majority of them pretended not to be tired, I knew they were. I could tell by their expressions.

After our weapons were tossed to us, we headed out into the crisp morning air. It was the quiet and still part of the morning when nature left a mist on the surface of everything. We were to take an MRE from the box that sat downstairs beside our formation and that was our breakfast. I absolutely hated MRE, but I was very willing to shove it down my throat in order to gain some energy. I snatched an MRE from the box, sat down in the second squad and proceeded to dig into it.

As I started eating, I began to suddenly feel like I could do it. It was almost as if a small flame inside of me finally became lit. Gladly, I retrieved the applesauce and what we all called ‘Jesus bread’ from the brown MRE bag. I devoured the applesauce and I began eating my slice of bread like I hadn’t eaten in days.

I caught Whitehead gaping at me while I ate my bread. Then I noticed Johnson and Curitan watching me too. I didn’t feel insecure by their disapproval, so I continued biting my bread. I dismissed them like I did every day. I needed to clear my mind of negativity. I had to get my mind strong and healthy, so I could successfully complete the road march. I was ready to get this crap out of the way and at least try to enjoy it.

I stood tall at the low ready position with my ballistic helmet, flack vest, LBE, two full canteens of water, and my M-16 rifle with the muzzle protector on it. I would take it easy no matter what. I would spend my time thinking of positive thoughts that would motivate me. Besides, the weather was nice and that made me feel confident that I was in God’s favor.

The great thing about Fort Jackson was that there were many different terrains. I decided to gaze at the scenic route in order to maintain my sanity. I convinced myself that the road march was nothing more than a nature walk. I moved along at a steady pace with the rest of the platoon and I spotted rodents that stood alert at the sound of foot soldiers shuffling through their habitat.

Out of the blue, Drill Sergeant Mayor gave the hand signal for us to halt. We all put up the hand signal and stopped at once. I could hear the sound of a motor coming from the rear. We moved nearer to the grass to leta HMMVpass us on the gravel road. The driver rode up from behind. My head turned to follow the traveling vehicle with my eyes. Drill Sergeant Mayor gave the hand signal for us to carry on and we all started marching while passing the signal along down the platoon.

Melodies played in my head to entertain me along the way. I thought about every motivating song I could. I played music over and over in my head mainly because it was silent among the platoon. No calling of cadence, no whispers and no shouted orders.

An hour later, we were still pacing along the gravel when the drill sergeants commanded us to halt. We were to take a knee to drink water and do our business off in the woods. The simple task seemed awkward without some kind of gender division. It felt embarrassing to be out in the middle of nowhere without a choice. Yet and still, I had to go. Who knew when I’d get the opportunity again? Therefore, there was no option for me to be a lady. I could only be a grunt. My stomach bubbled.

For the little bit of time we had, I scurried as far back into the woods as I could. I couldn’t walk too far back. I didn’t want to get left behind. I was running out of time. So I gave up on being discreet. I just picked a spot and it was there that I did my business.

As I stooped down, I could see all the others doing the same. If I could see them, they could see me. Therefore, I didn’t move far enough back into the woods. We only had about four minutes and I hadn’t packed wipes, but I’d already disposed my waste on the ground like an animal. I was so ashamed of myself. I highly doubted anyone was going to let me borrow a wet wipe. Nobody liked me. So, I just squatted right there feeling frustrated. I had nothing to use for wiping my a$$.

I heard footsteps approaching me. I glanced up and there was Chapman. She’d finished quickly, tiptoed over to me and handed me a wet wipe. I smiled at her and she smiled back at me. Chapman then hustled back up to her place in the line formation.

I heard the drill sergeant say ‘on your feet!’ while I was pulling up my BDU pants. I hurried through the brush and pine needles to get back to my place within the intervals. I ran as fast as I could and I felt like a featherweight as my arms cut through the air.

I stopped. Where’s my rifle? I shouted in my mind. I left it right there beside me, I thought. I turned and ran back in the opposite direction. All I could see wasbrushand grass. I heard them start to move out. Oh no! I thought. I searched right and then left. I slowly walkedupa little further, re-examining the open grass around me.

Squash! I stepped in human feces. That’s the last frickin’ thing I needed to happen, I thought. I kept moving, but I almost slipped forward. The fecal matter underneath my right boot was slowing me down. I began to look straight down at my feet. My heart was racing out of my chest because they were moving out without me.

I stood still for a moment to catch my breath. I was panicking. I peered over to my left and I finally eyed it in the high grass looking like a dead snake. I rushed over and snatched up my M-16 rifle firmly as if I were punishing the weapon for being lost. I turned and ran back to the open road without another concern about the feces on the bottom of my foot.

Drill Sergeant Andrews observed me running out of the high grass. His eyes shot me an evil glare. He used his index and middle finger to point to my eyes and then to his. Then he made another signal. He used on his index finger, drawing it back and forth, signaling for me to come to him. Quickly, I ran up to him. He didn’t stop marching forward and I knew that meant I had to pick up the speed. My thick short legs had to catch up with his long slender ones. I almost slipped and fell again as I tried to catch up with him. I could smell the bottom of my boot. I knew better than to run. He wanted me to march faster.

He pointed for me to stand between Butler and Chapman. I placed myself in front of Chapman and she fell back a bit so I could fall into the formation. I glanced to my side as I slide in front of her. I could see Clinton scolding at me with a hard grimace. I also spotted Price’s cold glare once I was in my proper place. She was marching way ahead of me and she actually turned her neck all the way around just to give me a cold glare.

After approximately three hours, the terrain had become muddy and full of puddles. The sun was no longer in sight. Like a ghost, it had appeared one minute and disappeared the next. Instead, dark clouds hovered over us like the sky was in a bad mood. The smell of fecal matter underneath my boot vanished and I was burning up hot, despite the weather. Sweat trickled down my forehead from underneath my ballistic helmet. I could feel sweat rolling down the arch of my back, just above where my behind blossomed. The weight of my flack vest was so heavy. I could only imagine what it must be like to carry a full rucksack.

Dear God,

I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m so lost. I’m about as lost as they think I am. The dark clouds are bringing me down. Lord, help me. What if they have to call the ambulance for me because I’ve passed out? Miller is no longer here.Countryis no longer here. Should I have gone too? God, please don’t let me fail out of this road march. These people think I’m weak. Lord, if I live my life in your name, I’m not weak. I want to change my life. I don’t want to sell my soul to the military. I want to stand for a purpose that’s not theirs. I will not let them see me defeated, Lord. I will do this in your name. Please help me to be graceful and true to you. I’m not proud of my sins. Lord, come down and save the world. Save us from our ways. Save us from ourselves and save us from the destruction of war . . .

We were marching through the sand and it was gaining on me, yet I had to persevere. Finally, Drill Sergeant Mayor gave the command for our platoon to come to a halt. We all stopped at once. I could see a platoon marching further ahead of us. I didn’t know what platoon it was, but I was sure it was Delta Company.

What was happening? I asked myself.

All of a sudden, I heard the sound of an ambulance. The sirens were drawing nearer and the noise called for our attention at the rear. I already knew we weren’t supposed to look back. In front of me, no one turned their heads to check and see what was happening in the rear because we all knew better. We had to stay in the proper position. Yet, I was worried. I swiftly turned my head to take a gander behind me. I caught sight of an ambulance, two paramedics, and a stretcher.

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