Against The Grain

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Chapter 19

It was hard to be a follower. Our platoon followed the given command and proceeded to march forward. Whatever happened to never leave a fallen comrade? I asked myself, as I waddled along with the rest of them.

“Walk up,McCoy.” Chapman replied.

“I’m going as fast as Ican.” I told her, quietly.

“Do you mind if I go in front of you?” she asked me, from directly behind me.

“No.” I replied.

Chapman swiftly cut in front of me. Then she glimpsed back around to make sure it was okay. I gave her a satisfactory smile and she shot a reassured one back to me.

Immediately, Private Erickson marched in front of both of us. He turned around and gave me the evil eye. I literally shrugged my shoulders so he could see me do it. He faced forward and shook his head from left to right. I shook mine right back. I’m over it! I thought.

Erickson faced forward and didn’t look back again. I could tell he was tired too. I could see his wet BDU top stuck to his back and arms. I could tell that his rucksack was full and heavy. It appeared voluminous on his masculine back. I wasn’t nearly as sweaty as him and when I acknowledged all of that it somehow made me feel better. I quickly became reassured that I wasn’t experiencing the hardship of the march alone. Therefore, I could continue on marching with a little more motivation.

Dear God,

Please help the one who probably fell out of this run. He may be hurt, but more than likely it’s probably a female like me. Please protect her and keep her in your loving arms, Lord Jesus! I ask that in your most precious holy name. I wish I were as strong as the males. It would help if I had some testosterone. Lord, I guess you made things fair. The males can’t carry children. Keep the presently unable bodies healthy so that they can make it in life and in war. Help me too, dear God. Don’t let that happen to me. Please don’t let me fall out! Times like this I remember how much I love my family. I miss them, dearly. Anytime I feel like I can’t go on, I can depend on the thought of my family. Lord, maybe it’s me who is not dependable. I assume everybody hates me because I can barely hold my own weight. Why is it so hard for me to get along and measure up to the army standard? Chapman is so kind to me. She could be my friend outside the military world. Lord, if you just pull me through this, I promise things will change. I’ll make a difference. I’ll try to mend my broken relationships. Lord, carry me. For I am weak, but you are strong . . .

Instantly, I noticed that our road march slowed down because we caught up with the platoon ahead of us. It wassecondplatoon that marched ahead of us who I couldn’t identify. Now they moved directly in front of us as we journeyed on out of the sandy terrain into another grassy field. I appreciated getting out of the sand. The sand made my feet feel like they had weights on them.

I held my head up and prospected ahead. I thought about all the others around me who could complete this road march. As I looked at the wannabes ahead of me, I felt like I could do it. I just kept moving, although my legs were on fire. It was hard not to concentrate on the aching of my limbs, but I did my best to stay in the positive.

A good two hours lapsed and I began sweating. My heartbeat sped up from all the negative thoughts that raced through my mind. I thought about the words I’d heard them say, . . . ‘I wanna kill somebody’ and I began to image killing someone. Immediately, I tried to get rid of that negative thought. I wanted to get back into my positive mode of thinking. I thought about how far I‘d come as I stepped over the big puddle of mud.

I held my rifle like a pointy sword in one hand and with the other, I reached to my side to pull my canteen out of its cover. I drank from the water in my canteen and the salty taste in my mouth washed away after one quick swig. I placed the canteen back into my left cover, buttoned it, and held my M-16 rifle properly at the low ready position. I only allowed positive thoughts to fill my mind in order to defeat the negative ones.

Dear God,

You told me that no weapon formed against me shall prosper. They taunt me and bring me through physical pain. Rise up, Lord and defeat my enemies. Protect me, dear Lord. I believe that I can do this! You would have never let me ended up here if it wasn’t in me to succeed. I will overcome with your help, dear Lord. Victory is mine! Victory today is mine! I won’t let them get the best of me. Lord, please don’t let them take my soul. I’m a soldier for you, dear Lord. Only you. I fight for you. I want to live right. I want to have discipline. I want to work hard. I want to be strong in your name. Lord, please send an angel to watch over me, dear Lord. Speak to my heart holy spirit. Don’t let discouragement get in my way . . .

We came to a halt. I twisted around to see the long line of wannabes behind me. However, the other platoons were not behind us yet. They still had to catch up. We’d finally made it to our destination. I became glad we finally made it to our destination. I was so grateful I wanted to fall to my knees and praise God. However, I wanted to go to sleep more than anything because I was tired. Up ahead of us was the vacant obstacle course. This was the Victory Forge training ground. It resembled a big park. Everything was made of wood and metal. I spotted ropes, monkey bars, barbed wire entrenches, and wide wooden ladders leading up to an open hut. I knew right away that we’d have to lounge off the hut to the dirt ground as an exercise. I reached for my canteen again. After four large gulps, I returned the canteen inside the cover and followed the wannabe in front of me.

This was not Disneyland to me at all. However, the drill sergeants made us all gander at it as if it were something special. I was only happy we’d arrived and I couldn’t wait to be able to get off my feet. The remainder of the company had not started the course without us and I didn’t see the other platoons anywhere in sight at the moment.

Our platoon was finally given the opportunity to eat lunch chow. Two one-ton had already been here waiting on us. One of them had our duffle bags and the other had our MREs. We were aligned into another 360formationand given nearly 15 minutes to eat our lunch. We formed up in front of the training course and I had the time to take in our new training environment as I sat on the grass with the rest of them. It wasdamp,but not as bad as it could have been. I couldn’t complain. We were sitting. I was just glad we’d finally made it to our training post and the road march was over. I’d just completed the first half of the last major road march.

After lunch, wewere dividedinto Alpha and Bravo team again. I was a part of Bravo team. Nothing had changed; it was just the same old story. We were to get with our battle buddy teams and set up our hooches. I sauntered up to Kunert who continued talking to Butler. When Kunert saw me coming she quickly turned her back to me. I just stood next to her with my M-16 rifle still at the low ready position. I didn’t really feel like dealing with her.

I noticed the other platoons passing our designated area to reserve their own space a couple of meters apart from us. We were never to directly go socialize with the other platoons. We were often in competition with them.

Next, the drill sergeants sent the platoon leaders to throw out our duffle bags from off the one-ton truck. I kept the combination lock that belonged on my duffle bag in my BDU pocket just to ensure I had it. Often times, there was so much to remember. I carried our carrots and TA fifty cord in my duffle bag. We needed that equipment to build our hooch. We used the carrots as if they were nails and we could use the TA-50 cord for anything.

Private Kunert came over and rushed me to find my duffle bag once she found hers. I told her to ‘shut the hell up’ as I looked. Once I spotted my duffle bag, I slug my rifle on my back and took my sweet time about reaching down and retrieving it. Everything was in my duffle bag minus my pillow. After we all collected our duffle bags, Price informed us of where to set up our hooches.

I had to empty out all of my equipment and personal belongings on the cold dirt ground, searching for our carrots. Kunert complained the entire time. ‘Hurry up!’ was the only response she’d gave since our bags were dumped off the one-ton. I didn’t rush. Instead, I took my sweet time. Once I spotted the carrots, I snatched them up and then I attempted to put all my belongings back in my duffle bag. She quickly snatched one of them out of my hand and made the others fall to the ground. I gaped at her contemptuously. Kunert proceeded to take over the task and I snatched the carrots back out of her hand.

“Look for your poncho!” I insisted.

She sighed out of frustration and began opening her duffle bag. Quickly, she pulled out her poncho and threw it on the ground.

“There!” she spat.

“How hard was that, McCoy! All you had to do was frickin’ look for it!” she yelled at me as loud as she could.

The other wannabes were looking at us, as usual. I stood there silently putting my stuff in my duffle bag, trying not to let her scare away my good spirit.

“’Causeyou’re an idiot!” she continued.

Like lightning, I rose and bashed her in her head with the single orange carrot I’d held in my hand. Clinton and Blackstone saw me hit her with the carrot. They looked at me with dismay. Clinton shook her head, daring me with her eyes to step over there nearer to them. I grimaced back at Kunert’s bright red face. Instead of another snappy response, she became silent. I threw down the carrots and she continued putting together our hooch.

On our platoon leader Price’s command, we began digging our foxholes. I tried my best to move my foxhole as far away from Kunert’s as I possibly could. It suddenly began to pour rain and it was like the clouds above had burst open and began dumping pails of water over our heads. Luckily, our duffle bags lay flat inside the hooch Kunert had put together.

I dropped my shovel and dashed over toward the flashlight that Kunert had deemed her private property. She watched me do this quickly while she stood getting wet in the rain. I scurried toward the hooch, as if I didn’t want to get wet. Then I began searching for my wet weather poncho in my duffle bag while Kunert kept digging.

She didn’t have her poncho because it was being used for the hooch. However, we were supposed to pack our wet weather gear. She must not have had it, yet I didn’t hear a peep out of her about it. I found my poncho between my BDU and wet weather bag. Our ponchos had been passed down throughout every cycle of basic training and they smelled like disinfectant. I forced my head through the jacket and proceeded to shovel. The poncho remained scratchy and the plastic material around the collar had begun to peel. My neck felt as if it would break out in hives. It itched like crazy.

I started digging my foxhole as if I had earphones in my ear. I tuned out all the wannabes and I tried to meditate while I dug. I was actually enjoying the rain. It was beautiful to me. The rain was like a calming wash in a quiet storm. It was a nice southern rain, a shower of bubbled droplets that happened abruptly and ended delicately.

I dug myfoxhole,so it wouldn’t be too deep. I didn’t want a hole full of water. However, I did want to be able to lay here and rest comfortably if they made us pull guard here again, like during white sticks.

Just then, I overheard Price explain to Private Chapman that we’d have hot dinner chow. I was so happy to hear that. It was like music to my ears. Hot dinner chow, yum!

The rain stopped pouring down just as easy as it startedlikeI expected. I didn’t worry about Kunert because the weather was freezing. It was stiff and humid. It was a quick heavy shower. It only poured rain for a good five minutes. Thanks to the rain softening the ground, it took me a good thirty minutes to dig my perfect foxhole fit for only my body.

Then I overheard Carter talking to Whitehead. He informed him that Bravo team would be in the rear, facing north. We were on guard while Alpha team loaded onto the HMMVs that had just arrived for the convoy.

Private Kunert had not finished digging her foxhole when Whitehead began yelling at her to move out. Kunert put back on her LBE and recovered her rifle from under the hooch. She hurried and moved out.

I, on the other hand, scanned my eyes around to see what Bravo team was doing whileAlphateam moved out on the convoy. Most of the females were still digging their foxhole while others were talking amongst each other. I stepped in my snug foxhole and prepared to sleep. My flack vest remained warm from my body heat. I made sure my ballistic helmet remained pulled down over my eyes so no one could see them. My riflerestin the dirt only a few inches away from the dirt mound I’d created. I snatched my M-16 and held it facing north. It remained snug in the pit of my arm after I positioned myself in prone unsupported. My cheek pressed against the stock of the weapon. I was comfortable in that position.

“Get up, McCoy,” Price called to me, moseyed along toward me.

“You not finish diggin’ your foxhole!”

I removed my face from resting against the weapon and I turned my neck around to glare at Price, who stood directly beside me. I then turned back around and lie back down on my weapon as if she wasn’t even talking to me.

“McCoy, you lazy f*$%!” Private Green yelled, from two foxholes down.

I didn’t respond to either of them. I deliberately ignored them. I didn’t need them. I had just passed one of the critical points of basic training and I was going to make it out of here whether I listened to them or not. I lie there and a cadence played in my head:

One by one, now we’re having some fun

I’m on profile all day and all of the night.

Two by two, I don’t know what to do

I’m on profile all day and all of the night

Three by three, I fell and broke my knee

I’m on profile all day and all of the night . . .

After dinnerchow, Bravo team proceeded to take on the convoy. We rough stepped to the front of our perimeter where the instructor stood a few feet away. Private Carter led the way over toward the instructor and everyone wandered over and crowded nearer to him.

We stood leisurely around him, awaiting our transportation as he smiled and began talking to us. The instructor was not one of our company drill sergeants. He was an instructor who I’d never seen. He was a dark male who appeared to be very muscular as I could see his muscle definition through his BDU top. He appeared in his late thirties or early forties. He held a buoyant and lively character. However, he looked as if he’d taken a bath in baby oil. His sweaty face shined in the light of the sun and his eyes were wide like Private Reed’s. The two of them resembled each other, as if they could have been father and son. The instructor also had big bright pink lips that stood out on his dark face. The instructor never introduced us with his name, but it didn’t matter because it was there on his uniform. I read the name Harris on his BDU top as he told us a few catchy phrases and silly jokes.

An uncovered one-ton truck arrived with a sergeant driver. Sergeant Harris commanded us to load up onto the empty one ton. We all marched over towards it and I watched as our instructor quickly hopped to the truck. I quickly jumped on the one-ton just as I’d seen the instructor do. My body was aching and I hated standing on my feet. I sat comfortably. Suddenly, Private Green shoved himself onto me.

“Hey!” I snapped.

“Then move your fat ass over!” he snapped back.

I moved over some.

“Scoot over!” Private Blackstone and Private Green yelled.

I moved all the way down so that Private Green and Private Blackstone could get into the truck.

We began to move out quickly.

Soon, we came upon an open field where we stopped. Drill Sergeant Harris spoke to us about crossing a danger zone. I vaguely remembered the information from white sticks. However, the difference was that we were on convoy verses being on foot. We continued on through the open field. We traveled through woods of tall sycamore trees and other ones with dark trunks. In his lecture, I could really hear vigor in his tone of voice. He wasn’t boring.

As we moved along the gravel path he told us to imagine that we were in the city of Al Kut, as if we’d already visited. He didn’t elaborate about the setting. He only told us that the city was full of people. We eventually drove upon a fake IED planted in our street likepath.

We stopped and Drill Sergeant Harris hopped out of the one-ton and began to lecture us. The IED was a Pepsi soda can and it appeared like a dusty drink. The can was smudged with dirt and it seemed odd or displaced. He went over and bent down to grab the IED from off of the ground. Right then, he popped back up unexpectedly and peered back over at us.

‘Pow! Boom!’ he said, emphasizing the mishap of a single mistake.

Drill Sergeant Harris reached back down, picked up the can and began to lecture about it.

He explained that he and his men would find constructed bombs planted in the ground or disguised in plain sight. He told us that we could also find other types of strange explosives prompted together.

He reminded us to stay alert and stay alive. Vigilance was the key he told us. He began sharing more of his experiences in Iraq. He briefed us about what kinds of action to expect while on a convoy. We all hopped back on the truck as the driver proceeded on with the convoy.

We moved out further as the driver accelerated over the uneven ground. We all tried to hold ourselves in place to keep from bumping around in the back of the one-ton. The wannabes were quiet and we all listened to what Drill Sergeant Harris had to say.

The next prompt that was placed in our path was a plastic dummy casualty. The dummy was prompted against the pine tree trunk and it held a red patch on its leg that resembled blood. We were instructed to load the dummy into the one-ton and pull a 360 around the perimeter. Private Blackstone and Reed attended to the casualty while we turned and watched. We completed a nine-line medevac and then our team constructed a tourniquet for the dummy. After that, we construct various two-man carrying positions in order to transport the casualty to safety.

On Drill Sergeant Harris’ command, we were to load back up on the one-ton. We drove off to the next training site. Drill Sergeant Harris briefed us at various sites while we moved through the task. The convoy lasted about five miles in a circle before we were taken back to the entrance of our dwelling perimeter. Never did he ask if we had any questions subsequent to his briefing. His block of instruction was not nearly as dry as most of the other drill sergeants. Immediately, after we got back to our starting point, I jumped out of the one-ton with everyone else. Now both Alpha and Bravo teams had completed the convoy.

I woke up feeling like I couldn’t bear another day of field training. Morning came too soon and the air was freezing once I opened my sleeping bag. As we assembled into formation I knew today would be an ugly day and I didn’t want to be outside in all of it. We were to bein formationat the center of our perimeter in a few minutes. I made it toformationon time. No one ever missed accountability formation.

“First squad. All present, all accounted for.” Private Carter reported.

“Second squad. All present and all accounted for.” Private Price reported.

“Third squad. All present and all accounted for.” Private Erickson reported.

“Fourthsquad. All present and all accounted for.” Private Kennis reported.

“Sick call! Who’s going to sick call?” Drill Sergeant Andrew asked.

“I’m going to sickcall.” I called out, raising my hand.

“We don’t raise our hand!” Private Price shouted at me.

“Damn!” she shouted.

“You’d think you’d get it by now!”

I only looked at her and smiled as I kept my hand raised anyway.

“Of course, McCoy’s going to sick call.” Private Johnson taunted.

I smiled at him and Price, making sure theyseenmy pretty white teeth. Neither of them had pretty white teeth. It wasn’t in their genes.

“Yep, I’m going to sickcall.” I said, with some enthusiasm.

“I need to go to sick call, too.” Private Clinton intervened.

“Me too.” Private Carter confessed.

“I got an ear infection and a sore throat.” Private Carter called out for everyone to know.

“Take care of that and hurry back.” Drill Sergeant Andrews said to Carter.

“Yes, Drill Sergeant.” Private Carter answered.

Drill Sergeant Andrews looked at him seriously as though he was concerned.

We fell out of the formation and formed our own until we were redirected to the ‘sick call’ van.

“As soon as we’re dismissed, I want you to go change. Hurry back to this very spot. You hear me, McCoy?” he asked me.

“Yeah, I hearyou.” I said to him.

After we were dismissed, I walked toward my hooch to do just as he’d said.

Once at the hospital, I stood in that long line for the nurse to check my vitals. Luckily, being around sick patients in the hospital didn’t bother me. I silently thanked God that I wasn’t one of them. The funny thing about it was that I hadn’t really been sick for the entire duration of my training. Going to the hospital on ‘sick call’ was only a getaway and an opportunity to possibly eat the cake behind the dessert window at their cafeteria.

After our vitals were checked, we moved to the atrium. Everything had been working out for my best interest so far. Carter was nice to me and Clinton didn’t have a crew to entertain her foolishness. She was also a few wannabes behind me, so I didn’t have to be bothered with her.

I felt comfortable in the hospital as I waited on a doctor. The wait was so long. I didn’t get seen until after lunchtime once again.Finallyaround1345a doctor saw me. I walked into the doctor’s office where I was directed. I was hoping to see Dr. Coon, but it wasn’t like I could request a specific doctor. I’d see whatever doctor they’d provide me.

Instead of Dr. Coon, I met a female doctor. Her skin appeared dark brown and even upon her face. Dr. Brooks was her name. Her face was so full. Her eyes were shaped like two grapes and her cheeks were round and plump. She had a wide smile and thick full lips. Her lips appeared like the color ofa plumand her stands of hair were tiny curls that made up a big afro on her head. She looked like someone I’d previously met.

“Good afternoon, Private McCoy,” she cheered.

I sat erect on the recliner the very minute she entered the room with that candid smile on her face. She shut the door softly behind her.

“What seems to be the problem?” sheasked,before I could greet her.

She put her Playtex gloves on her brown hands and short French manicured fingernails. I examined the rounded tips of her fingernails from where I sat on the brown leather recliner in her office. Her fingernails were like those of a mature woman. I guessed that she was in her late forties or early fifties. Something about her presence put me at ease right away.

“My back and my legs are throbbing. I ache and I’m moving slow.” I explained to Dr. Brooks.

“You think you could put me on profile?” I asked.

“I don’t wanna run or jog. I ache badly. We just did our road march.” I admitted.

I hadn’t done that much explaining since I had been at basic training.

“It could be tendinitis. However, you have to get through basic training. I want you to tough it out and pass,” she told me.

“Still I’ll put you on med quarters and I can give you a no running or lifting profile for two days. Then you have to get back at it. I’ll give you some Flexeril for the pain. Now tell me where it hurts.” Sheasked,as she got up to touch my sore areas.

“It’s in my lowerback.” I told her.

“My calves hurt too.”

“I just feel a lot of tension in mymuscles.” I explained.

“You may want to do some stretches every hour and take one Flexeril every eight to ten hours for the pain. I will give you a week supply of Flexeril. You’re not to share this medicine with anyone. Do you understand me?” Dr. Brooks asked me.

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered.

I tried not to smile about her clemency. She was providing me great relief.

“Thank you, you’re merciful. If you only knew.” I told her.

“I’m a soldier! A second lieutenant in the regular army. I have been to desert storm twice and Iraq once. Believe mesistah, I know. You’re stronger than you think.” She encouraged.

Tears welled up in my eyes and scurried down my cheeks before I could stop them.

“You just need to hang in there. Time will pass before you know it. Just don’t give up. The military is too easy. You’re intelligent and well mannered. You can do this! Don’t let them get the best of you. They’re just giving you a hard time. You’re a soldier!” she stated, raising her voice.

She wrote out the prescription and then dismissed me from her office.

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