Against The Grain

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Chapter 2

I’d say about two hundred of us hopped off the bus line in front of the open courtyard. I hit the ground running, stumbling over a few pinecones here and there. We were all running around aimlessly, trying to figure out what to do next. The drill sergeants yelled at the top of their lungs. This was our first encounter with them, and this was the first time I’d laid eyes on Drill Sergeant Drake. She marched up to me like she wanted to fight. I could see that she had frizzy black hair like mine, but she wore her green Smokey the Bear hat and her crisp battle dress uniform better than the other drill sergeants. She appeared so neat and sharp in her attire. Her maple-colored face held a grimace like a pit bull; she barked orders at me as she moved nearer.

The ‘females’ were not to socialize with the ‘males.’ It was the very first rule I learned. We couldn’t even look at them. Everything was segregated by gender. Never in my life had I ever lived within the type of segregation that had quickly formulated right before my eyes. If us females were caught socializing with one of the males - they called it fraternization - we’d be in big trouble. Therefore, we all had to keep our heads in the game. We were collectively referred to as warriors, though I soon referred to them as wannabe soldiers in my head.

We trampled over each other, trying to get inside the company building that became known as our barracks. The concrete domain looked like a dark dungeon, only allowing the breeze to securely pass through. We were commanded to position ourselves on rows of parallel red lines. Collectively, we lined up into four separate platoons that made up Delta Company. We hurried to organize ourselves within our square platoon area.

They yelled for us to drop our duffle bags. Once we dropped our bags, they continued yelling at us, face to face, right on down the line—except for that one drill sergeant. He must have known his five-foot-five height wouldn’t intimidate most of us, so instead of yelling at us, he stood back in his sober disposition and gave us a strong stare down. It seemed as though his cold eyes were mostly glaring at me. I believe he did this because I kept yawning from total boredom. This is absurd, I thought. We haven’t even done anything wrong.

They yelled for us to retrieve our duffle bags again. Then they commanded us to file upstairs one squad at a time, the first row first and so forth. Us females were to head right and the males were to head left into each of our respective living quarters. We were to lay our bags on the red line upstairs and stand behind them. We weren’t to say a word to each other.

On their command, the first rows of each platoon headed up the stairwell shoving into each other along the way. Once us females were upstairs, I had to push my way into a spot on the red line. The rest of the females began talking to each other despite the drill sergeant’s instruction to be silent.

Twenty minutes went by slowly while I remained on my feet. Eventually, the drill sergeants came stomping through the double doors of the female barracks in a group of three. The wannabes shouted out ‘at ease’ and shifted into another stance, I mirrored them quickly. Drill Sergeant Andrews was the one with the sunny appearance and pointy nose. He marched through our bay like a policeman with his squad.

When the drill sergeant entered the room the majority of us shouted ‘at ease,’ and then we silently shifted our stance to parade rest. I didn’t know what parade rest was yet, so I quickly positioned myself to stand like everyone else.

The sergeants shouted for us to assemble into the push-up position. They called this, ‘front leaning arrest’. We all hovered down into front leaning arrest position to prepare for push-ups. I must have done nearly twenty push-ups on the drill sergeants’ drawn-out count before my arms were tired.

The drill sergeants permit us to ‘recover’ from that position and we were commanded back into parade rest again. We all maneuvered back into parade rest as if we’d been doing it for years. I learned that parade rest was a position that portrayed a level of respect. The stance was a form of surrendering to a higher authority. We stood tall with both our legs spread shoulder-width apart, holding our heads up and our hands intertwined in a cuff behind our backs.

The drill sergeants stomped down the line one more time, giving each last one of us a hard stare on down the red line. We stood at parade rest, waiting for them to give us the next preparatory command. They yelled at us to get back downstairs and into formation. We stepped out of parade rest and hurried out the double doors of the bay. The drill sergeants yelled out threats, warning us that we wouldn’t get a wink of sleep because we were moving so slowly. Commands like, ‘move!’ and ‘hurry up!’ echoed off the concrete walls of the barracks building on our way back downstairs.

In a matter of seconds, we stood in our platoon area with the rest of our company. Each of our sergeants patrolled their platoon. I’d heard the term reception used loosely among the sergeants and the random wannabes that surrounded me. I learned that we were only in the reception phase of training and we hadn’t been fully assigned to a company yet.

In no more than one minute, a deliveryman entered into our barracks through the breezeway. He carried a red dolly that he used to transport several large boxes. The deliveryman quickly slid his dolly away, leaving two tall stacks of large brown boxes. The drill sergeants then pushed over the boxes in the tall stack and let them drop to the ground before us. They kicked each of the boxes toward a formation. Each box was placed aside or in front of a single formation.

Once the boxes were opened, we were told to eat. Dinner is served, I thought. Some of us rushed over to the boxes like hungry wolves while others waited their turn. I could see some of the sergeants laughing and pointing at a few of the wannabes. Other sergeants threw our meals out to us.

Either way, we each received a packaged meal of Pringle’s chips, a can of Welch’s grape juice, a pack of Oreo or Chip Ahoy cookies and a pack of Chicken of the Sea tuna all on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. We were provided eight minutes to sit on the concrete ground and feed our faces once we all possessed a tray.

Drill Sergeant Mayor began to instruct us while we sat in our platoon formation eating our first meal. Basically, he yelled out orders and dared us to make the slightest gesture. He stood over us reciting nearly fifty rules that I couldn’t have memorized if I tried. Most of the rules were regulations about things we couldn’t do. I was already beginning to think the absolute worst of basic training.

“Where you from?” I asked, as I stood next to her bunk.

Her name was Dominique Brown. She was a solid framed, flawlessly brown skinned female. She had dark hair that remained combed back in a tight bun identical to the rest of us. She had to have been in her late twenties.

“I’m from Indiana.” Private Brown answered, with her chest poked out and head held high.

Her southern accent wasn’t too exaggerated. I could understand her.

“Where you from?” she asked, giving me a vertical rundown with her eyes.

“I’m from California.” I shared.

She smiled at me. Her bunk remained across from mine at the top.

Jessi Cutter would sleep on the bottom bunk under me while Myiesha Stevenson rested on the bottom bunk under Brown. Stevenson was just as solid as Brown, yet Stevenson was a lot more butch. If she had shaven her head, I would have mistaken her for one of the males. I, on the other hand, stood at five two weighing only one hundred and eighteen pounds. Cutter was a tall skinny white female with a deep southern accent. A sliver divided her pointy chin and her sunken in face held small brown freckles.

“You from Cali, huh?” Private Brown asked.

“You mixed with anything?” Private Brown asked, referring to my ethnicity.

I immediately became frustrated and I wanted to cringe.

“No.” I told her, plainly.

We spent several hours getting situated in the barracks while the drill sergeants put together a chore roster known as the fireguard schedule. All of us in training would have to pull a shift. We spent the majority of the time unpacking our government-issued belongings. Everything had to be placed in a particular order. A single blueprint of how our lockers were to be laid out was being passed around the female barracks.

We had to place a half-folded towel down flat on the shelf of our wall locker. We had to place our comb in the upper right-hand corner on top of the brown towel, our soap had to be in its case in the center of the towel, our toothbrush had to be within its holder on the left bottom corner with the tube of toothpaste, our deodorant had to be placed on the right-hand side directly under the comb and so forth, all illustrated on the blueprint. All these items had to remain neatly in their designated places every single day.

On our bunks, the blankets and sheets were to be rolled over exactly three inches apart from our pillows while the roll had to be four inches wide. Ourbeddingwas to be tucked snuggly under the mattress into what was called ‘candy corners’ and our blankets had to appear smooth and wrinkle-free.

Fortunately, I’d taken good notes from my bunkmate, Private Cutter. She showed me the proper way to prepare my bed. We were told to sleep on opposite ends of each other. If my bunkmate slept under me with her head north, then I slept with my head south. I slept on top of her feet and my feet remain on top of her head in our separate bunks.

The crowd of hungry wannabes awaiting breakfast chow grew louder by the minute. I could overhear the wannabes talking around me. The ones who had military parents expressed the most know-it-all kinds of attitudes. As I stood there in formation, I listened in on the conversations of those around me.

“ . . . The drill sergeant kicked the s#!% out of this one kid . . . ”

“ . . . My father’s a command sergeant major . . . ”

“ . . . Can’t wait for weapon’s qual, . . . ”

The one true thing that motivated them was their pride in the United States Army. Becoming a soldier meant everything to them. However, not one of us could have explained the absolute truth about anything in regards to the war or the politics behind it. Yet, we were all experiencing the effects of it in some way or another.

“At ease!” we all shouted at the sight of Drill Sergeant Drake.

Quickly, she provided us with a command.

“Leeeft—faace!”

Everyone obeyed the command and faced left simultaneously.

“When we march, we start on the left! Repeat after me!” she said.

“Whooah,” we all shouted out.

“You get in step, warriors! Whooah!”

“Whooah!” we shouted again.

‘Whooah’ had been the only acceptable response to any and every command thus far.

“Forwaarrrd—march!” she commanded, as she stood on the right-hand side at the center of our platoon.

“The army colors . . .” she sang.

“The army colors . . .” we repeated.

We began marching on the tune of the cadence.

Sergeant: The color is red

Platoon: The color is red

Sergeant: To show the world

Platoon: To show the world

Sergeant: The blood we shed

Platoon: The blood we shed

Sergeant: The army colors

Platoon: The army colors . . .

“Mark time—march!” the Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

We all marched in place and awaited the next command.

“Platoon, halt!”

We all came to an expected halt, ending with our left foot. Drill Sergeant Drake then called out a counter column command. I didn’t know what that command meant, but I had to follow along with the movements of the wannabes. Drill Sergeant Drake then arranged us into a single file line after she let us know how much we ‘suck’!

’Makewaaay!’

We’d repeat it throughout the formation so that everyone knew to move out of the way. All of us bumped into each other as we moved out of the drill sergeant’s path.

“I hate warriors! Move outta da doggone way, o’ weak bodies!” the overweight female drill sergeant hollered.

After she passed, we reassembled back into our single file line and continued to wait at the position of parade rest for our turn to eat.

We gradually moved along in line and I finally made it to the stacked trays. There was to be no talking in the chow hall. Yet, the chow hall remained noisy. I couldn’t make out the conversations of any of the drill sergeants because the sound of noise came from every direction. The sound of plates and silverware tapping against pots and counters made an echo in the defact as well. I couldn’t even hear myself think.

Finally, I received my food. We sat together at the long tables where we were provided eight minutes to eat. Luckily, the drill sergeants had to wait until everyone became seated before they could time us. No one talked; we only fed our faces. Some of us gagged on our food, while others held food in their mouths for later. Either way, we tried to get something into our bodies quickly because we all knew it would be time to get up just as soon as we sat down. I finished my eggs, half of my two pancakes and one sausage. Then I took one or two swigs of my orange juice.

Drill Sergeant Andrews suddenly sprang from his seat and just like that. Chow was over for us. The minute we stood up from the table, chewing, sipping or gulping was prohibited. We waited in another single file line to dump our trays off before we stacked them and exited the chow hall.

Outside, we assimilated into a formation over on the grassy mound. Our platoon quickly formed back together and I realized that their goal was to be the first platoon in formation ready to go. I could have enjoyed my breakfast a little longer. However, the weather made me feel like it was a nice day anyhow. We waited for nearly twenty long minutes before the drill sergeants nixed their conversations and marched us to our platoon area underneath our barracks.

We were commanded to construct a motto for our platoon to present before the company and start learning The Soldier’s Creed. The first one to get it memorized would be promoted to squad leader. But first, we were left outside as a platoon of thirty people to come up with a platoon motto. Everyone slowly drifted into their select social groups where they were most comfortable and they began talking amongst each other. Although we were all supposed to be one team and one fight, we were definitely divided in various ways.

After a few minutes, it seemed that there were only a couple of groups making any kind of progress. I could hear the majority of the groups around me just talking off subject, but I continued to remain silent. I had no suggestions for a motto. I just wanted to watch how everything would play out.

Drill Sergeant Mayor stepped back out of the office after nearly thirty minutes.

“At ease!” we shouted.

He held a wooden clipboard in his hand and a sober expression on his chocolate-colored face. Standing at five-five, he was the shortest drill sergeant I’d seen yet. Then I took a second speculation of his fierce stance and aggressive demeanor. I thought again.

Right then, he called us to attention and commanded to hear the motto. I knew my platoon hadn’t gotten anywhere in coming up with a motto. I hadn’t even attempted. I rolled my eyes around to glance at everyone I could see as I stood there in silence. Not one wannabe standing at attention spoke up for the platoon, so he repeated himself. Again, nobody took the initiative. He then threw his clipboard across the breezeway against the concrete setting. He began shooting commands out of his mouth like a bb gun placed on blast. He shouted commands faster than we could perform them.

I found myself in front leaning arrest for the second time since I’d gotten to training. By the twentieth push-up, my arms began shaking and I fell on the concrete as flat as a pancake, crushing my breast. As I inhaled the dusty dirt from the ground, I remained in astonishment.

We performed sit-ups after push-ups, close hand push-ups after sit-ups, crunches after close hand push-ups, and then we repeated the same thing all over again. We did that for about thirty to forty-five minutes before we were told to recover. The company area began to reek of odor from all of us sweating.

After we were smoked, as they called it, Drill Sergeant Mayor provided us with a motto for temporary use. ’Charlie, rock rock, whoowah’, was our motto for the meantime. The minute we recovered from front leaning arrest, the platoon cheered with pride for our platoon motto. Of course, going along with things, I cheered for the sake of having enthusiasm. I needed a reason to be cheerful after the smoking we’d just received.

“Platoon . . . Atten-hoon!”

“Charlie, rock rock, whoowah!” we shouted out, after shifting to attention.

In the afternoon, we were left alone in our respected platoon area again. This time we were to learn The Soldier’s Creed. Sergeant Blu had mentioned this creed to me. She reassured me that I’d learn it. We were to stand tall and proud at attention whenever we recited the creed.

“Are there any warriors who know The Soldier’s Creed and can recite it right now?” Drill Sergeant Drake asked as she paced back and forth in front of the formation.

Every recruit cried out, ‘whoowah’. Yet, only the loudest cry grabbed the drill sergeant’s attention.

“Whoowahh!” called out the loudest wannabes among the formation.

Drill Sergeant Drake marched through the ranks of the formation to approach the loudest wannabes. She approached him in her militant disposition while giving him a thorough rundown with her eyes and then she stared dead into his.

“Name!” Drill Sergeant Drake called.

“PFC Fleshman,” he stated.

“I said name not rank!” she replied.

“Go!” Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

“The Soldier’s Creed!” the wannabe began.

“I’m an American soldier. I’m a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the army values. I am disciplined—…”

He stopped.

The breezeway became so silent that we could all hear him breathing, speechlessly. Before ten seconds could exceed, Drill Sergeant Drake commanded the warriors, who’d just choked in the middle of the creed, to get down into front leaning arrest position and push. He bent down to push while everyone laughed at him. I was sure he felt humiliated by the appearance of his apple red face, yet his battle buddies continued to taunt him anyway. The wannabes threw pebbles from the breezeway at his hot and freshly shaved head while we all watched.

Now there were only four wannabes still willing to recite The Soldier’s Creed. She charged through the ranks and eyeballed the next confident wannabe. She marched, right up to him.

“Warrior!” Drill Sergeant Drake called to him.

“Recite The Soldier’s Creed for the rest of these ignorant jokas.”

The wannabes stood at attention and began to recite.

“I’m an—”

“Puushhh!” Drill Sergeant Drake interrupted.

“You forgot to say the title! It’s not called ‘I’m an American soldier’, warrior!” she yelled in his face.

He immediately took a step back, kneeled down and began pushing.

“Dats just it—you’re not an American soldier, yet!” she said, pacing back and forth in her old-fashioned leather combat boots.

Suddenly, the female standing at the position of parade rest in the squad furthest to the back of the formation dropped down into front leaning arrest without even being told. The next wannabe to cry out the loudest would have to face Drill Sergeant Drake’s evil stare just like the others.

She stepped up to him swiftly and eyeballed him as if she were sizing him up for a battle. I looked at the brawny black male’s thyroid and I could see him taking a large swallow. Drill Sergeant Drake wasn’t concerned about that. She faced him and commanded him to speak.

“The Soldier’s Creed!” he hollered out, proudly.

He poked his chest out with pride and he stood firmly in front of her.

“I’m an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the army values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, mentally and physically tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American soldier!” he shouted.

The creed seemed to have taken every bit of vocal strength left in him.

“Whoowah!” Drill Sergeant Drake shouted.

“Whoowah!” we all cheered for him, vigorously.

I felt proud of him. He’d faced a drill sergeant and came out on top.

“About time someone said it!” Drill Sergeant Drake shouted.

She finally let off of him and began to charge through the ranks of the formation.

“Every last one of you warriors should know The Soldier’s Creed.” She replied, as she marched out of our formation.

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