Against The Grain

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Chapter 21

Drill Sergeants: Ahh one, two, three, four!

Company: Shoot ’em in the head, shoot ’em in the head! Kill ’em!

Drill Sergeants: Ahh one, two, three . . .

Company: You got to re-load and shoot ’em again!

Drill Sergeants: I hear the choppers hovering

Company: I hear the choppers hovering

Drill Sergeants: Their hovering overhead

Company: Their hovering overhead

Drill Sergeants: They come to get the wounded

Company: They come to get the wounded

Drill Sergeants: They come to get the dead

Company: They come to get the dead

Drill Sergeants:Airboor-oor-oor-oorne

Company: Airboor-oor-oor-oorne

Drill Sergeants: Ranger, ranger, rang leads the way

Company: Ranger, ranger, rang leads the way

Drill Sergeant Andrews: Left . . . Left . . . mark time march!

Drill Sergeant Fisher: What do we do when we’re marking time?

Company: I say we dress and cover, dress and cover

We had the opportunity to align ourselves properly while we moved into place.

Drill Sergeants Andrews: Platoon, halt!

Third Platoon: Stop! Freeze! Nobody move, nobody gets hurt, Drill Sergeant!

Our company was then directed to stack our weapons. We created a stand of weapons right next to where each of our platoons formed. Our stacks appeared like teepees with the stock of our weapons titled at an angle on the ground, leaning in all together and meeting at the pipe muzzle tip.

Firstplatoon filed onto the bleachers first. I glanced around, noticing the portable bleachers were set up like a Greek theatre. Drill Sergeant Beacon gave the command for the wannabes to file in by columns.

“Column right, march!” Drill Sergeant Beacon commanded.

After all the platoons were filed into the five sets of bleachers we were to begin the training under the gray clouds. I would try my best to absorb the information. I figured we’d have some type of hands-on training and I didn’t want to be lost.

“Good morning, Delta Company!” the course instructor greeted.

“Good morning, Sergeant!” our company called out.

“I’m Sergeant Taylor and this is my counterpart Sergeant Adiche. The first block of instruction I will be giving is on the universal signs for choking and how to address a casualty that’s choking.” She began.

Sergeant Adiche placed an adult size plastic dummy in front of her on a cot. She picked the lightweight dummy up and adjusted the arms. The combat lifesaver placed both the dummy’s open palms around its neck.

“This is the universal sign for choking,” she began.

“When a casualty is choking the first step is to evaluate the blockage. Without touching the casualty we must first ask the casualty if they are choking. If the casualty is choking than they will not make a sound. However, they will look like they are trying to cough. When the casualty is silent then you know there’s a complete blockage. If it’s only partial blockage then the casualty can speak and they may cough forcefully,” the instructor replied.

Her voice carried throughout the tinplate shade. I didn’t need to ask a person if they were choking, I’m certain I can sense when a person is choking, I thought. She explained to us the abdominal thrust. We were to make a fist with one hand and place the thumb side of our fist on the midline of the dummy’s stomach above the belly button. The motion was quick and an upward. I had performed the Heimlich maneuver on another person before, so I knew what I was doing already.

“The first step with mouth to mouth is to ask the casualty if they’re okay.” Sergeant Adiche echoed her.

The first step that the instructor explained caused my mind to dig further into the scenario. If I saw someone on the ground looking dead with both their eyes closed then they are probably not okay, I thought. What would I look like asking someone lying unconscious if they’re okay? If it were me, I’d lightly tap their shoulder. Then I would check their pulse. If they have a pulsethanit’s okay to perform mouth-to-mouth. I could just see one of these stupid sergeants or wannabes performing mouth to mouth on a dead body.

“ . . . Third, you will lift the casualty’s chin upward using your fingertips. Then lightly press their forehead backward with your other hand,” he replied.

I noted that the instructor used the word; ‘casualty’ a lot and I’d become frustrated. It’d grown terribly trite. So I just automatically began to space. It was like my mind didn’t want to listen to it.

We were called to a break and I was glad. I stood up and stretch and drank some water from my canteen. The wannabes seemed to be enjoying the five minutes that we were allowed to talk to each other and move around in the bleachers. The most we could do was stand in place or switch seats while we were stationed on the bleachers. I didn’t talk to anyone. I was tired and I was getting sleepy. I could tell I wasn’t the only one who wanted to just get this obstacle out of the way. I didn’t worry because I already knew how to perform the Heimlich maneuver and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. I was taught this already as a child and I was surprised that the wannabes were so far behind that they didn’t know.

Each platoonwas distributeda dummy for training and we remained in our separate platoon sectors. We assembled in line under the tinplate as directed. Drill Sergeant Drake stood with a clipboard and a red pen. I was approximately the fifteenth wannabe in our platoon’s line. Private Chapman was the very first wannabe to take on the challenge. She looked nervous and her eyes grew bucker than ever. I knew it took a good amount of guts to be the first one to perform the task, especially in front of everyone.

Before Drill Sergeant Drake proceeded, she commanded us to turn around and face the other direction while we stood in line. Our platoon turned our backs to Chapman, who was preparing to get tested. Somehow, the wannabes still found a way to communicate, despite the fact that we had to stand in line without facing each other. I didn’t have a desire to talk to the majority of them.

Yet, I could hear Clinton and Blackstone’s loudmouths running. They began laughing and joking around. Kennis and Kunert also stood ahead of me. They whispered quietly to each other, slightly turning their heads to catch the other’s quick glimpse. Butler and Mendez were also talking while the drill sergeants were quietly testing Chapman.

Drill Sergeant Beacon fromfirstplatoon hollered out ‘Quiet!’ from the short distance he stood away from our platoon and his voice carried strong and far. Everyone in the entire company area became quiet.

Before not too long it was my turn. It took about twenty minutes for me to get to the front of the line. On Drill Sergeant Drake’s command, I turned around to face her. Her next command ordered me to walk over and kneel on the mats in front of the dummy that lay on the right side of her. She looked at me sternly with her Smokey the Bear headgear and pressed uniform. She squinted her eyes as if she had trouble seeing clearly. I anticipated what she was going to say. She placed her hands on her hips.

“What is the first step when a casualty is choking?” she asked me, with her eyes squinted.

“Ask them if they’re okay?”

“What’s the next thing you do, McCoy?”

“Do the Heimlich maneuver?” I answered.

“Proceed to demonstrate,” she said with her right fist on her hip.

I proceeded on and did everything just as I was told. I knew I mocked the combat lifesavers demonstration exactly to a tee. Then I watched as Drill Sergeant Drake made a note on her clipboard. She continued on with her questionnaire.

“When a casualty is laying on the ground unconscious what do you do?”

“Ummh, I ask them if they’re okay?” I asked.

“Demonstrate,” she replied, using her index finger to direct my focus toward the dummy.

I proceeded to open the dummy’s mouth.

“Halt!” she shouted at me.

She snatched her bloody red pen across the paper on her wooden clipboard. She then used her entire arm to direct me over to where Drill Sergeant Mayor stood. I got up off my knees and walked over slowly.

“Hurry up, McCoy, we ain’t got all day.” Drill Sergeant Mayor retorted.

“You snooze, you lose,” he replied.

“Get over here and beat your doggone face!” he said, with a grin.

I was convinced that was his favorite phrase. I got down in front leaning arrest position next to Private Fleshman while the drill sergeant talked trash over me.

“McCoy, are you retarded?” Drill Sergeant Mayor asked me.

“You the most ate up soldier Idoneseen at Fort Jackson! I’m surprised you still here!”

I just looked down at the dirt ground. A part of me wanted to cry, but the strength in me wouldn’t allow me to do it. I performed my push-ups right next to Fleshman. On his left was Diaz, and on Diaz’s left was McCarthy, and on McCarthy’s left was Fluentez. None of the females were over here, except for me. Drill Sergeant Mayor kept us in the push-up position for a good ten minutes. He told us to push until he became tired.

I’d already reached muscle failure. My shoestring arms were sore from lugging around my M-16 rifle during the march. I was physically present, but my mind drifted heavily.

“Recover!” Drill Sergeant Mayor replied to all of us.

We had to stand there until everybody else was done. We had to stand there so that everyone could look at us. I had to admit I was never that great at following directions or taking orders, but I would have to learn.

On their second time around Williams, Diaz, McCarthy, andFluentezpassed the test. It was my last chance to step up to the plate, listen and follow specific directions. My palms were sweaty and my flack vest felt heavier than usual. I wanted to snatch out every strand of hair in my head with my bare fingers, but my ballistic helmet got in the way. I felt like they were all looking at me though they weren’t. They were too busy socializing with one another. I also felt like they were all talking about me because I was the last one and everything boiled down to me and this particular part of training was a requirement. Therefore, I had to pass it.

Private Clinton was scolding me with her eyes from where she stood in line. I could see her scowl and smirk. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. I wanted it to rain. I wantedrainto pour from the sky immediately. I wanted it to storm all over them. I wanted it to pour down raining so hard that nobody could concentrate on me any longer. All I needed was one of those big black clouds above to burst.

“McCooy,” Drill Sergeant Drake called out.

I heard the bass of her deep and gothic voice. She sounded like a demon. I watched as venom squirted from her mouth.


I heard her words in slow motion. I felt nauseous. Slowly, I stepped forward toward the drill sergeants and the dummy. I kneeled onto my knees while every last one of the wannabes hawked at me. Their eyes glowed like balls of fire and sharp fangs hung out of their mouths. They were like demons watching me. The heat rose around me and I could feel it getting hotter. My heartbeat elevated into a wild rhythm that pounded in the core of my chest. Passing out would have been a great option, yet I couldn’t do it.

“McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Drake called again.

At the sound of my name, I glanced up at Drill Sergeant Drake.

I snapped out of it and slowly walked on up to my challenge. I approached the dummy and suddenly something shifted. It seemed that a flame sparked inside of me. I let go of the stress. The heat cooled to an icy feeling and I was somehow numb and confident.

“What is the first step when evaluating a casualty that’s choking?”

“Ask them if they’re okay.”

“Proceed to ask the casualty if they’re okay, McCoy.” She retorted.

“Are you okay?” I whimpered at the dummy.

I overheard Blackstone and Clinton laughing at me.

In the background, I overheard Clinton say, ‘stupid!’

My eyes remained fixed on the dummy until Drill Sergeant Drake spoke further. I felt defeated and there was nothing I could do about it, but stare at the dummy. I felt like more work was being performed on me than the plastic body. I was the dummy.

My eyes almost welled up with tears, but I cleared my throat and forced the tears back into my head with every ounce of strength inside of me. Drill Sergeant Drake paused for what seemed like an eternity while I stood segregated.

“What’s the next step in this procedure?”

“Perform the Heimlich maneuver?” I asked.

She glared at me, strangely.

“Proceed.” She informed.

I did just as I’d done the first time. I was confident that I did that part right. I felt a pinch of strength move back into my throat so I could speak.

“Alright, now when performing C-P-R, what’s the first step?”

“Ask them if they’re okay?” I asked.

She only looked at me, plainly. About ten seconds went by before I realized she wanted me to turn and talk to the dummy again like it was alive. I could’ve slapped her for making me talk to this stupid dummy a thirdtime,as if the first and second times weren’t bad enough. I asked the dummy if it was okay as if this stupid piece of plastic were going to ever respond back to me.

“Now proceed,” she said.

“Don’t actually put your mouth on the dummy.” Sheexplained,as if I were stupid.

I didn’t look up at her because I didn’t want to see her disapproving snare looking back at me. For a second, everything else around me went dark. It was just the dummy and I. Nothing else mattered.

My knees began to feel uncomfortable. The beat of my heart was loud in my ears. I pretended to be in the classroom again. I was with my teacher and she was nice to me. She guided me. I placed my index and middle finger on the chin of the dummy and pressed downwards with my left hand on the forehead of the dummy. I opened its mouth. I actually wanted to keep going, but I forgot for a split second what came next. So, I just took a deep breath and remembered that this wasn’t timed. No action was stilla goodaction. Then it hit me like a splat of bird s#!% on top of my head. Look inside to see if it’s clear! I thought. So I looked inside the dummy’s mouth and said, ‘all clear’.

“Good, proceed,” she replied.

Finally, I’d received a positive response coming from Drill Sergeant Drake and it was the very first time. I didn’t place my mouth on the dummy. I just blew air out of my mouth loud enough for her to hear it. I positioned myself on top of the dummy and pumped the dummy’s chest with both hands intertwined directly under its ribcage.

“Go!” Drill Sergeant Drake finally announced.

I spotted someone out of my peripheral vision making dramatic movements.

“I got a go?” I asked, looking up at her.

“Ain’tdatwhat I just said,” she snapped.

“Move out!” she ordered.

Chapman ran over and wrapped her arms around me as soon as I stood up from the testing area. The drill sergeants said nothing to her about her running over to me either. We hugged for a brief minute and I spotted Clinton and Blackstone pushing in front leaning arrest while Drill Sergeant Andrews stood over them. I overheard him yelling at them to ‘shut the hell up next time’. Chapman separated from my hug and we headed back to the bleachers where everyone stood around.

“I’m so proud of you, battle,” she started.

“I knew you could do it!”

I began to smile at Chapman because she always treated me good. Whenever I was around her I felt a sense of relief. It was a reason to remember that God and goodness existed. We walked over into the crowd of wannabes and I became excited about being around Chapman’s positive energy.

The entire company was called toformation. We formed into platoons and emerged into a segregated company formation. Then we began to move out as a company. We marched up to the exit of the gated arena and pushed through it by columns. We were guided into the open field full of dry dust and remained in alignment byplatoon.Firstplatoon stood first in line for lunch chow. We all waited until it was our turn to file into a line by squads. We assembled into segregated circles where we were to sit and eat hot chow with our platoon.

When I finally received my meal I sat myself down without any attention to my surroundings. I focused on the food in front of me. We were given grilled chicken marinated in sweet and sour sauce with wild rice and string beans. The caterers gave each of us two pieces of chicken with purple Gatorade to drink. I sat next to Chapman and Butler for lunch chow.

“I’m proud of you, McCoy! You did it!” Private Butler cheered, as she moved closer to Chapman and me.

“I was so nervous when I got up there in front of the drill sergeant, I thought she was going to fail me, you know.” Private Butler elaborated.

I loved her Mexican accent.

“Were you scared?” Private Chapman asked, looking over at me.

“You looked scared,” she admitted.

“But you did those push ups like they were a piece of cake. I hate doing push-ups.” Private Chapman replied.

I stuck my fork in the piece of chicken on my plate and pulled the whole piece up to my mouth and bit into it.

“Yeah, me too. It hurts my arms. My arms have been hurting since I’ve been here.” Private Butler pleaded.

“No, I wasn’t scared. It’s just this problem I been having with anxiety since I been here.” I confessed.

I placed my plastic fork on my plate and rubbed the knot in my neck and top shoulder. I wanted to take off my flack vest, but I knew the drill sergeants or maybe even wannabes would have something to say about it.

“Yeah, like nervous energy.” Private Chapman acknowledged.

“Me too.” They both said simultaneously.

I smiled at both of them because they were being honest with me. I wasn’t alone.

“Especially when she had me talking to that dummy . . . oh, I thought I was gonna loose my mind.” Private Butler convinced.

I cracked a smile while Butler and Chapman cracked up laughing. Then I began to laugh because seeing them laugh lifted my spirits. I felt stress peeling off my neck and shoulders, layer by layer.

“What we gonna do next, Chapman?” Private Butler asked.

“We’re gonna start going over how to apply field dressings and tourniquets,” she explained. “Don’t worry Price said we’ll be doing this one altogether. We’re able to get in groups this time.”

“ThankGod.” I mumbled.

I turned and began to walk over to the trash to discard the last left over scratches of food on my plate. Private Price stood still, eyeballing me, as I walked over to trash my garbage. She then proceeded over in my direction.

“You’re going on weapons guard so Private Fluentez can recover and eat chow. You’ll be on extra duty tonight too,” Price informed me.

She turned and eased away.

Then suddenly, she turned back around to face me.

“Aye, McCoy, don’t f@*$ up on anything else! You’re a weakling and you’re bringing us down.”

I just looked at her expressionlessly as she turned and walked off.

I went on like I didn’t hear anything. I started sauntering over to the weapons and I spotted Chapman’s bright smile. I’d noticed her during the C-P-R evaluation too. She was the one jumping out of her seat with excitement. Chapman began smiling at me and I believe she was trying to help lift my spirits. I must’ve appeared as down as I felt. I hated these wannabes. I moved along and Chapman stopped me.

“Hey,battlewe haven’t been dismissed yet.” Private Chapman stated, stopping me in my tracks.

“Where you goin’?” she asked.

“I have to go pull guard over the weapons so I can relieve Fluentez.” I called out to her as I stepped backward.

I took another step back and stepped on Clinton’s black boot. I quickly turned around for fear it was a drill sergeant.

“You got one more time to bump into me, McCoy.” She said, monotone.

She kept walking as she mumbled the word, ‘dumbass’ on her way back to the circle. I just turned around and kept going to where Price told me to be.Fluentezwas glad to see me because he was starving.

“Hey battle,” Private Fluentez replied.

I was surprised he was talking to me.

“Don’t let ‘em get ya’ down!” he replied, with a look of concern painted across his yellow face.

“Das why we no never talk to ‘em. Only each other. You need help, I help you’,” he sincerely replied.

I smiled.

“You’amake it outta here.” He said, before patting me on my back and running off to chow.

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