Against The Grain

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Chapter 22

They forgot about me. I stood there on guard, watching as first platoon marched in through the gates and filed onto their respected area of the bleachers. I should have been in the formation filing onto the bleachers with the company, but I hadn’t been relieved from weapon’s guard. I only watched as the other platoons proceed to file in through the gate.

Private Price lingered at the end of the formation and she then marched up directly toward me and relieved me from my post on weapon’s guard. We were never to leave guard until we were properly relieved. She explained that once she relieved me I was to march behind and stand in the bleachers with everyone else.

After our entire company was marched into the gated arena, I filed into formation into the bleachers with them. We stood stiffly in the metal bleachers until Sergeant Adiche ordered us to ’takeseat’. We all took our seats and immediately carried on with the training.

“We will now demonstrate the application of a field dressing. This information can be found in your soldier’s handbook and first aid manual FM 4-25 . . .” Sergeant Taylor began, lifting up the sterile bandage for us all to observe.

“The first step is to expose the wound,” Sergeant Adiche informed.

Sergeant Taylor started making her way across the arena, holding a field dressing in the air so the company could gander at it as he spoke.

“You may have to cut or tear the clothing from the place where the casualty is wounded. If the casualty is in a chemical environment then we don’t expose the wound.” Sergeant Adiche informed.

Sergeant Taylor returned nearer to him and she proceeded to get down on her knees next to the dummy. She began to attend to the dummy that lay before her. I noticed the red mark on the ripped sleeve of the dummy’s BDU top. Sergeant Taylor ripped the sleeve further open to reveal the already exposed wound.

“The second step is to open the dressing and place the white side on the wound of the casualty. Be sure to wrap the bandage around the limb completely and securely. Tie both ends of the dressing into a secure knot,” Sergeant Adiche lectured.

Sergeant Taylor remained on her knees, demonstrating everything her counterpart said aloud.

Thankfully, the block of instruction was over. We were divided into groups and made to hurry up and wait for the chance to perform the task. My group consisted of Chapman, Nguyen, and Butler. I didn’t stress because I was in a group and the support of others meant everything.

Drill Sergeant Andrews graded us and our group received a ‘go’ the first time around. He asked each of us some questions. Chapman applied the field dressing and I applied the pressure dressing on top of that. Then Nguyen and Butler applied the tourniquet together. Nguyen and Butler demonstrated the most difficult part of the group task because they had to use ad-lib materials. Chapman and I had to use a popsicle stick and a worn out rag for the tourniquet.

Clinton, Blackstone, Mendez, and Parker made up the group sitting next to us. Our group only glanced up from time to time overhearing their group arguing with each other. I watched as Drill Sergeant mayor deemed them a ‘no go’ their first time around and I felt sympathy for both Mendez and Parker. They had to work with Private Clinton.

Around 1530 hours, we were marched back to our designated company area while calling cadence the whole while.

Sergeant: Your momma was home when you left

Company: You’re right!

Sergeant: Your daddy was home when you left

Company: You’re right!

Sergeant: Your momma, your sister, your brother, your uncles and that’s the reason you left.

Company: You’re right!

Sergeant: I don’t know why I left

Company: I don’t know why I left

Sergeant: But I’m gonna do my best

Company: But I’m gonna do my best

Sergeant: And it won’t be long

Company: And it won’t be long

Sergeant: Before I, before I, before I get on back home

Company: Before I, before I, before I get on back home

Sergeant: Yo’ left . . .

Company: Right, right, right

Sergeant: Yo’ left . . .

Company: Right, right, right

I didn’t feel like calling cadence. I was exhausted. Back at our perimeter, the drill sergeants decided to be lenient and give us one hour of personal time. That was our time to socialize or take care of anything we needed to take care of before we had to be backin formationfor another briefing.

I didn’t know what the briefing would entail, but hopefully, it was something that would interest me so that I could grasp the information. During personal time, I walked over and stood in line at the porter potties until it was my turn. I needed about five minutes to urinate and change my pad.

Next, I ambled back to my hooch and I plop down on top of the sleeping bag to take a little nap. Everyone just kind of left me alone and I began to think as I dozed off.

Private Chapman came to my hooch and woke me after what felt like a good nap. I arosefeelingrefreshed. I made my way over to the center of the perimeter where we stood for formations. I began to lightly jog once I got close to the formation so it would appear as if I were hurrying.

I could see Drill Sergeant Andrews handing out something to everyonein formation. I hustled over and fell into the last rank. In a few seconds, I was passed down a plastic army green hand grenade, shaped like a lime. Drill Sergeant Andrews told us not to play with them, although they were only plastic prompts. He then explained to us that we’d receive a more thorough briefing later, but he was giving us the privilege of getting a head start on the training. Whoop-de-doo! I thought. I didn’t want to stand and listen to him lecture on the hand grenade, but my lack of motivation wasn’t going to stop him.

Drill Sergeant Andrews described the various parts of the grenade. He then demonstrated how to flip open the clip, twist the pin and pull it out. Once we did that, we were to aim the grenade in the direction of the enemy and launch it at them. After we threw it, we were to yell ‘frag out’ for our fellow men, then duck down to cover our own heads.

He’d simplified the method we’d use and he lectured on the topic for approximately thirty minutes before he told us to put our grenades in our pockets and stack our weapons for dinnerchow. On Drill Sergeant Andrews command, we fell out of our formation in the dirt and began to stack our weapons alongside where we stood.

We started forming a line in front of the buffet trailer. As we paced toward the trailer in the tin-covered concrete platform, I spotted Private Whitehead pulling guard over the stacked weapons. Price approached me once again as I made my way to the trailer. I stopped strolling, distracted by her flat expression. She quickly informed me that I’d be pulling fireguard from twenty-two hundred hours to twenty-four hundred hours. The minute she said it, she swung herself around andtreadedoff into the chow line. I followed along behind her.

“Sit and eat with me, battle!” Private Chapman called out to me from her place in line.

“Okay, sounds like aplan.” I told her.

I walked up to her and we both went to the end of the line.

Soon enough we were at the front of the line and then we were handed a plate. The trailer provided spaghetti, garlic bread, and string beans to our company. I took a swig of the water from my canteen while Chapman drank Gatorade from a paper cup. The drill sergeants encouraged us to drink more Gatorade because the beverage provided electrolytes for our bodies.

We ate hot chow silently for a few minutes. I didn’t really like my food. It wasn’t seasoned enough for me. So I ate it slowly while it was hot. I began to converse with Private Chapman as we sat together at the small circular tables. The table seemed to be lightweight and plastic with metal railing. They hadn’t been on the concrete platform the previous day.

The very minute Price stood up from the portable table, I had the next bit of food ready for my mouth. Drill Sergeant Mayor hurried over towards me and he snatched my plate from in front of me as I sat there. He told me I was done eating.

I watched as everyone else took their last bits and got up from the table. They all rushed over to the trashcans and dumped their empty, full, and sparse plates into them. I waited until Drill Sergeant Mayor wanted me to throw away my plate of food that he was holding in his left hand. I knew he wasn’t going to throw it away for me. I was so glad that I’d become numb to all of them. Chapman sat right next to me. She didn’t move either. She just watched me as we stood under the stern disposition of Drill Sergeant Mayor.

Then came Drill Sergeant Drake who marched up and approached us. She immediately started off at the mouth.

“Look at you, you’re a disgrace!” she began.

“You’re nothing . . .”

She stared directly at me when she spoke to me and I stared back at her. However, I didn’t know if she knew I was not actually focusing on her. It was like I didn’t even hear her after a while.

Private Clinton eased over into my path so I could see her, although she maintained her distance away from me. She wanted me to notice her, but I ignored her instead. Out of my peripheral vision, I noticed Clinton’s sinister grin. Yet, I wouldn’t even glimpse at her. She stood waiting for me to glance ather,so I could see her ridicule.

Underneath Drill Sergeant Drake’s fussy tone, I overheard Private Kennis mentioning my name to one of the other wannabes from where she stood by the trashcans. Then I heard Clinton and Blackstone laughing as they remained nearer to each other. I didn’t even care. I pretended to not even be inthe moment with them. They were nothing to me, just as they wanted me to be nothing to them. My battle buddy Chapman just observed me with a red face once more, as she remained mum.

We formed back up in the dirt among the trees in our platoon area within the victory forge camp and Drill Sergeant Andrews continued the hand grenade brief. I reached for my hand grenade in my pocket after we were instructed to do so. As we listened to the lecture we were informed of how to hold a grenade. We were to hold it out in front of us with the proper handgrip. He spoke about the different types of grenades. There was a stun grenade, smoke grenade, riot control grenade, fragmentation grenade and so forth. By the end of the lecture, we had to demonstrate what we knew. Out of everything that Drill Sergeant Andrews went over, I remembered the basics. Hold the safety grip with the throwing hand, pull and twist the pin with the left hand. Got it! I thought.

After our briefing, we assembled into our platoon’s Alpha and Bravo teams. Drill Sergeant Mayor marched Bravo team away from the perimeter in complete silence. We marched until we reached another terrain. We marched out about two miles away from our hooches and foxholes with our muzzle protected weapons at the low ready position. We traveled over tall-untamed grass and brush. The blue night brought aboutcooltemperatures, the sounds of owls and night creatures lurking around in their habitat. Luckily, there wasn’t any rain. We had glow sticks.

The drill sergeant provided us with hand signals in the night and we mocked them in order to pass down the information. We followed in one single file line raising our hands for warnings of potholes in our path.

At the sight of his hand signal, we all came to an instant halt. Next, he gave us the signal to get down. Our platoon lowered to one knee and then followed through into prone position. Private Price passed down information to the squad leaders. She literally marched up to each of them and provided them with instruction. She kneeled down to each one of them, speaking to them in a low voice like she wanted to whisper in their ear.

The next time we were given a command to halt, we were supposed to assemble into our firing squad positions. We posted in the prone position for a good ten minutes or so before Drill Sergeant Mayor gave us the command to recover and carry on with our task.

Price and Carter began to give most of the commands and oversee the squads, making sure our positioning was correct. Price pointed to each place in which we were to stand and we all followed her instruction without words.

A good two and a half or maybe three hours past before we were reunited with Alpha squad. We maneuvered into each of the firing positions we’d previously learned. We were quieter than the rodents in the brushes. We rose from our positions and formed back up into a wedge formation of Alpha and Bravo team. We then came across a danger zone. We kneeled down and demonstrated our ability to cross a danger zone in tactical order. We moved across the danger zone one by one, first Alpha squad and then Bravo squad. Each squad leader provided us with a signal to move across the danger zone. We formed back up in the same wedge formation on the other side. We marched quickly through the unknown terrain for nearly two miles before we were headed back to the platoon area.

The porter potty was my next destination. I rummaged through my duffle bag and grabbed a maxi pad that was with my personal care items. I asked Private Kunert if she would walk to the porter potties with me. She agreed to accompany me, so I’d have a battle buddy. We were always to have a battle buddy whenever we journeyed outside of our group. We were never to be in solitude, especially at night.

As we approached the porter potties, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Price standing behind me. She informed me that I would be taking the first shift on fireguard tonight and then she walked off just as she’d done earlier.

Private Kunert stepped ahead of me while I was facing the other direction and she used the next available porter potty that was vacant once Private Diaz slipped out of it. Private Kunert slipped out of the bathroom quickly and moved back to our hooch to snuggle in her separate, layered sleeping bag. I, on the other hand, changed my pad in the porter potty and headed towards the entrance of our perimeter.

At 0500 hours the next day, we assembled into morning formation. The weather was warm and windy. Large dark clouds hovered over the dark early morning sky. The sky appeared to be a color deeper than violet. I began to contemplate going to the hospital again and I quickly thought against it because I’d just gone. I figured I could manage to tough it out, especially because the weather wasn’t extremely cool. It seemed as though a tropical storm would be emerging over us.

We were commanded to prepare for PT by dressing in our wet weather gear. At 0600 hours, a cloud busted and brought about a roar of thunder. The rain poured over us like a hot shower over a naked body. We were to conduct PT anyway. We stacked our weapons off to the side of the concrete platform, but they remained under the tinplate shelter. Swift winds rushed the rain underneath the tinplate, spraying us until we were fairly wet.

I don’t know why we had to have PT if nobody had the opportunity to shower. We had to use baby wipes instead. I hated it. I knew Mendez, Parker, BlackstoneandKennis hated it too; they were all girly in their own way. Mendez and Kennis were the most girly wannabes in our platoon. Mendez remained quiet and kind. She smiled often and remained soft-spoken; I didn’t know how she hung around Clinton or Blackstone. Parker was also the pretty kind, yet she didn’t mind getting out there with the males. For her to be so pretty, she was just as much as a tomboy as Price. I, however, made sure I didn’t work too hard during PT. I didn’t want to break a sweat because I’d already smelled bad enough.

Just as I was started to enjoy the stretches the drill sergeant commanded that we assemble into position for the flutter kick. I hated flutter kicks. They burned my stomach from the inside. Private Parker lay there beside me on my left and I watched her as she completed every kick until she was commanded to halt.

The drill sergeants made us hold our legs elevated stiffly in the air. I wanted to moan and cry out loud. Parker just held her feet up and in place with ease. She lay on her back just as stoic as she could. I almost let my feet drop to the ground as I felt the intense burning sensation in my stomach. Drill Sergeant Andrews stepped through the little bits of space between us as we exercised on the damp concrete platform. He maneuvered over to me and kicked up my feet in the air. He commanded me to hold them up and keep them there. He hovered over me like the way the clouds hovered over all of us.

Then when it was time to do push-ups I just barely pushed. My arms were so sore. I intended to do everything lackadaisically because I didn’t have any motivation. The ugliness of everything was weighing on me emotionally. I felt miserable and I’m sure my expressions revealed my misery. My fingers and toes had begun to grow icy cold, yet I still didn’t want to sweat because I didn’t want to smell like the males.

I tried to look at the positive of the situation. I was grateful that we weren’t in our flack vests and ballistic helmets for a change. PT was actually something to be grateful for because it was a load off of our bodies. We moved into performing jumping jacks in place. We completed 6 sets of 10 jumping jacks before we were back on the concrete ground performing the mountain climber. After the mountain climber, we moved into the overhead arm clap. Once we were finished with the overhead arm clap we were back down on the ground performing sit-ups. The drill sergeants then cooled us down by moving us into our closing stretches.

After PT was over my body felt relieved. It actually felt great. We were granted the opportunity to sit down on the platform and eat our MREs for breakfast. I hated MREs; they were miserable meals. However, I made the best of it. I wanted to make sure I ate every last bit of my MRE before my last meal had been taken from me.

Drill Sergeant Andrews just glared at me as if I wasn’t supposed to be eating so much. I didn’t ‘earn my meal’, as he would say. I shoved more food into my mouth as he watched me. That was all I could do. Yet, I wanted him to see pinned up aggression expressed on my face. Drill Sergeant Andrews appeared annoyed. I knew the drill sergeants hated me, but of course, I didn’t care. I just threw my MRE wrapping away in the trash once chow was over and I rose next to Private Parker on the platform.

Buckets of rain poured from the sky while our company, Delta 369th, continued pushing forward with our weapons positioned at the low ready. Rain, sleet or snow, we were still training. This was our Victory Forge. We met up with the other platoons calling cadence in the heavy rain the entire time we marched in our wet weather gear.

We were brought to a halt and our company stood together again. We had to shout out our cadence over the loud thunderstorm as we gathered underneath the blackish grey clouds.

“Are you motivatedDelta Company!” Drill Sergeant Wilkinson yelled.

“Motivated, motivated, downright motivated! Whooah! Whooah! I wanna kill somebody!” The wannabes replied.

I remained quiet.

“What motivates you, Delta Company?” Drill Sergeant Andrews hollered out.

“The blood, Drill Sergeant! The blood!” they replied.

I listened to the response of the company and I wanted to get away from them immediately. The blood? I thought. Their words exuded an eerie presence that could only be capturedinthe moment. A jolt of lightning sparked the sky as the rain poured down on us.

Right then, I spotted something that frightened me. The sight flared up an overwhelming panic inside of me. I held it in my stomach. I was extremely close to danger and my instincts were warning me. Somehow, I was right there with everyone else, yet I saw an uneasy spirit squeeze outside the body of our drill sergeant.

The presence of the spirit revealed itself to me as it separated from his body. Our sergeant’s eyes became glossy and mystical. They appeared buck and revengeful. Rain wet his pinkish face and wet weather gear. He reminded me of a great warrior, unstoppable, yet a double-edged sword. I believed that the rain resembled tears of joy falling from his face.

In that moment, I thought about all of the deaths our infantry drill sergeant must have witnessed and all of the lives he must have taken along the way. I realized—the blood . . . the blood . . .

Somehow, I was right there with everyone else, yet I saw an uneasy spirit squeeze outside the body of our drill sergeant. The presence of the spirit revealed itself to me as it separated from his body. I closed my eyes, but I could still see pictures of the dark spirit in my head.

A cold breeze, like no other breeze I’d ever felt, crept up upon me and lingered. I quickly broke my stancein formation. I couldn’t do it any longer. I eased out of my place in the ranks and moved toward the back of the formation. I tried to look invisible. Private Parker and Private Nguyen both turned and glared at me when they saw me moving out of formation. Parker stared at me with confusion while Nguyen expressed sadness and concern. They both appeared like they’d seen something in me that worried them.

I stood directly behind Private Green and I gave his body a rundown with my eyes. Green was too small and scrawny to be a killer, I thought. I focused down on the ground and waited patiently for the company to stop their madness. I just wanted to get on with the army day.

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