“McCoy, where you say you was from?” Private Brown asked.
She was so loud that I didn’t even bother to answer her. Loudmouths were annoying to me. I only remained at my wall locker, searching for items to take with me to the bathroom shower. I watched Brown as she sat on Stevenson’s bunk right under her own. They sat close to each other like they were the best of friends when they’d just met a day ago.
“You talk so white, McCoy,” Private Stevenson taunted.
“Why you so white? We was just laughin’ at you! Cutter is the real white gurl and she talk blacker than you!”
The wannabes began laughing as they gawped at me. I wanted to tell them all to go straight to hell, but I only slipped on my flip-flops with my belongings in my arms and sauntered past them feeling humiliated. They only have fifteen more minutes of loud talking before they had to be quiet at lights out anyway.
I selfishly tried to stay in the shower for as long as I could to bypass the social crowd and it remained hot for me too. Maybe I’d get lucky and everyone would shut up so I could get some sleep. I dried off and slipped into my physical training t-shirt and shorts. I had an extra set to wear, for the field, hanging in my wall locker.
I shuffled my toiletries onto the sink counter. I began to brush my teeth and then lotion my body. I rubbed a good amount of lotion on my arms and legs. Next, I took care of my damp hair. I hadn’t washed it because I was scared it would become too nappy. However, I did put carrot crème in it and then I combed it.
The lights were finally out and everyone was in their respective bunks in the wide-open bay. The first two females on shift began tending to their fireguard duties while I kneeled on top of my bunk and pressed my head down on my pillow to pray. I truly believed only God was going to get me through the training.
The scrubby one next to me attempted to spark up a conversation with me. She had short hair, tan skin and a boyish appeal. She began the conversation by telling me her name was Tammy. I felt a little easier at the sound of a first name; it was less formal and it made me more at ease. Tammy stood approximately five-seven with the nastiest twisted teeth I’d ever seen. She asked me where I was from and I told her California. Tammy had never been to California. Tennessee was her hometown and she expressed her boredom with it. She said after she completed basic training she was hoping to be stationed someplace else. Her primary request was to be stationed in Hawaii. Her second request was to be stationed in Germany, and her third request was Fort Knox, Kentucky because that’s nearer to where her grandmother lived. Tammy was extremely talkative, but that seemed to be most of the wannabes. Everyone seemed to be so excited just to get acquainted, but I was surely uneasy. I felt over-crowded.
In no time, we’d finished PT, ate breakfast and started marching. Drill Sergeant Mayor led our platoon and called cadence:
Sergeant: Hey Soljah!
Sergeant: Stop looking at me!
Sergeant: Hey Soljah!
Sergeant: Give me some a dat MRE!
Sergeant: Dat rucksack,
Sergeant: Put on yo’ back!
Sergeant: And we gone do,
Sergeant: A twelve mile too!
Sergeant: Hey soljah!
I could hear ‘the south’ in both Drill Sergeant Mayor and Drill Sergeant Drake already. Their southern drawl made words sound meaningful. The ultra-violet sunrays in the South Carolina sky shined on us as we booted past the palm meadow trees, which gave off a forest clean scent similar to a freshly cut lawn.
We marched nearly three miles away from the company. Drill Sergeant Andrews led from the front and Drill Sergeant Drake led from the rear. We were brought to a halt near a brick red building. We moved in a single file line through the hallway, after we executed the proper turn pivot from our formation into the building.
Inside, the aroma of coffee enveloped the toasty administrative offices. We didn’t make a sound as we moved in a single file line through the building. Their offices appeared to be a holding place for loads of paperwork and coffee cups. The walls displayed hanging portraits of soldiers dressed in Class A uniforms with rainbows of ribbons decorated across their chests. The portraits also revealed their stern and upright appeal. Their eyes disseminated a sense of resentment as if they were reminded of a heartless war.
We filed directly in front of the benches as if we would soon be allowed to sit down, but instead, we were given a clipboard with a pen and questionnaire clipped to it as we remained on our feet. The first form inquired about life insurance benefits. The questions were basically self-explanatory, but either way, the drill sergeants weren’t going to explain a single alphabet. They only rushed us to fill out the form. We didn’t have time to read it. Instead, we were provided one minutes and maybe a few seconds to fill it out before we were commanded to hand it over.
The civilian employees would address us one at a time inside their office. We had to march toward the office, performing the proper face movements to get from the bench to their office door. Once in, I was commanded to fill out an emergency data form. I wanted to sit down so badly, but even standing still for too long represented laziness to them. I filled out the top portion of the questionnaire as I stood within the confinement of the civilian’s office. The civilian worker sat there at his desk as I stood in front of it near Drill Sergeant Andrews.
After I finished filling out that paper questionnaire, the civilian began a verbal one. He asked me quick questions and he wanted quick answers. Every time I didn’t reply with a quick enough answer, he moved to the next question. When he repeated the question more than twice, I had to get down in front leaning arrest position and push. When he was done with me, I was commanded to proceed back to my place in front of the benches while executing the proper face movements. I felt like a robot in an assembly line.
Drill Sergeant Drake marched us in a single file line to the supply basement where another civilian worker called out our names and documented our height and weight. There were many civilian workers in the basement. Our platoon was divided and sent to different stations that were stocked and gathered with army apparel. At the first station where I was sent, they measured our heads and provided us with headgear. The workers at that station also determined the size of our hands and threw us two pairs of apparel, gloves and the glove inserts.
The civilian workers talked to us like we were nothing. They were just as awful as the drill sergeants. The skinny, white female with jet-black hair who stood before me was very crass. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-four and she had enough nerve to be so nasty to us.
Before I could say anything to her she asked me my bra size. I whispered my bra size to her and she snapped at me. She explained that nobody cared about my bra size, so I should just ‘speak up’. I said it a little louder and then she informed me that if she had any problems out of me she didn’t need to get a drill sergeant. She said she would make me beat my face until she got tired. She gave me movement commands the entire time she measured me. She told me which direction to turn and if I stalled or didn’t follow the command properly, she hollered them out to me a second time. She provided the measurements needed for my pea green, dress shirt with the collar, the one that would be worn with my Class A uniform.
Once the majority of us were finished being sized and fitted for our uniforms we were directed up the stairs and out through the back of the building. The sun had just come out nearly an hour ago and the temperature was slightly chilled outside. Luckily, we were permitted to move around freely within a designated perimeter and repack our belongings within our duffle bags. The wannabes began talking loudly in the duration of time that we stood around on the concrete pavement. Like the others, I finally received the opportunity to relax. I silently rested my back against the brick red building while the others ran their mouths among our platoon.
We were ordered to secure our duffle bags in our wall lockers and conduct barracks maintenance until lunch. According to the drill sergeants the barracks had to be spotless. All forty-something female wannabes from four different platoons worked together to scrub the floors to the army standard of cleanliness. The drill sergeants would soon enter our barracks and that’s the first thing they’d inspect.
After sweeping around my bunk area and wiping down the vanity sink, I curled up against my wall locker. Most of us were finished cleaning the barracks anyway. They’d begun to link up into their racial cliques.
Slowly, but surely the scene grew hazier and out of focus. My vision became darker and I began to drift away while my body relaxed against my locker. It felt like pleasure. My pulse shifted to a resting rate as I eased out each breath. My eyes began to roll into the back of my head and the seconds were only slipping away in time.
“Get at parade rest, warrior!” Private Brown yelled, standing directly in front of me.
My eyes snapped open and I jumped up, trying to assemble into parade rest. It was like being snatched out of a beautiful dream into a nightmare. I realized it was only Private Brown in front of me and I calmed down. Both Stevenson and Cutter were laughing hysterically. I knew my eyebrows resembled that of a wet cat, but I didn’t change my expression as I glared at all of them who were laughing at me. She’d unleashed her black hair and she stood like a lion before me. She’d scared me half to death. Her hair was thick and full, appearing like a great storm over her head. They carried on laughing for the sake of having a good time. Aware that it was nobody else’s responsibility to wake me, I still deemed the wannabes untrustworthy.
I only turned around and started spinning the knob on my combination lock. I opened my wall locker and reached for my bible. I moved between the lockers back into a corner and I began reading my favorite book of the bible. I loved the book of Psalms because the words were beautifully poetic and passionate. David’s words were such a desperate cry for help that it made me feel a little better about obstacles that stood in my way. No matter what I did, I never took my heart from the Lord.
“At ease!” only half of the females shouted.
Drill Sergeant Drake stopped dead in her tracks and looked around at every last one of us, sternly. We all knew we were in trouble as we stood loosely around the bay.
“Get down!” she hollered out.
We immediately descended down onto the cold linoleum floor.
“Get down and beat yo’ doggone face! All of y’all was ’posed to get up ‘n’ get at parade rest when you saw me! Gimme my respect when I walk into dis daggone bay! Sound off!” she sharply commanded, squeezing her hands into balled fists as she pivoted on her left foot.
My ears rang at the sound of her voice. Her southern accent projected across the bay as we all crouched down and assumed the position. She paced across the bay, looking at us as we maneuvered to the floor. All of us females were facing down, firmly elevated in front leaning arrest position ready to push. We remained in the plank position that weighted heavily on our arms. In nearly six seconds, she gave us the next command.
“One!” we shouted.
“Sound off!” she commanded.
“Two!” we shouted louder.
“Sound off, doggone it! Start over and sound off!” she hollered.
Each command held a two-second pause providing enough time to feel like an actual minute.
The rhythm remained the same as we continued pushing with our arms and counting with our voices.
“One-zerrro!” we exaggerated.
Drill Sergeant Drake paused for a few seconds. I could hear two other females breathing hard. I scanned around the bay and I quickly pinpointed the sound of the heaviest breath. It was coming from Private Cutter and Private Brown. Brown trembled while holding her body weight over her arms, yet Cutter’s breathing sounded more like an uncontrollable wheeze. I watched Drill Sergeant Drake eyeballing them as well.
“Down!” she continued.
“Sound off!” she hollered.
Just then, I felt my tiny arms began to tremble.
“If you make me miss lunch chow, I’m gone smoke the dog mess out of you again! Down!”
Our blood rushed faces nearly met the hard floor as we lagged without words. My arms continued to tremble and my muscles burned. I gradually fell out of front leaning arrest position. I silently lay there hoping Drill Sergeant Drake didn’t notice. I couldn’t push anymore because holding my upper body weight up with my scrawny arms made them fatigue. They’d reached their max. I just stayed lying on the ground while her back remained turned.
Another drill sergeant from second platoon came striding through our bay while we were being smoked. I quickly pushed myself back up and remained in front leaning arrest position while Drill Sergeant Drake and the other drill sergeants exchanged a couple of words with each other. My muscles burned like fire, but I only shifted my lower body and continued to hold my weight at my arms. I couldn’t quite understand the military jargon shared between them, yet I knew we had to remain trembling in front leaning arrest position until Drill Sergeant Drake felt like relieving us.
“Position of attention,” she finally announced, while she posed next to her fellow comrade.
We eagerly awaited the last word of her preparatory command as we remained in our broken down position.
“Move!” she eventually yelled.
We immediately lifted off our tingling hands and stood erect on our feet.
“Sound off next time! Now get downstairs for lunch chow!”
Everyone in our platoon scattered out of the barracks, except for the one Asian female. Her name was Private Nguyen. She had tan skin, a round face and almond slit eyes. The rest of us made sure we maintained our distance away from the drill sergeants as we crowded each other at the exit.
Brown and I both turned our heads as we moved forward, watching her continue to arrange her locker. We both slowed down to see if she would begin to follow the rest of us. I lingered behind Brown so that Drill Sergeant Drake wouldn’t see me.
Of course, Private Nguyen caught her attention. Drill Sergeant Drake laughed at the very sight of her and then she began making her way over towards Nguyen. She approached the private while she stood facing her locker. Drill Sergeant Drake quickly snatched the toothbrush out of Nguyen’s hand and Nguyen swung around to face her. Drill Sergeant Drake started yanking her personal items out of her locker and throwing them on the floor. Private Nguyen turned around and proceeded to dash away.
“Get back here!” Drill Sergeant Drake began.
“Where you think you goin’?”
Private Nguyen turned back around to find Drill Sergeant Drake using both her hands to push over her tall, grey wall locker. Nguyen hurried out of the way while her stuff flew across the bay floor.
“Get into front leaning arrest position! Hurry up! Movin’ slow could cost you your buddy’s life!” Drill Sergeant Drake carried on.
“Hurry it up!”
She yelled at Private Nguyen like she was a convicted felon and Nguyen stood there just about in tears. Her bunkmate Parker stood a couple feet away staring in amazement as well. Private Parker eventually walked nearer to her and accepted the fact that they were going to be punished together. Drill Sergeant Drake gaped at them as if she’d just eaten something sour. The drill sergeants weren’t allowed to be alone with a single private. Therefore, another wannabe had to accompany us in their presence. I felt so sorry for Private Nguyen. I almost wanted to stand still and wait for her, but I wasn’t crazy.
I stood outside in formation with the rest of them, taking note of the time we stood waiting in our platoon area. Private Nguyen, Private Parker, and Drill Sergeant Drake were spending a bit of time together upstairs, the privates sweating and her yelling. Nguyen and Parker finally arrived downstairs with the rest of us, appearing flush. The minute Nguyen stepped foot on the horizontal red line with her squad, she re-adjusted her hair into a tight bun in the back of her head.