Against The Grain

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Chapter 4

I hated the wannabes for treating me like crap, but I had yet to get to know them. A week had gone by and we’d officially become assigned to third platoon of 369th Delta Company, 2nd Regiment. Some wannabes had left and new ones replaced them within our company. We’d moved out of reception phase and we were now into red phase.

Private Walker was the youngest wannabe in our platoon at the tender age of seventeen. She was a short, husky female with hair like wool that matched her perfectly. I would see her every night that I had fireguard. She was always the first one to wake up and the last one to fall asleep. She’d hop off her top bunk with a thud every morning. She’d move with enough energy to be her own little army. She’d lie on her bunk writing in her yellow notepad, which was only visible thanks to her mini flashlight. She’d write until she drifted off with the ones who weren’t on duty. The pen would still be erect in her hand with misused ink running down the notepad.

I dressed for PT between the wall lockers instead of the bathroom. I didn’t do that all the time, but it was quicker that way. A morning wash required that we get in line once inside the bathroom.

Private Kennis bunked across from me and she usually awoke the latest, but yet she’d always be out there on time with the rest of us in formation. She always made time to paint herself a pair of glossy lips, since she barely had any and she admired herself in her personal mirror within her wall locker. Despite the fact that she was pale and she wore glasses just like I did, she managed to practice self-love in the mirror. That was something harder for me to do since I didn’t have a personal compact mirror, but also because we both wore glasses that the drill sergeants refer to as BCGs (Birth Control Goggles and also Basic Combat Training Goggles). Basically, everyone who wore these thick framed basic training goggles was considered so unattractive that no one wanted to physically be with them—therefore, they were birth control goggles.

Drill Sergeant Andrews suddenly stormed through the double doors of the female barracks.

“At ease!” everyone shouted, minus me.

The wall lockers hid me.

The ones who were dressed and standing in plain sight moved into the position of parade rest right where we stood. Three seconds made all the difference because I’d just thrown my shirt over my head. Drill Sergeant Andrews quickly informed us to hurry up and get ready. So, we carried on with our routine while he charged through our barracks and rushed us to get downstairs.

All the female wannabes began to flee out the barracks to form up downstairs. I darted around, using the bathroom, grabbing my PT mat and topping off my canteen with faucet water before I left the barracks. It was solely my responsibility to carry the crate of fluorescent glow lights out of the barracks, but Private Price always grabbed them before I could get to them.

Once I arrived downstairs in the early morning chill, Private Price shot me a glare as she stood over the crate of fluorescent glow lights that I was supposed to carry downstairs. Why didn’t she just leave them there so I could carry them down, I thought. Price had a slimly put together five-five figure. She was a pale white female with a narrow pointy nose and thin, slick, brown hair dressed her narrow head. We glared at each other in silence and she moved toward a place in our formation, while I did the same.

We stood in accountability formation at the rest position with our PT mats at our side and our canteens in their cases strapped across our torsos. The rest position until our other drill sergeants wrapped up their meeting in the platoon office. The rest of the platoons in Delta Company awaited their drill sergeants as well.

“Platoon Ahh-teen-hoon!” Drill Sergeant Mayor commanded.

We all shifted into the position of attention.

“Receive the report!” Drill Sergeant Mayor commanded our platoon.

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

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

“Third squad! All present all accounted for!” Private Fleshman reported.

“Fourth squad! All present all accounted for!” Private Johnson reported.

We stood as a company ready to march onto the field for physical training.

Although the sun hadn’t burst through the horizon, I predicted that it would be sunny by noon. PT was the most common part of the day.

“Rrrright face!” Drill Sergeant Andrews commanded.

“Foorwwaarrrd! March!”

We began exiting the platoon area, underneath our sleeping quarters. The drill sergeant began to call cadence:

Sergeant: Beautiful and young

Platoon: Beautiful and young

Sergeant: Americans united

Platoon: Americans united

Sergeant: Our torches are lighted

Platoon: Our torches are lighted

Sergeant: For us to lead the way

Platoon: For us to lead the way

Sergeant: American diversity

Platoon: American diversity

Sergeant: reign over our adversaries

Platoon: reign over our adversaries

Sergeant: We are the army today

Platoon: We are the army today

More than one hundred of us were neatly aligned around a portable makeshift stage in the middle of the field. Four large platoons of exactly thirty wannabes each made up 369th Delta Company. The drill sergeants prompted us to yell like idiots as we spread our arms out and took a step over in the opposite direction of the wannabes in front of us. This created a staggered formation. I didn’t do any yelling. I only opened my mouth slightly in order to keep the drill sergeants from noticing me. They yelled until we were spread out horizontally and then we waited on our next command to be spread apart vertically. Once we were spaced apart, we were then permitted to recover our erect arms to their proper place at the position of attention. Then the platoon sergeants placed each of the platoon’s at parade rest to await our next command.

“Company! Atten—hoon!” the drill sergeant commanded.

We all shifted from parade rest to attention.

“Good morning, Delta Company!” the drill sergeant greeted us.

His voice projected across the open field of grass.

“Good morning, Drill Sergeant!” we shouted.

“I’m Drill Sergeant Wilkinson from second platoon Delta dawgs!”

Everyone from within his platoon began barking like vicious dogs. Second platoon drill sergeants quickly hushed them. As for third platoon, we were the mighty pit bulls. I hated it, but who cared?

Drill Sergeant Wilkinson had a creamed coffee complexion. He held a round face, a shiny baldhead and a strong masculine voice that projected across the field while he stood on stage before the company.

“On the command of fall out, you will unroll your PT mat and position the head of it where you stand. You will secure your canteen and glow stick at the foot of your PT mat. You will fold the strap of your canteen nicely on top of the canteen in its cover. You will secure your glow light on top of your canteen!” Drill Sergeant Wilkinson informed us.

“Fall out!” He commanded.

We all began unrolling our mats and securing our gear as he’d commanded. Drill Sergeant Wilkinson provided us fifteen seconds to complete the semi.

“Company!” Drill Sergeant Wilkinson called out.

At the sound of the word company we all mentally prepared to clean up our positioning.

“Atten—hoon!” he commanded.

We all stood at the position of attention ready to begin physical training.

“Today, we’ll be conducting muscle strength and endurance training to the army standard regulation!” he informed us.

“Basically, I’m going to smoke y’all ‘til yo’ weak bodies just can’t take it!” he shouted with enough expression to make me want to laugh.

“The first stretch is the overhead arm pull!” he commanded.

“The overhead arm pull, drill sergeant!” we responded.

Most of the wannabes in every platoon were motivated. I wasn’t exactly ecstatic, but anything to build my endurance for another army day was necessary.

“Starting position—move!” Drill Sergeant Wilkinson commanded.

He put his hands to his hips to resemble the proper starting position for the overhead arm pull. We moved our hands to the starting position just as the drill sergeant did.

“Ready! Strrreetch!” he commanded.

We all lifted our left arm over our heads and used our right hand as a support to push down on the elbow of our left arm.

“One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, . . .”

The drill sergeants inspected their platoons by walking around and checking to see if we were doing the exercise correctly.

“ . . . Eight-one thousand, nine-one thousand, tee-en thou-ssand!” we counted.

There was a slight pause while Drill Sergeant Wilkinson recovered from the overhead arm pull and moved into the starting position. If the drill sergeant didn’t provide us a command then we remained still like we were frozen in place.

“Starting position—move!” he said, providing the execution command.

We all shifted into the starting position just as the drill sergeant had done.

“Change position. Ready! Stretch!” he called out.

After a series of stretches, we eventually moved into our exercises.

“In cadence! Exercise!”

We were commanded into front leaning arrest position to ‘released the demons’, as I overheard Drill Sergeant Andrews label it. There were three different kinds of push-ups: the regular push-ups, the close hand push-ups, and the wide arm push-ups; they all sucked. After nearly three sets of fifteen repetitions, I felt a burn in my arms. We were then able to switch over to a repetition of sit-ups right after the push-ups. I focused on the sunrays that were lighting the sky as I lifted myself for each count.

After PT, we assembled into the barracks where we resided and cleaned ourselves up before the next task. When we saw Drill Sergeant Drake march through our double doors we shifted into parade rest like we’d been waiting there for her the whole time. She commanded us to position ourselves in serial number alignment. We quickly arranged ourselves accordingly and she distributed our weapons to us.

We topped off our canteens with faucet water and we hustled out of the bay. We assembled into accountability formation downstairs with our rifles in alignment at the position of parade rest. It was awkward to be at parade rest with an M-16 rifle in my hand, but the star wannabes modeled exactly how we were supposed to stand with our rifles.

Our company was without a flag as we booted past another company that had one. We were marched to another random building. Inside, we were guided to an open assembly hall with a wooden stage that held a microphone stand and maroon curtains for a backdrop. Individual desks made up of small plastic chairs connected to personal square tables across the scuff mark-free linoleum floor. We made a good amount of noise as all one hundred and twenty of us filed in through the large double doors.

We filed behind the chairs by columns, yet we remained in our platoons. I could hear feet shuffling and the sound of doors shutting as we eased ourselves behind a desk. I could also hear the wannabes began to talk to each other as they moved along the line. Without hesitation, the drill sergeants began yelling at us to seize the noise. Once one drill sergeant began yelling the other ones followed. The assembly hall became quiet immediately, we continued filing in from the opposite end until every desk was full.

The drill sergeants took some time to group together among each other before they gave out another command. We were soon granted the opportunity to sit down after nearly fifteen minutes or so. Drill Sergeant Andrews took the center of the stage and began our first block of instruction. He began with a ten-minute lecture on the consequences of falling asleep. Basically, if we were caught sleeping then we would be sent to the back of the hall where we would get smoked.

We finally moved into our first block of instruction. The topic seemed to be uniformity by standard regulation. In the middle of the instruction, I saw the drill sergeants began selecting random females within the company. The females seemed frightened and reluctant, but they really had no choice in the matter. God forbid that they question a lawful order.

As the ten females stood on stage before the remainder of us, they looked embarrassed. Clinton and Brown were both up there on stage. They were the only familiar wannabes I knew. Clinton was half Puerto Rican and half black female who wore her tough demeanor like it was a medallion around her neck. She stood short and slightly overweight. Blackstone was the tall, lanky black female that possessed the prettiest green eyes and a pair of thick country lips.

I began to notice what they all had in common. They all had some sort of hairstyle that appeared unnatural or ethnic. Silently, I praised God that I wasn’t any of them on stage. I wasn’t on stage because I had a permanent relaxer in my hair and it held it’s naturally black color, that was the only reason. It was hard to blend my hair in with the rest of this world. Although I was sitting down, I still felt hated at that moment. It hardened me to realize that my natural aesthetics wasn’t accepted. The drill sergeants did their best to make an example out of them by letting all of us know that their appearance wasn’t accepted. The males chimed in with their jeers and laughter. Often times, the females held a silent competition with the males. Any other time, us females competed with each other.

After they were humiliated, it was the male’s turn. I could see the same males who were selected, were walking up there because they hadn’t shaved. There were at least twenty of them among the entire company. Us females jeered right back at them. From our platoon, there was Erickson, Peterson, Rodriguez, and Diaz standing on stage. Erickson, however, had a swollen lip that made him stand out the most. He appeared even worse off than the rest of them. Dry blood rested on the rift of his bottom lip. He must’ve gotten into a fight in the male barracks. He still appeared strong, maintaining a straight face as if his head was held up high. I let my eyes wander over to Peterson who stood right next to him up there. Peterson’s pinkish complexion provided him with a reddish orange undertone, not to mention his flaming orange hair. His oval face appeared even redder with humiliation. Rodriguez stood next to him resembling an expression of discouragement. I could see it across his bushy eyebrows. I noticed his bulging pecks from underneath his issued fatigues. He had a muscular body. Diaz, however, lingered toward the end of the stage. He was the shortest male amongst the crowd on stage. He had a mildly sharp nose and light brown hair. His face looked kind of like a possum due to his natural pink undertones. He appeared to be the saddest, but I felt sorry for him. I examined the males on the stage carefully.

Suddenly, Drill Sergeant Drake appeared beside me as I sat there at my desk. She leaned down right near my tightened face.

“I know you havin’ a hard time stayin’ woke, McCoy. I’m just waitin’ for you to fall asleep, so I can smoke da dog mess outta you.” Drill Sergeant Drake whispered.

I felt hot moisture spew from her lips, land in my ear and cool off. She then stood erect and breezed away. I loathed the superior attitude attached to her contemptuous words. As soon as she walked past, I wiped my ear.

The drill sergeants used a projector for their lecture. We listened to a great deal of information suitable for soldiers preparing for war. We went over the laws of warfare, IEDs, war tactics and the army values. I actually enjoyed the block of instruction on army values. Loyalty, selfless service, integrity, honor, respect, duty, and personal courage. These particular attributes seemed to be crafted for the military and they seemed to be ingredients for great leadership and success. I quickly admired the army values although they were easier said than done.

The company drill sergeants fished around for heavy eyelids among the company. One by one, wannabes were getting smoked for accidentally falling asleep. Kunert was one of them. She followed Drill Sergeant Andrews to the back of the classroom for a personal smoke break. I could hear her counting. Of course, we were told to face forward and pay attention. Most of us dared not look back for fear that one of the fifty-something sergeants would catch us looking and relocate us to the back of the hall to join them.

My eyes were always open, but I was still asleep. I’d learned how to sleep with my eyes open as soon as I got to Fort Jackson. I didn’t have a choice. The name of the game was sleep deprivation. We were all well fed, but we often compromised sleep. I sat there in my open-eyed slumber while the sergeants lectured us. Yet, I was a goner.

A few days had passed, but we were still in red phase. We filed into another lecture hall. Once again, everyone stood behind their chair until we were all commanded to ‘take seat’. We all sat down simultaneously and we waited quietly for the drill instructors to begin their block of instruction. This lecture hall didn’t have a stage, but it did have a whiteboard, student desks and a projector screen for our visual aid.

Drill Sergeant Reed, from second platoon, finally began lecturing. He was a brawny man with a bald spot on the top of his head that even an army shave couldn’t hide. I noticed his tan skin and kind face as he first waited for the shuffling of our feet and the shutting of the doors to conclude. Once we were all inside and settled, his first words proved to be a sincere and fair warning. He informed our company that the slideshow we would view contained graphic details. He also said he wanted us to take the time to think about the presentation.

After hearing those instructions, I began paying careful attention. I wondered if the presentation would actually hold my interest. One of the drill sergeants from first platoon hit the light switch. The presentation began to play against the whiteboard from off the projector. The timed media started out with footage of a bright sunny day where pedestrians walked the crowded streets freely, cars passed and concrete buildings surrounded all the busyness. The clips portrayed all the uniqueness of the city in present-day America; therefore, I assumed the footage was a recent recording. I already expected that if we were watching something about present-day New York, it would be a reminder of the attack on America. That horrifying day that made America stop for a moment and stand at attention. Before the towers appeared on the screen, I already knew that we’d see them. I’d never visited New York and I’d always desired to visit there, just once in my life.

In the next clip of random footage, the weather depicted more of a realistic northern climate. Taxi cabs, billboards, and skyscrapers appeared authentic against the dreary background and the streets remained crowded with people. The tall and powerful twins soon appeared on the screen, standing untouched against the heather sky. The next clip displayed a U.S. commercial plane bursting through one of the solid structure of the biggest symbol of capitalism in the world. I watched as the first plane just effortlessly sliced right through part of the building, supposedly out of the blue. Wild and far-fetched thoughts provoked my mind as I watched the presentation on the screen in front of us.

The tower still appeared to be standing in shambles while it smoked for everyone to see. Time snuck by as the people were forced to acknowledge the tragic danger, receive the disturbance and assume the worst. Then came the second plane soaring across the sky on full force with the same intentions. The plane sliced through the building as if each of the towers were nothing more than a life-size stack of hundred dollar bills.

The next clip showed the first tower collapsing downwards as if it were sinking instead of falling over to the ground. Another clip revealed civil workers leaping from sharp-edged broken windows. They were literally committing suicide right before our eyes on the projector screen. There were terrified citizens covered in concrete dust and blood while there were others running around exerting expressions of hopeless on their faces. A soft piano melody accompanied the tragic footage as if it were a Hollywood movie.

We watched as even more Americans responded to the September 11th tragedy. We saw clips of military men jetting over to the Middle East only minutes after it happened, we saw soldiers pushing through the desert in HMMVs, and ships sailing across the ocean with purpose. We saw honorable soldiers covered in sand and sweat. We saw families crying, HMMVs blowing up and helicopters dropping pounds of food from the sky. I felt happiness and inspiration, a feeling of hope zipping through my flesh.

The background music changed to a fast pace, heavy metal rhythm and a clip of missiles being fired in the air showed on the screen. Pictures of Bin Laden’s face suddenly began flashing on the screen. The words, ‘Die motherf@#%er, die!’ screamed out of the small computer speakers linked to the projector. Again, pictures of Bin Laden’s face flashed on the projecting screen to accompany the phrase.

I was irate. I heard a soft mournful sob right next to me. I slowly peeked over at the blond-haired, blue-eyed warrior, who I thought was so very attractive. His name was McCarthy and I almost didn’t notice he was sitting next to me. Truthfully, I was scared he’d end up a racist. I wanted to hold him in my arms like he was my very own baby. I knew he could see me gazing at him from his peripheral vision. I wanted to reach out and touch his soft face. I wanted to stroke his peachy skin and tell him it would be okay.

He slouched down in his seat and lowered his head. He distorted his face into a hard grimace as he glared down at his desk and cried. I silently watched him cry, thinking his tears looked just as good on him as his military uniform. He was still handsome.

We weren’t supposed to cry—even for me as a young woman. Therefore, there was especially no crying for him. Crying was almost taboo for a man—it was a sign of weakness. He cried and I watched him cry while my face remained dry. I didn’t feel guilty either. I still thought him to be very honest and handsome. I didn’t question it. I only watched him expressionlessly, feeling angry. I had a good mind to reject the anger that I felt was shoved upon me and replace it with the strength of an unyielding love for mankind.

Once the drill sergeants flipped back on the lights McCarthy quickly wiped up his angelic tears. He sat up straight in his desk and he replaced his old emotion with a fabricated one. I believe I was the only one who’d seen him crying. After the lights came on the drill sergeants easily carried on to the next block of instruction.

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