Against The Grain

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Chapter 7

“Zero-one, zero-two, zero-three, zero-four, . . .”

I moved quickly within our segment.

“One-eight,” I called, before stepping foot on the bus.

The drill sergeants looked at me disgracefully as I stepped on the bus. I overheard the drill sergeants laughing once I passed them. I just knew they were laughing at me. I continued moving down the aisle on the bus with my rucksack sagging off my shoulders in front of me. I held my M-16 weapon in front of me as well with both hands secured around it.

I sat next to Private Curitan who refused to even acknowledge my presence. He was a biracial male with typical curly brown hair and light skin. As soon as I sat next to him, he looked the other direction. I still admired his sunken in eyes and fairly large Adam’s apple, even though he only gazed out the window. I supposed he didn’t like me, but there was nothing I could do about it. I focused past Curitan, outside that same window. The morning remained chilled, but it turned out to be a tad nicer than the day before.

Suddenly, Curitan turned and gave me a look that could have possibly killed. It was hate in his eyes. It had to have been for him to look at me so . . . resentfully. I was surely hated by everyone who surrounded me. I’d made it apparent that I wasn’t one of them. However, I was only willing to be myself because I knew that was the right thing to do. I didn’t have it in me to be like them, but I’d be damned if I was going to quit! I had a right to survive too, just like the rest of them. Although I wasn’t good at any of the warrior tasks, I knew I had the physical strength to complete the training. I just continued to stare out the window past Curitan, objective to his hate.

The drive to the course took nearly thirty-five minutes and there was only gravel that appeared out our window, but I could see a forest like terrain up ahead. We all exited off the bus and began to form up just outside the bus in front of nearly twenty portable restrooms all in a row. The vile smell drifted from the porter potties and immediately sprang up my nose. Why did we even form up here? I thought. Whose bright idea was this?

“Hurry up, McCoy!” Private Carter yelled.

I didn’t realize he was even paying me any attention. He was the oldest male in our platoon at the age of twenty-four. I overheard the drill sergeants mentioning his age in a conversation with him. Private Carter was tall and slender with tan skin. He carried himself like a leader and the deepness of his voice caused me to listen to him. He was rushing me to align into formation, instead of dragging behind. I didn’t want to stand near the porter potties, so I began to lag behind.

This was it—the great obstacle course, which spread as far out as I could see. Logs and entrenches covered by spiraled barbed wire spread across the course for as far as I could see. I took a swig from my canteen as I observed the obstacle course and tried not to inhale the odor. I wasn’t exactly intimidated by the obstacle, yet I wasn’t completely enthusiastic about running it either.

Our, third platoon, drill sergeants gathered into a cluster and began conversing with each other. They spoke loud enough for us to hear. However, we only stood silently waiting on the next bit of instruction. After they spent some time talking, it turned out we were on the wrong training course. All the wannabes were silent along with me. We continued to wait in front of the porter potties until the drill sergeants were able to figure out where we needed to be.

The sun hung just over the horizon, yet it was still cold. I wasn’t pleased with the cool January wind. However, it wasn’t as cold as yesterday. My nose was a little cold as well as my fingers, but I guess that was better than being overheated in my heavy flack vest. We were commanded to exit the accountability formation and reposition ourselves into the road march formation.

We began marching on command. The drill sergeants followed the small red markers, which guided our direction. We maintained our intervals while we proceeded forward. I moved along with my M-16 rifle at the low ready position.

Suddenly, Drill Sergeant Andrews stopped the entire road march. He paced over toward me on full speed. He held a sinister expression upon his face and I could see the purple veins bulging through his neck like water pressure against a pipe.

“Goddamn it, McCoy! You need a muzzle on your weapon!” Drill Sergeant Andrews shouted, once he was closer to me.

All the wannabes turned around and glared at me like I was stupid. Everyone was staring at me as I froze in a panic. I glanced around the rest of the platoon and realized they all had their muzzle protector on their weapons, yet mine was bare. I quickly reached into my ammunition pouch on my LBE and put on my muzzle protector while Drill Sergeant Andrew stood over me. The muzzle protector was a red painted square shaped metal that looked like a cube.

The wannabes were jeering me in the moment. I could hear them whispering to each other. I grew livid. It felt like every last one of them began making fun of me. They were doing it right in front of me. How could I not know? Yet, I refused to be hurt. I had a habit of going numb. I allowed my mind to go cloudy and I was able to block them out. I poked my chest out a little bit without realizing it.

Drill Sergeant Andrews stepped away from me and collaborated with the other drill sergeants, for some reason. I was surprised. His censure wasn’t as horrible as I expected. The wannabes appeared upset. His wrath was far worse than that. We’d all seen it. I faced forward and Private Walker turned to face me. She held a clear smirk across her lips, but I remained aloof. I didn’t care if she didn’t like me because we were so different. She was more of a muddy blond with hillbilly roots while I was more of a nappy head schoolgirl. Eventually, we were given the command to proceed on and so we did.

We ended up marching for only a mile or so before we’d finally arrived at the correct obstacle course. We formed back up in front of another set of porter potties just like we were told. The obstacle course would have been exactly identical except this one appeared more narrow and distant by the way it curved over a minor hill into the unknown.

We were ordered into four teams. Each one of us would have the chance to sprint onto the course within our timed intervals. The training that we were to conduct on the obstacle course was similar to a relay race. Private Walker turned and looked back at me again.

“We gone loose ‘cause you on dis’ team.” she spat.

Then she turned her upper body back around toward the obstacle course. She actually wasted her energy on telling me that? I thought. Her turn was next. Three of the males would run against her simultaneously. The wannabes ahead of her took off and she waited. Once Drill Sergeant Mayor gave Private Walker the hand gesture, she took off.

In thirty-five seconds, it would be my turn. Drill Sergeant Mayor looked over at me. He gave me a hard grim expression as if he were some kind of gangster. I shook my head disgustedly from left to right in response to his facial expression.

Drill Sergeant Mayor gave me the cue to go and I began jogging the course within seconds. It didn’t seem too bad. I immediately started to enjoy the adrenaline rush that grabbed hold of me.

Before I knew it, we came upon tunnels of barbed wire and stacks of sandbags. I followed behind the wannabe in front of me. I couldn’t quite identify who he was from behind. Yet, I followed him into the barbed wire. He got down on all fours, so I got down on all fours. He began crawling quickly and I stayed on his tail. I wanted to get out of this confined space as soon as possible and it seemed that the wannabes ahead of me did too.

There was a sudden halt up ahead. The wannabe in front of me attempted to back up. He almost kicked me in my head with the bottom of his boot, unknowingly. I lifted my head up into the barbed wire to avoid meeting the bottom of his boot and my frizzy strands of hair became caught in the wire. After his boot met back up with the dirt, I pulled my head forward once again, snatching my hair out of the barbed wire instantly. Although, his sudden backward foot thrust could have knocked me down into complete unconsciousness. He proceeded to crawl forward and I didn’t worry about him anymore. I just moved along with the traffic. None of us looked back. We all just focused ahead because there was no point in looking back. I was still enjoying the obstacle. My breathing settled while I crawled on my hands and knees.

Once I climbed outside the fifteen-yard barbed wire tunnel I jogged forward. Ahead, I could see a line of wannabes waiting their turn again. We’d have to use the dangling ropes to climb the tall wooden walls. My breathing remained steady as I waited in line. My muscles were experiencing a mild tingle and it felt nice.

When my turn came around, I projected my legs out onto the wall and started climbing. I pulled myself up the wall using my arm strength at the rope. I’d almost fallen off the ropes a couple of times, but that didn’t faze me. If I would’ve fallen, I would’ve gotten right back up and tried again. I’d learned that from childhood. I’d continued hanging on the rope when my legs wanted to give out. I used my arms to inch my body weight upward. Of course, that didn’t last too long before I was back to using my legs to pull all my weight. It was funny how my short legs put in most of the work. They helped me elevate myself over the wall within a matter of minutes. So far, I was enjoying the physical exercise.

I’d jogged nearly a mile when I spotted the drill sergeants that belonged to the other platoons. I realized that we were sharing the obstacle course with the entire company. I could see some of fourth platoon’s males in the distance. I liked them; they were so polite. I decided to concentrate on my breathing. I could hear yelling and snide remarks coming from the drill sergeants. I ignored them and enjoyed the jog.

Next, came the monkey bars. These would be a piece of cake! I just knew it. It wasn’t anything new. I climbed up the wooden tree stumps and grabbed ahold of a money bar before I began reached for the other. The bars were spread far enough apart that they caused me to stretch my short arms. I have to admit—hanging from the monkey bars was much easier when I was only 90 pounds. Yet and still, I gripped each of those metal rings one arm at a time and completed the monkey bars.

I kept moving for another stretch on the obstacle course. As I paced, I felt like it was becoming harder to catch a breath, so I changed up my breathing pattern. I would make an effort to take one deep breath, and then I’d go right back to the same pattern of short and constant breaths. Concentrating on my breathing helped me get in my zone. In the zone, my superego spoke words of motivation in my mind.

. . . You got this Brenda, you can do it! . . . They can’t compete . . . You’re a winner! . . . Don’t listen to any of ’em . . . You’re in good shape!

Finally, I approached the rolling logs. There were nearly twenty large logs and each one was stacked with about three inches of space between them. Many of the wannabes were already walking across them when I jumped on to them. Drill Sergeant Beacon yelled for some of the wannabes to get off the logs. He was second platoon’s male drill sergeant. I’d already jumped on, so I continued. I made it all the way across without injury. I then jumped off the logs and kept moving.

The fifth obstacle appeared large before my eyes. We were to run and jump over a monstrous log, mounted high enough to reach my waist. We were to each demonstrate a leap over the log one person at a time. It about four minutes roughly until it was my turn. Therefore, I had time to catch my breath completely. It was time to face the log. I thought I’d mentally prepared myself to jump over it, but when I drew closer it became painfully obvious that I wasn’t getting past this one. This task seemed to be more difficult than the others. The primary issue was that the log was mounted too high for my height. It was too high, wide and large. So I stood back and watched the others.

I saw more of the males making it over versus the females. The males were getting over the log because they were taller. They seemed to be projecting their upper bodies over the log while using their feet to run and thrust forward. The males who couldn’t make it over were landing on the log at their pelvis, which must have really hurt. Nevertheless, they were not showing any signs of pain.

My turn was coming next. I pointed and flexed my feet as I stood there waiting for my cue. I knew I would have to hop up to the height of the log before I could get over it. Here goes nothing, I thought as I protruded forward. When it was my turn I jumped up onto the log and rolled right off of it. I hadn’t jumped high enough. I could see both Private Green and Private Curitan laughing at me, as they stood in line.

“Come on McCoy, you can do it!” Drill Sergeant Beacon encouraged.

“Don’t be a damn quitter!” he demanded.

That was the most encouragement that I’d heard from a drill sergeant since I’d been in basic training. Drill Sergeant Beacon stood behind me a little ways away. I could tell he wanted me to hurry up and try again. I overheard Brown chanting for me not to make it over the log. I decided not to pay her any attention. I stepped back a little further this time and ran with the purpose of building momentum. Just like that, I hurtled over the log.

Once I made it over, I turned and glanced at Private Brown. She appeared like a wet cat. I then glanced over at Drill Sergeant Beacon. He nodded his head up and down in approval, providing me an expression of admiration. I couldn’t help smiling at him even though we weren’t supposed to smile at the drill sergeants. I turned around and continued on down the obstacle course without looking back.

Later on that afternoon, the assignment was to evaluate our fellow comrades. The paper and pens were passed down and everyone received one. While I filled out my evaluation, I felt pretty good about it. I’d have the privilege of letting the others know that they weren’t as great as they thought they were. I figured the wannabes wouldn’t have anything positive to say about me either, so I braced myself.

The minute I retrieved a blank evaluation, I began jotting down as much of my opinions as I possibly could and then I quickly passed it over to Chapman on the left of me. After Private Carter retrieved all the evaluations, he handed them over to Drill Sergeant Andrews who quickly began reading them aloud.

“The best soldiers in the platoon are Price, Carter, Erickson and Green. The worst soldiers are McCoy, Clinton, Williams (the female), and . . . umm . . . McCoy.” Drill Sergeant Andrews read.

Everyone started laughing except for Private Clinton and I. Although Private Blackstone stuck around Clinton, she began to laugh at her own battle buddy. Fortunately, Private William wasn’t present for this moment. I believed she’d been placed on medical hold at the hospital.

“ . . . Private Price shows true heart,” Drill Sergeant Andrews recited from another evaluation.

I wanted to puke everywhere.

‘Pugh!’ I heard myself accidentally say aloud.

I looked out the window at the blue limitless sky. I could be just as limitless as the blue sky and I knew that nothing formed against me would prosper. Poor them, they’re the stupid ones. I knew I would graduate from basic training without becoming one of them. I saw the wannabes around me looking at me through my peripheral vision. However, I didn’t look over at any of them. I didn’t care; therefore, I actually tried my hardest to daze. I didn’t like the disrespect I’d been receiving from everywhere, so I wasn’t going to try to fit into the crowd. I was only going to stay true to myself.

I knew our country was at war and the military was providing resources to those who joined the service. I just needed to be able to take care of myself during the recession. Therefore, I just had to get through this crap. I only needed the sun to rise and fall each day for me. Yet, I couldn’t earnestly be willing to sacrifice my life for America. There was still so much social injustice in it, a prevalent social hierarchy structure that wasn’t fit for me to ever have the most power. My value as a human being was worth a whole lot more than I’d been lead to believe. I couldn’t justly feel offended by a foreign country when I didn’t have any real power in this one. Besides, I’d much rather have demonstrated peace and love as an act against terrorism for the sake of the world, rather than a war. Yet and still, I didn’t have any power. I would have to accept the wannabes for who they were and all of their weaknesses even if they didn’t acknowledge them.

“ . . . The worst soldiers are McCoy, Miller, Williams, and Blackstone . . .” he called out.

I just shook my head at them. I could hear all kinds of moans and teeth sucking, but I still didn’t glimpse at any of them. Private Williams and Private Miller were both at the hospital and they weren’t here to defend themselves. I was glad they weren’t here because I liked them both and I didn’t want them to get ridiculed. Drill Sergeant Drake paced behind their three chairs as we watched her from our seats on the floor. Drill Sergeant Mayor remained seated glaring at us beside Drill Sergeant Andrews who read the evaluations aloud.

“The worst soldiers in the platoon are McCoy, Williams, Miller, and Clinton. The best soldiers are Price, Carter, McCarthy, and Santiago.” Drill Sergeant Andrews quoted.

He then moved that sheet to the back of the stack in his hands and began to read another evaluation.

“The worst soldiers are McCoy, Miller, and Williams. They should be kicked out of the military. The best soldiers are Carter, Price, Rodriguez, and Garcia.”

For every evaluation Drill Sergeant Andrews read, there was an insult towards me attached to it.

“That McCoy sure is stupid . . . McCoy is an idiot . . . what’s wrong with McCoy . . . The army is not for McCoy . . . McCoy is dumb . . . Why is McCoy here? . . . McCoy is lazy! . . . I hate McCoy . . . McCoy can’t do anything right!”

As I sat there with the wannabes, I began to drift off into a different mind frame as I always did. It was my way of keeping my sanity. I thought about my best friends back in Humboldt County and all the partying we used to do. I then drifted into an even deeper thought about my best friend Jussie. I thought about my mother and the dog I used to have. I thought about my last relationship and people I used to know. I could hear only sounds and not words. Their voices became a faint muffle.

Then I heard my own evaluation being read aloud by Drill Sergeant Andrews.

“Oh, look, this person decided to use big words.” He mocked.

“The most influential soldiers in the platoon are McCoy, Chapman, Butler and McCarthy.

The worst soldiers in the platoon are Clinton and Kennis.” He read aloud.

All eyes were on me. It seemed as though everyone in our platoon turned to look directly at me, including the drill sergeants. I kept a straight face and I glanced away at nothing at all. I cracked a slight smile when I noticed Drill Sergeant Drake leaning forward trying to get my attention. I could see her out of my peripheral vision, but I didn’t look over at her. I couldn’t help, but notice that everyone had become irritated with my evaluation. Yaass!! I thought.

Next, we had gas mask and MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear training. We received a briefing about how to put on our MOPP gear and how to seal our gas mask while we stood in a wide, open circle with the males in our female bay. Drill Sergeant Drake and Drill Sergeant Andrews used the proper names to describe all the features on the gas mask. Every wannabe who wore BCGs was distributed a plastic pair of inserts. The drill sergeants threw them to us in the alphabetical order listed on the roaster. I actually wanted to receive a pair of inserts because I was ready to take off my silly, wide-framed goggles, even if only for a moment. But first, I had to be directed to take off my glasses. I couldn’t just take them off at my leisure. I didn’t hear either of the sergeants give the command. So I waited until I saw the others taking off their glasses and putting on their gas masks.

Once I spotted Private Kunert and Private Carter putting on their gas mask, I pulled mine over my head to get a better feel for it and to make sure it fit. The gas mask fit snuggly over my head and I was glad. While we wore our mask Drill Sergeant Andrew then informed us of how to seal our gas mask. However, I couldn’t quite understand his directions. The instructions just weren’t very clear to me. He ran through it very quickly without pointing out the parts on the mask as he referred to them. I believe we were supposed to use our breath to blow into our mouthpiece and then seal the opening while we inhaled? I watched as everyone attempted to press on their mouthpiece in order to seal their mask. Then they all took off their gas masks within the circle. I followed in behind them.

I knew the information was essential and I caught myself shaking my head from left to right peering down, sadly. Somehow I didn’t really understand. Like Drill Sergeant Mayor mentioned to us earlier, the block of instruction would always move on regardless of whether we understood it or not.

Next, Drill Sergeant Mayor explained how to take apart the gas mask.

He looked over at me and replied, “It’s so easy even a dummy could do it!”

He stood still in the center of the circle and looked directly at me with a stiff face.

Everyone laughed at me in the wide circle. I glared at Drill Sergeant Mayor, dead in his eyes, without cracking a smile. I had no sense of feeling because after a while their cruel treatment became trite. When I mentally didn’t want to deal with them, I wouldn’t. When I physically didn’t want to deal with them, I didn’t put forth any effort. I wrapped myself in my own deep-rooted pride and wore it like a medallion around my neck.

“Now remember, everything in the army is dummy proof.” Drill Sergeant Mayor replied again in other words.

This time no one laughed. It suddenly became so quiet we could hear a pin drop.

“Unscrew the gas filter and separate the 40 mm filter adapter.” Drill Sergeant Drake commanded.

She looked around suspiciously. I quickly made an assumption of what the filter adapter might be and I tried to execute just as fast as the wannabes around me. She walked around the circle to examine our ability to follow directions. I quickly glanced at the wannabes around me to make sure I followed the instructions. She glared at me, but she hadn’t started screaming. So, I figured I was in the clear thus far.

Next, we were informed to place the gas filter and adapter on the ground. We were to remove the eye lens of the gas mask and replace them with the plastic inserts that held our prescription. I did as I was commanded. I slid my inserts into my gas mask and snapped them into place. Then I quickly pulled my mask over my head again to make sure I could see through my inserts.

“McCoy!” Drill Sergeant Mayor hollered.

He charged over toward me and stood in my face as if he were going to attack me.

“Take dat doggone mask off yo’ head!” he yelled.

Again everyone laughed at me. The moisture from his nasty breath discouraged me from taking in another whiff of air. I feared hurling. If I vomited everyone would think I was scared or even worst, Drill Sergeant Mayor would get vomit on his uniform. I believed he’d hit me if that were to happen. I didn’t breathe until he turned away from me. As soon as he turned his back away from me, I inhaled. I inhaled as much air as I possibly could within the wide circle. Before not too long the block of instruction was over. I hadn’t retained any information. Instead of going into one ear and out the other, the instruction didn’t even bother going into my ears.

That night the barracks was peaceful and I actually stayed up instead of hurrying to bed. I posted with my bottom on my itchy, green blanket atop of my bunk in the faintly lit bay. My bunkmates were awake as well.

“Hey Chapman, you seeing anyone?” I asked her out of curiosity.

She pulled her clean PT shirt over her head, eased over to my bunk and took a seat on it.

“Yeah, I gotta boyfriend back home. I love him so much. He’s the best!” Private Chapman cheered.

She’d become excited at the thought of her boyfriend and her voice grew louder. She quickly acknowledged her tone and brought it back down a notch.

“He’s really good to me. What about you?” Private Chapman asked, sitting right next to me at the edge of my bunk.

“No, I’m not seeing anyone. My last boyfriend was at least two years ago. I wish I had a boyfriend.” I confessed.

I let out a sigh and I lied back in my bunk while Chapman looked over at me. Private Kennis turned around from where she stood at her wall locker after putting on her PT shorts.

“I don’t have a boyfriend either,” Private Kennis said, butting into our conversation.

Kennis climbed into her bunk and lay her head on her pillow.

“But, Butlers got a husband.” Kennis informed us.

Private Butler who also wasn’t asleep turned over in her bunk. She had a huge smile on her face like she always did. She scooted towards the edge of her bunk so she could socialize with us.

“Yeah, we’ve been married for five months now.”

“And he’s white, too.” Private Kennis added, in a matter of fact tone of voice.

“You like white guys?” Private Chapman asked Butler.

“I only love him. My husband came after me. He saved me from a lotta s#!%.” Private Butler informed us.

“Your family members don’t mind you being with a white guy?” I asked.

“First my uncle didn’t like him. But now, he sees he treats me good, so he don’t care no more.” She shared.

“That’s good. At least you don’t have family members hatin’ on you.” I said.

“ . . . stupid that he would be with you,” Private Kennis mumbled.

“Why be with you, when he could have a beautiful white woman like me?” she questioned, emphasizing the word ‘beautiful’.

Chapman and I looked over at Kennis in shock for a moment. Then I just shook my head for the umpteenth time in a day.

“I hope it works out for you.” Chapman replied to Butler.

Kennis turned over in her bunk as if she were done with us.

“McCoy, why’d you decide to join the army?” Private Chapman asked, changing the subject.

Butler peered at us from her bunk.

“Why’d you ask?” I questioned.

“Just curious.” She told me.

“I don’t know.” I said, not wanting to get started.

“I joined ’cause there’s no jobs in my hometown.” Private Butler intervened.

“Most of my family members are janitors. I didn’t wanna be no f*$%in’ janitor.” Butler explained.

“My boyfriends in the army so I wanted to show him I could do it too.” Private Chapman shared.

“Well, goodnight y’all.” I told them, ending our conversation abruptly.

Chapman eased off my bunk and climbed up to hers. I turned over to clear my mind so that I may have a silent word with the Lord.

Dear God,

It’s a shame! Remind me why I’m here? Isn’t it a shame how people just go along with it? We’ve been brainwashed, dear Lord. I ignore them because that’s all I can do. So what on earth am I doing here in the military, being taught to fight against another minority group of people? Do you see how we’re so ignorant that we mistreat each other? I’m supposed to accept that I’m at the bottom of the structure and loyally sacrifice myself for this country? They don’t care about me! Please protect me, Lord. I can overcome, right, Lord? I’m not like them. Amen.

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