Against The Grain

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Chapter 9

At 0400 hours I awoke to an invisible energy strangling me while I was asleep. Not because of a flu virus that the wannabes were catching like basketballs, but rather because of the mason gas that Drill Sergeant Mayor had released after he covered his own face with his gas mask. I opened my sleeping bag and inhaled a great whiff of tear gas. Frantically, I began searching through my duffle bag for my gas mask while I coughed and choked. The gas was strangling me and I felt like I was dying. I couldn’t help crying because the gas ignited my tears and kept them running down my cheeks.

I packed my gas mask down in the middle of my stuffed duffle bag. After dumping out all my other personal belongings, I retrieved it. I found it without breathing. I placed the gas mask on my face, but didn’t have enough breath to seal the air filter. So instead of waiting for the gas to dissolve in the air like the wannabes, I ran off blindly into the woods with my winter PTs still wet from my overnight sweat.

In order for me to seal my mask, I would’ve had to blow into the mouthpiece. Yet, I couldn’t even grasp enough air to blow out a single birthday candle. I might as well have taken off my mask, but I didn’t.

After about ten minutes, the air became clear. Only small traces of tear gas lingered in the dark early morning air. I slowly walked back to our perimeter with my face still covered by my gas mask. I’d passed a couple of hooches that I hadn’t noticed when I took off, but I acknowledged them on my way back to my own hooch. All the wannabes were still in their hooches unmasked. The silly smirks they painted upon their devilish faces instantly irritated me.

“McCoy, you gone die in Iraq.” Private Erikson replied, while grinning at me.

I stopped dead in my tracks. I snatched the gas mask off my hot face and I stared at Erickson’s ugly one. By now, I could see red. You’re not better than me. Nobody treats me like this—nobody. Once I silently put him in his place, I scurried off.

My wide stride brought me to my hooch and my cold gape remained on my face. I pulled back the hanging poncho and looked in at what my assigned battle buddy was doing. Private Kunert shook her head from left to right.

“You’re a loser!” Private Kunert jeered.

“You can’t even seal your fuckin’ gas mask,” she carried on.

“La-hoo-zeah-her! You’re never gone be a soldier! Why did they even let you in?”

I could barely see her pack her rucksack because my eyes were so watery.

“Why are you repakin’ your ruck?” I asked her.

“Let me guess, you don’t know what’s going on?” she started up again.

“Ooohh, why am I not surprised!” she yelled.

Once again my pulse sped up, I was completely furious. I saw the color blood red all around me. I’d had it with these people. I wanted them dead way ahead of an Iraqi. I watched as my assigned battle buddy ran off toward the entrance of our perimeter along with the other wannabes on alpha team, yet I was hesitant.

Out of nowhere, my own personal stars appeared in every direction that I glimpsed and I couldn’t catch a great enough breath. I rushed my overwhelmed body down onto the dirt next to her. I didn’t want to be next to her, but our space was confined. I also figured being closer to her would encourage her to shut her mouth.

I allowed my mind to wander in order to wear off my anger. I had to calm down in order to bring my heart rate back down. I thought about all the different history books I’d read. For some reason, I thought about slavery and the Holocaust the most. The torture those people must have felt, I thought. They endured suffering and here I can’t even endure a harmless preparation for war.

The dirt rubbed against my knees as I kneeled down on the ground in my dirty hooch. I could see insects crawling in their environment and I began to feel that it was only me who didn’t belong.

“McCoy!” Private Price shouted, out of nowhere.

I twisted around to face her.

“Get over there, now!” she demanded.

She stood over me at my hooch like God over a sinner.

I glanced up at Price in her dirty BDUs with her fine black hair pulled back into a bun, her pale skin turning flush and her pointy nostrils flaring at me. I beamed her an artificial smile instead of following her orders because remaining upset would only make me dizzier. Price continued glaring down at me and I just kept on smiling at her. I knew it was irritating her. Then after a few infuriating seconds, she finally ran off to where she needed to be and I felt better.

In a matter of seconds, I heard footsteps coming toward me.

“Whatcha doin’, McCoy?” Private Chapman asked.

“Getting ready to say a prayer.” I explained to her, knowing she would understand.

“They’re bothering you, huh?” Private Chapman chuckled.

“When are they not?” I asked her.

“When you get up, come dig a foxhole with the rest of Bravo team. We all gotta dig a foxhole.” She said.

“Okay.” I replied.

Before she scurried off to her respected area, I turned back around and began to pray.

Dear God,

Help me, O Lord. Help me to be better than them from the inside out. They’re rude and their not justified either, but they think they are. So what if I don’t know anything about basic training. So what! I don’t believe I’ll die in Iraq unless you call me O’ Lord. They think they have the most power, but I know best O’ Lord. Besides, soldiers are born not made. If I go along with everything Lord, I will not be the great person that you have created. I can see now that I am only here to gain strength. Lord, for you I will get through the training in order to become stronger. I understand that thou shall not kill and no weapon formed against me shall prosper. They won’t stop me from graduating. Lord, they’re against me because I refuse to assimilate. This is not what you called me to be, but I think this is how you choose for me to grow. Lord, please build me an outer shell. Please protect me. Amen.

After I silently prayed I reached for my rucksack and grabbed my e-tool from out of it. I grabbed my weapon and slung it across my back. I headed for a vacant space between the hooches. I took a swift, forceful thrust into the damp dirt and began digging. The digging kind of helped with my frustration and it became almost meditative. I saw some of the males resting in their holes while I kept digging. Most of them were already finished digging their holes. They kept an ongoing competition. They competed to see who could dig the fastest. The males always competed. The females, however, competed in other ways. Most of us would try to defeat the males, while others would try to blend in with them. Yet, the females had the most vicious verbalization. The females didn’t have any competition when it came to that. Our words were as sharp as Swiss blades.

In just a short period of time, I’d dug a hole. My hole appeared small and not too wide nor deep. It was perfect for me. I knew not to dig too deep of a hole. I didn’t want to have a mud bath. The drill sergeants went around telling all of us that we were digging our graves. I wasn’t surprised they would say something like that to us. However, I only ignored them and kept digging until I didn’t want to anymore. By the time I was cool tempered, everyone else on bravo team was sitting around talking to each other.

Drill Sergeant Mayor then directed to pull a 360 in prone unsupported position. That was the formation in which we would guard our perimeter. We were ordered to guard our perimeter inside the hole until we were given further instruction. I felt a raindrop land on my hand at the trigger of my M-16 rifle. Then I felt another raindrop mark my cold cheek, then another and another. The clouds overhead maintained a steady drizzle. I didn’t panic, instead I lie there and I began to think of one of our cadences.

Sergeant: Fight for our colorful nation

Wannabes: Fight for our colorful nation

Sergeant: Fight for our right to be free

Wannabes: Fight for our right to be free

Sergeant: marching over the enemy’s line

Wannabes: marching over the enemy’s line

Sergeant: freedom for all mankind

Wannabes: freedom for all mankind

Sergeant: Left . . . left . . .

Soon, frequent raindrops began falling upon us. An overwhelming discomfort came over me, but I just lie there very still. There was nothing I could do about the rain. So, I decided to enjoy it. While I lie there enjoying the rain the gray clouds held a smog colored appearance. I could hear others quietly talking among each other. I was too upset at those around me, so I kept to myself like usual. I could feel my eyelids getting heavier. So I sat there with my rifle pointed ahead at nothing in particular—bored. My eyelids became even heavier. So, I continued on to another cadence in my mind. I could still feel the raindrops on my face and hands. Before I knew it I was counting sheep and it felt so good. I slept for all the times I didn’t sleep. I slept for all the times I was frustrated, tired, pissed off. But most importantly, I slept because that’s what I felt like doing.

At 1400 hours we prepared for pugil stick training, but first we had to listen to a block of instruction. The drill sergeants demonstrated three different pugil stick maneuvers that we could use against one another. We would be disqualified if we hit our competitor in the face. They informed us that we weren’t going to receive a helmet, but we would get mouth guards. The army trusted these wannabes with sticks that had cushions on both ends like a Q-tip. However, I didn’t.

The drill sergeants formed us together in the wet grass. The obstacle would be a pugil stick fight. I predicted that the wannabes would take the challenge personal if they lost. I wanted to bypass on this challenge and be a complete stand out. I knew I didn’t have to take the challenge. I was not going to give these wannabes the opportunity to hit me in the face. There were only a couple of obstacles in basic training that were mandatory in order to complete training without having to start over from the beginning again. Pugil stick training was not one of them. For most of the wannabes passing the challenge would determine whether they were weak or strong. To me, it was just army training.

We were then separated into divisions among our platoon. We were placed into categories according to our body weight. I was put into the female featherweight category with Kennis, Williams, Butler, and Nguyen. I didn’t mind being put into categories according to weight. I only weighed one hundred and eighteen pounds. Most of us featherweight girls were, of course, physically non aggressive. Our platoon also had a heavyweight category. Although majority of us talked a good game, we were still the females. We stood in our groups and waited for the drill sergeants to announce the first competitors. The drill sergeants began talking trash and making comments about who would win. We could hear them loud and clear. They were laughing, joking and having a really good time at our expense. I just shook my head back and forth in astonishment. Drill Sergeant Mayor finally announced that the first competitors would be Clinton and Blackstone. That announcement ignited Clinton like a firework. Of course, she had something smart to say.

“Blackstone, dis gone be too easy. Im’a beat you!” Private Clinton joked.

I rolled my eyes, turned and faced forward. I brushed them off like I normally did. The only choice I had was to ignore the wannabes. Kennis stepped out of the line and began talking to Williams.

“Country, don’t think ’cause you black you gone whoop my ass,” Private Kennis snapped.

“I’m sick of y’all!” she shouted out.

As Drill Sergeant Drake silently passed, she overheard Kennis’ remark and she continued walking. She looked down and smiled like she was trying to hold in a laugh. Williams didn’t say anything back to Kennis, but she appeared angry. I believe she wanted to cry. I could see her eyes getting watery. Yet, I didn’t feel I could stand up for anyone else because I could barely stand up for myself. I felt weak. Private Williams then stormed away from the platoon.

I noticed Private Nguyen and Parker shaking their heads in disgust at all the violent slurs flying back and forth through the cold air. The day remained gloomy and moist. I spit out a mouthful of mucus that had wrapped around my tonsils. I knew Williams didn’t want to fight Kennis and I knew she might have been a little scared. She turned her back to everyone and stood over by a distant tree. She stood alone with her back toward the platoon and I noticed that no one was even concerned about her in the moment. It was as if nobody had even noticed that she’d slipped away. From afar, I could see that she’d begun crying. I didn’t want to go over there just yet. I wanted to give her time to cool down, yet I didn’t blame her for running away from them. I also had to make sure the drill sergeants didn’t catch me departing after her. I didn’t want to get both of us in trouble.

I, on the other hand, had been assigned to battle Private Nguyen. She was a quiet Asian female who remained genuinely passive. Boy, did I receive a get out of jail free card this time, I thought. Nguyen and Parker worked together most of the time. Parker was one of the quiet white females who often helped Nguyen whenever she didn’t understand the drill sergeant’s instruction because Nguyen didn’t speak English very well.

The drill sergeants called both Private Blackstone and Private Clinton to the center of the circle. They each took their positions in the center of the platoon’s wide 360 formation. The battle began at the sergeant’s command. Once Drill Sergeant Mayor backed out the way, Clinton threw the first pugil to Blackstone’s left arm. She swatted her hard and it sounded like it hurt. Blackstone showed no signs of pain. Instead, she made her move with a straight face. She thrust Clinton’s knees and then her chest. Then Blackstone quickly swatted at Clinton again. They hit each other hard. The cheering and yelling from the circle encouraged them to fight. The wannabes moved in closer as the intensity grew, making the circle tighter. However, the drill sergeant yelled at us to fall back. I noticed that some of the males were so excited that they began jumping in place and talking aloud. I had to consider that everyone here was still pretty young. The oldest female here was Nguyen and she was nearly twenty-four years old.

“I don’t wanna fight, McCoy. You win.” Private Nguyen replied.

I smiled; I was so pleased with her submission.

“Don’t worry, Nguyen. We’ll take it easy.” I replied, smiling at her.

“I’m so happy I’m your partner.” She admitted, smiling back at me.

Parker looked at us as she overheard our conversation and she laughed. Then we all laughed together. Meanwhile, Blackstone used her pugil stick like a knife and with all her might she moved straightforward, directly into Clinton’s chest. Clinton lost her balance a little bit and stepped back on her left foot to catch herself. Clinton began backing up. Blackstone swiftly progressed forward and Clinton threw a blow to her head out of fear. I could see the fear in her eyes the moment she did it.

“Disqualified!” Drill Sergeant Andrews shouted.

He strolled in between them, effortlessly slicing through the thick tension. Clinton held the sternest look on her face. I watched her and I was glad she wasn’t giving me that expression. Neither of them would dare throw another blow while Drill Sergeant Andrews stood near. Clinton threw down her pugil stick and walked out the circle. Blackstone went on to the designated winner’s circle. Clinton physically stood behind everyone else in her weight category ashamed of her performance. She stood with her arms folded amongst her chest. She was clearly upset. The challenge went on and she was cast out of the circle like she didn’t even exist.

“Well that only lasted two seconds.” Private Kennis replied.

She and I both chuckled. I was glad that Clinton had lost the battle. I wondered if Clinton and Blackstone would continue to be friends. They were always together. On Blackstone’s way to the circle at least three or four wannabes gave her high fives or pats on her back. I don’t believe any of the white females gave her any recognition. Yet, all of us were entertained by their quick catfight.

The next competitors were two males. Both Private Green and Private Johnson were called to battle it out in the center of the formation. They were both ideal for the military because they were both always so persistent. I wasn’t even interested in watching the fight, so I readjusted my focus. I glanced behind me looking for Williams. The competition was still underway. I watched Williams stand alone at the pine tree. So, I headed over towards her while the rest of them were distracted.

I walked up close to her and she turned to face me.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.

Now that I’d migrated closer towards her I could see her swollen eyes. She looked scared.

“I can’n do it,” she moaned.

Williams lifted her back off the tree and faced me. Tears ran down her soft, dreamy brown skin to the tip of her chin.

“Neva been treated so bad by nobody in ma’ life,” she cried to me.

“Wanna go hoomme. I miss ma babies.” She moaned.

“Girl, just get done with this training and you’ll be home in no time. You’a be soo proud.” I tried convincing her.

“I can’n be no sohjah.” Private Williams admitted.

I watched a bubbled tear snowball down her left cheek.

“Mannn, I wanna go hoomme.” She continued, just as her tears continued falling down her face.

“Williams, honey. We only got a couple things we’re required to pass.” I persuaded.

“Ignore them like I have to do and keep waking up and going to sleep. If they ain’t kicked you out yet, then they just waitin’ for you to quit. Don’t quit!” I pushed.

I was hoping my last words stuck with her. She finally raised her left arm and wiped her snotty nose with her wrist.

“Leave me ’lone.” She demanded.

She turned and gave me the cold shoulder. I sighed, turned and walked off.

The two males were still battling it out when I returned to my proper place. I completely spaced while the rest of them yelled and cheered for their favorite private. I stood there as part of the audience, but I dismissed the free show. I didn’t care about this battle and I didn’t want to cheer for either of them.

Drill Sergeant Mayor headed over in their direction as they fought. He marched over confidently, as if he already knew he wouldn’t accidentally become hit with a pugil stick. Once he moved in fairly close to them, both Private Green and Private Johnson stopped fighting. I couldn’t help but notice Green’s face growing flush. He had sunny blond hair, a sharp pointy nose and a set of crooked teeth. Johnson, on the other hand, appeared calm and collected. He was a tall slender male who wore basic training goggles just as I did. Before Drill Sergeant Mayor declared the winner, the honor was illustrated on Johnson’s face. He already knew he’d won.

In less than two minutes the next components stepped up to the challenge. It was Whitehead and Martinez, one Portuguese male and one Mexican male. They both prepared to battle it out on the drill sergeant’s command. Whitehead had greyish blue eyes and pimple infested tan skin. His large head matched his round body. He also had a compelling mean mug like a convict. Martinez held a smoother complexion with a boyish appeal. He had big brown eyes and tan skin. Majority of the time Martinez held a playful smile on his face. His favorite line was, ‘Aye, yo, take it easy.’

Right then, I overheard someone yell out the word ‘spick’, but didn’t see who said it. For some reason, I decided to zone in as the fight begun.

The first one to make a move was Whitehead. He swatted Martinez with a direct forward thrust. Whitehead poked Martinez directly in his stomach. Martinez hauled his pugil stick into Whitehead’s chest and then quickly swatted him on his left shoulder. Due to the fact that the males were so swift and forceful, their swats appeared painless. Both male components seemed to be taking their lashings gracefully. Whitehead flung his pugil stick into Martinez side, but he missed. He tried again and he missed a second time. Then Martinez threw a crucial blow to his stomach. Whitehead curled forward and held his stomach in severe pain. Right then, Martinez rushed Whitehead to the ground on his back by charging at him with both hands gripping his pugil stick. He used the middle of his pugil stick to strangle Whitehead while he remained flat on the ground. Most of the Mexican’s roared in excitement. I wondered if the drill sergeants were going to run in and break up the fight. I stood there among the platoon and pitied Private Whitehead.

As soon as Drill Sergeant Andrews came nearer, Whitehead kicked Martinez off of him and they stopped fighting. Martinez sprang to his feet and Whitehead lifted from the ground slowly knowing that he’d lost. He continued to hold his stomach. Martinez, on the other hand, jumped up and down in excitement along with the other males of the same race. For the most part, people liked him and were happy for his success. Martinez moved over to Whitehead with his right hand extended and Whitehead extended his out to him as well. They both shook hands respectfully. I was pleased with their sportsmanship. Finally, I’d seen an act that was admirable in my eyes. They shook hands without hesitation and I was happy to see it.

“Well, that was good that he shook his hand, I wouldna,” Private Kennis started.

“He whooped his ass.”

Drill Sergeant Mayor looked around for other components to fight. Sure enough, Drill Sergeant Mayor sauntered over to Nguyen and asked her who she was supposed to be competing against.

“Me.” I replied.

I listened to the words spill out of my mouth as if I wasn’t the one who said them. As I heard myself speak, I wished that I’d said nothing. My heart began beating a little harder. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned my head around and there was Kennis. She told me to ‘whoop some Asian ass’. I smiled politely and tried my best to brush her off.

I placed my guard into my mouth and walked into the circle, but it was like I was in someone else’s body. I couldn’t quite get a grip on reality. We took our positions in the center of the ring like those who competed before us. However, the scenery looked completely different from the inside of the circle.

“Fight!” Drill Sergeant Mayor replied and quickly backed away.

I looked directly into Nguyen’s eyes and they were wide. We both stood there for a few seconds afraid to take the first hit.

“Fight, you jack asses.” A voice called out from the platoon.

So in order to get things started, I threw the first swing. I lightly tapped her on the right shoulder and she hit me back on my left. Once she received the first hit, she smiled showing me her mouth guard. I smiled back at her, showing her mine. I meant to reassure her that the exercise didn’t have to be painful. We just had to get through the fight, so that we were participating. I could imagine we were boring to watch because no one said anything. There were no ‘ooh’ and ’aah’s. I could hear people talking about other things. I lightly hit her again on her leg. She hit me right back in mine. It tickled and I began laughing aloud. I was actually having fun.

Drill Sergeant Drake sauntered up to us and we both stopped our playful game. She snatched the pugil stick out of my hand.

“Next time y’all wanna play patty cake—do it on somebody else’s time! I got soldiers to train!” she snapped.

She snatched the pugil stick out of Nguyen’s hand as well and the drill sergeants called upon the next competitors. Nguyen and I both snickered and walked off. I was glad it was over. I walked away with an easy conscience. I was glad I didn’t entertain them. We both returned to our respected weight category unharmed.

I blew off watching the next couple of competitors. I spent most of the time talking to Private Kennis and Private Nguyen, until Private Williams returned to our weight category. Then we all talked amongst each other like we did during lights out. We waited for someone else in our category to be called. Once they were called to fight, we would cheer for them. However, in our weight category, we left most of the inappropriate, foul language to Kennis.

After some time, we had the opportunity to battle against another platoon. Fourth platoon was our competitor. The first two to be called upon were Private Stevenson and Private Miller. When I heard the announcement I couldn’t help but focus. I stood and gave the battle my undivided attention. I knew it would be good. I didn’t think a fair fight would hurt these females at all. Both females were butch and competitive. Both Miller and Stevenson took their places facing each other in the circle. They both beamed mischievous smiles once they were face to face. Unlike any other competitors they respectfully pounded fists before Drill Sergeant Mayor called them to fight. Within seconds the first hit was caught in Miller’s stomach. It must have been a hard hit because it was loud and Miller made a gagging noise like she wanted to hurl. However, she maintained her cold glare and she didn’t buckle. Miller quickly proceeded to throw a forceful swat to Stevenson’s rib cage the minute Stevenson lifted her arm to make another move at her. The swat Miller gave pushed Stevenson over a couple inches. Miller had to constantly move over in order to keep Stevenson from swatting her. They ended up turning 180 degrees. Miller thrust Stevenson in the chest as hard as she could and it moved Stevenson back five paces. Stevenson quickly recovered in the few seconds that Miller allowed. Stevenson hit Miller in the arm twice and she looked like she did it out of frustration.

“Come on, Miller you can do it! Kick her ass!” Private Walker hollered out with her hands around her mouth to carry her voice like a bullhorn.

I wanted to holler out something because the battle became exciting, but I didn’t know what to say. It was better than a paid preview channel. Even the drill sergeants watched without interruption. Stevenson thrust her pugil stick toward Miller’s leg trying to knock her off balance. Miller quickly swatted Stevenson in the chest several times on full force. I couldn’t see Miller’s face because only her back was in my vision. Miller slowly backed up. Stevenson stood still while Miller continued to back up. Her backwards movement provided Stevenson with all the ammunition she needed. She then went in for the kill. She threw on her stern face while she made her move. She charged forward with her pugil stick pointed erect. Miller panicked and dropped her stick, yet she didn’t move. It seemed as if she were frozen. Right then, Private Stevenson stabbed the pugil stick into her chest with a running start. Her running momentum gave Stevenson so much power that once she thrust Miller in the chest the fight was officially over.

During lunch chow I sat on the grass with Butler, Kennis, and Williams. We all ate chow together. I was so glad Williams, Chapman and Butler didn’t ignore me like I ignored the others. Kennis, on the other hand, I wish ignored me. However, Williams did most of the talking. She explained to us that she’d never left her hometown of Mobile, Alabama prior to coming to training. Being in training was her first time ever leaving home. I knew I wouldn’t keep in touch with her when we finished training, most of the time I didn’t even understand what she was saying, her accent was so thick. Other times she’d talk fast, as if I already knew what she was saying. I would have to concentrate on her words to really hear what she was saying to me.

“ . . . Ma babies. I got tree chilren at my mama house. She say she’a watchem’ fo’ me while I’m ’erre.” Private Williams said.

I opened up the flimsy heating package in my MRE in order to heat up my chili mac. Williams had a chicken and dumpling MRE and Kennis had a beef stew one. From where I sat on the grass, I couldn’t see what Butler had for dinner.

“Country, how old are you?” Private Kennis asked.

She scooped up a sum of applesauce with her plastic black spoon.

“Miam twenty years ole.” Private Williams said.

“Ooh, meee too.” Private Butler replied, with excitement.

Butler sat with her legs folded in front of her on the grass. Her skin was so brown that she was darker than both Williams and Stevenson. However, she wasn’t darker than me. The villous hairs on Butler’s face accumulated above her top lip to form a faint mustache.

“When’s your birthday?” Private Butler asked Williams.

Butler held a candid smile.

“June twenty-fivah.” Private William said, with a mouth full of wheat bread.

“Oh, mine is August the twelfth.” She informed us.

“McCoy, ain’t you glad you don’t talk like ’em.” Private Kennis said, once again without a filter.

“Bet you wouldn’t be sittin’ up in da house with a whole bunch of children and no Goddamn education.”

“Wuz wrong wit’ havin’ chilren.” Country snapped.

“Da bible say to be fruitful. Das a blessin’.”

“I ain’t talking ’bout da bible. I don’t believe in that shit.” Private Kennis replied.

Kennis expression remained solid.

“Oh well, I do.” Private Butler insisted.

“Me, too.” I finally spoke up.

I ate a peanut from the trail mix out of my MRE.

“Yeah, it’s a blessing that you had your chilren.” I said, slightly mocking her accent.

I smiled at Williams playfully and she smiled back.

“God is good.” I said.

Kennis rolled her eyes at us.

“Where was da Lord when I needed him,” Private Kennis started up.

“Guess he don’t love me because I don’t love him,” she stated.

“Das so stupid anyway, you can’t even see him.” Private Kennis replied.

She put her applesauce down and readjusted her thin brown ponytail.

“Why were you sad today, battle?” Private Butler asked Country.

“You better now?”

“Yea. I’m betta.” Private Williams replied.

Williams peered down on the grass. She seemed to be a little ashamed. I felt bad for her and I secretly hated Kennis.

After lunch, we marched nearly five miles out before the terrain became nothing but trees and brush. We were in the woods. The ground remained muddy and the atmosphere full of mosquitoes. The forecast looked as if it would rain. I assumed that any minute now the clouds would rip, allowing a heap of water to burst through them. Once given the command to halt. We gathered into a cluster and Drill Sergeant Andrews started his block of instruction. I began to listen, giving the verbal instruction the opportunity to travel through my mind.

“ . . . Now, you’re getting into firing squads. Everyone on my left will form alpha squad and on my right bravo. Move!” Drill Sergeant Andrews commanded.

We all hurried into two separate teams on each side of him.

Being that Drill Sergeant Andrews was a prior infantry soldier. I realized that he was someone who’d seen the misfortunes of war. His patience remained short and he hated soldiers in training. I could tell he thought we were weak and he didn’t want to be associated with us. Yet and still, he stood before us as an instructor. Drill Sergeant Andrews paced through the muddy path between us as he lectured.

“ . . . These firing squads are important. They’re designed to keep you away from the enemy and open fire. You must keep your intervals at all times. The formation I’ll put you in . . .”

I dug into my BDU pockets and pulled out my crackers.

I had already opened the sealed wrapper, so I broke off a piece of my cracker and put it in my mouth. I began chewing as quietly as possible. Drill Sergeant Drake had me eyeballed from the start. Out of my peripheral vision I saw her heading over toward me.

“Spit it out!” she hollered, interrupting Drill Sergeant Andrews’ block of instruction.

Everyone turned around and gawked at me as she approached me. I would’ve been embarrassed, but I was used to it. Once again, I became numb. I spit the cracker on the muddy ground because I had no choice. She was stupid for making me spit it out, I thought. I wasn’t bothering anyone. Yet and still, if they weren’t eating crackers than that meant I wasn’t eating crackers either. She then told me to get rid of all of it. So, I dug in my pocket to retrieve the rest of the crackers inside the foil and I threw the broken pieces of cracker onto the wet ground. Drill Sergeant Andrews began gaping at me. He was forced to stop in the middle of his lecture just so that Drill Sergeant Drake could make an example out of me. Instantly, his face grew red. I would have disregarded his red-hot face, but I didn’t want him to try to hurt me. I knew none of them could put their hands on us, but sometimes I didn’t know about Drill Sergeant Andrews. However, I tried not to worry about it. After providing a long, hard grimace Drill Sergeant Andrews proceeded on with his lecture.

“The tactical formation y’all gonna get into is called columns.” He said, stepping back on his left foot.

“Martinez . . . Green . . .” He called out to them.

He peered around for other males that he could fit into the example formation.

“Reed and Whitehead, get here now!” he commanded.

Drill Sergeant Andrews pointed to the space in front of him and the wannabes were there in less than three seconds. He told them to form a wedge and they already knew how to form into the tactical formation, which he commanded and they did it quickly. I peeked over at Drill Sergeant Drake and realized she’d been staring at me without my knowledge. Once I acknowledged her, she took out a stick of Extra chewing gum and puts it in her mouth. Soldiers in training weren’t supposed to have chewing gum. We were deprived of gum, cigarettes, soda, and anything else that people enjoyed. She rolled her eyes at me after she put the chewing gum in her mouth. I don’t think anybody else saw that because they were too busy focusing on the block of instruction. I simply blew her off by allowing her to see my smile. I then turned my head and refocused on the four males who were being used as an example for a column formation.

“ . . . get into alpha and bravo formation, now!”

We all moved with the quickness into the formation that he described. Once we were in formation we were to take a knee.

“I’m God!” he began.

“And you will get on your knees before me.” He told all of us.

Drill Sergeant Andrews took the time to look directly at me after he said that. He was quiet for a moment, wanting a response out of me. I only looked at him sternly. Nobody said anything of course. They were wannabes, it wouldn’t matter to them what the drill sergeants said or did they would follow. I wanted to get up off my knees and bash him in the head with my rifle. I could see this playing out in my mind and I wanted to laugh.

We listened to an hour and a half of Drill Sergeant Andrews rambling while we remained on bended knee. Then we assembled into a wedge firing squad and then into an echelon firing squad. Next, Drill Sergeant Andrews demonstrated various arm signals, which we were supposed to remember. Finally, we were able to pass through the open road after his instruction. It was our test to do it exactly the way he’d instructed. I didn’t have to do anything, but follow. I hated following behind others, but because this wasn’t my field, I had to go along with them. I was just happy to get off my knees because Drill Sergeant Andrews was nowhere near God.

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