This is just an excerpt from my chapter on basic training, which took place between August and October of 1992. Please sign up to follow my blog or sign up with your email, because potential publishers like to see see large followings. Like the last excerpt I released, this is just the meat and potatoes so please don’t point out any errors, as this is likely to change a dozen times. For those of you reading this who may not know me, I stutter, which is not a big deal, but it is pertinent to this excerpt.
I had several issues with stuttering during basic. “F” words have always been a challenge, and when we got to the front of the chow line, we had to stand at parade rest with our military I.D. card under our chin and sound off with our last name and the last four digits of our social security number. I got stuck on “Fuller” on more than one occasion. Several times, I wasn’t able to get it out very quickly and was sent to the rear of the line.
One time, I actually got to eat before anyone in the whole company, because I won the drill sergeant impression contest. To my credit, I sounded just like him. I walked around the barracks at night sometimes just trying to lighten the mood amongst my platoon. I never intended to upset anyone, but a couple of times, guys came running out of the shower to stand at attention next to their locker. I was apparently very convincing. A couple of them wanted to kick my butt, but they got over it.
The drill sergeant is an odd creature. They are really just regular soldiers just like the rest of us, but they happen to have an odd job. Sometimes they were cool, and other times they were the polar opposite for no apparent reason whatsoever. Some were only with us a few weeks. Some were with us the entire cycle. Some of us even teared up when they left. Others took leave during those eight weeks, and we missed them when they were gone. Maybe it was the Army’s version of Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t know. To their credit, they were up before us and awake after we went to sleep, so one can certainly understand their moodiness.
Blending in and being vanilla was key during basic training. We were in week four before my drill sergeant even knew I existed. I never got in trouble, but I still got yelled at sometimes for stupid things.
After a few weeks, we were given a few hours of personal time on Sunday. We were limited as to where we could go, but many of us would go down to the mini-mall in the basic training area. One day, I was standing outside next to some guys I didn’t even know. Somehow they got their hands on a pack of cigarettes. A short drill sergeant from another unit saw them and was heading over to rip them a new one when they saw him, so they all got the hell out of Dodge. I stood my ground and stood at parade rest when he got over there, because I’d done nothing wrong. He actually smelled of my fingers to see if he could smell the cigarette. When there was no smell, he yelled at me and told me to get out of his face. What an ass.
Speaking of short, there was another time I get yelled out, by a very tall female drill sergeant. Her last name was Battle, but it very easily could have been another “B” word. While picking up laundry, she told one of us to pick up another soldier’s bag. I stepped out of line to pick it up, and she said, “Get yo short ass back in line.” Most of the drill sergeants I encountered showed their human side at times. She, however, didn’t. I’m convinced she was a wolf in Army clothing.
There was another jerk of a drill sergeant who yelled at me to get off the payphone, so one of his soldiers could use it. I literally had been on the phone with my family for all of 90 seconds. I hate that guy.
Ryan and Adrian sent me lots of mail during this time. Shea sent some, but he was in basic training, too, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Brad sent one letter—just one measly letter, and I still give him a hard time about that. In the envelope, though, were several toothpicks. I’d been without them for so long that they were good as gold. I put one in my mouth and within five minutes, one of the drill sergeants kindly told me to remove it from my pie hole, as it was not part of my uniform. He didn’t even have to scream and yell, yet he made the same point.
He was correct in that it was not part of my uniform, and I heard that a few times in my career, yet it was okay to have to have a larger stick of fire hanging from your lips in the form of a cigarette. Some things about military life just doesn’t make sense, but it is what it is, and it is the life we chose.
This is the actual letter, envelopes, and toothpicks I got from Brad. Photo taken 7/23/16
My family and friends have always been there for me, so I received a lot of mail during this time. As a true sign of the times, our full social security number was a part of our mailing address. Mine were addressed to “Joseph,” not Jody. Prior to serving, I had no idea of the significance “Jody” played in the military. “Jody” was the guy back home that took your girl while you were away. There are still many cadences dedicated to this dude.
Ain’t no use in going back
Jody’s got your Cadillac
Ain’t no use in calling home
Jody’s got your girl and gone
Ain’t no use in feeling blue
Jody’s got your sister too
One day, I received a letter from one of my buddies who’d mistakenly addressed it to “Jody” instead of “Joseph.” My drill sergeant noticed it just before flinging the letter in my direction.
“Wait, is your name Jody?”
“Yes, drill sergeant.”
“So you’re Jody?”
“Yes, drill sergeant.”
“Get down and beat your face!”
That was another way of telling me to do push-ups. He only made me do 10, and it was actually funny. Everyone got a kick out of it. In letters, I told a couple of my friends what’d happened. Boy, was that a mistake. From that point on I was getting two or three envelopes a day addressed to “Jody” and had to do 10 pushups per piece. Sometimes, the envelopes were empty, but there’s always a silver lining. That was the only time in my Army career where I maxed the push-up portion of the PT test.
The pugil stick was a heavily padded pole-like training weapon. It was like a giant Q-tip, only a giant Q-tip used to bash people over the head with. We had the best two out of three, one on one fights until a winner was deemed by one of the drill sergeants. It was like a duel. We stood back to back, before taking five paces and turning around and yelling “KILL” before attacking our opponent.
I went up against this one guy and we’d split the first two bouts. Before the rubber match, my drill sergeant looked over at me and said, “You stutter, don’t you?”
“Roger that, drill sergeant.”
He giggled. Yes, a drill sergeant giggled.
After the fifth pace, I turned around and yelled at the top of my lungs, “K-K-K-K-Kill!!!!” and the whole platoon fell out laughing, including my drill sergeant and my opponent. When I’d lured my opponent into that false sense of security, I went in for the kill and pounded on him until I was declared the victor. It didn’t take long. From that point on, they called me “K-K-Killer.”
Going in to the Army, I didn’t know it, but I was a hell of a shot with a rifle. Throughout basic marksmanship training, I was one of the top shooters, never shooting less than 36/40. I was so proficient with my weapon that I was assigned to the first firing order on qualification day to set the standard for the rest of the platoon. It was me and five other guys. It was a lot of responsibility, but something I took great pride in.
When the dust had settled, literally, I’d shot a 22/40, thus failing to even qualify. I don’t know what happened, but I was devastated. How could I go from shooting expert to not even qualifying? Perhaps I was getting too cocky and needed to be humbled. We need that sometimes. If that’s the case, it worked. I came back and qualified later in the day, but no matter how well I shot, due to my failure the first go around, I could qualify no better than marksman. It was a bummer, but when put into perspective, it wasn’t all that bad.
Now the gas chamber, that was bad. It seemed innocent enough. It was just a little block building. What’s the big deal? We donned our protective masks and entered in groups of no more than 12. The purpose was to instill confidence in the mask. It was nothing—too easy. The mask worked to perfection. Familiarization and confidence of a soldier’s equipment can be the difference in life and death.
Picture of the actual gas chamber taken by my mother when they came up for graduation. Sorry, I was too lazy to get up to scan the pic, so I just took a photo of it.
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