Originally published January 25th, 2017 in The Belle Banner.
PFC Jane Doe has been in the Army about a year. She completed one semester of college, ran out of money and went to an Army recruiter. She was interested in the GI Bill and what kind of job she could get in the army. The recruiter told her that she would be in the “Post 911 GI Bill”. After three years in the army, the VA will pay full tuition and fees to an in-state public college, university or trade school, plus a sizable monthly housing allowance, and up to $1,000 a year for books. In other words a full ride. As far as a job in the Army, she would have to take the ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, a physical fitness test, and a medical exam. Plus a background check to make sure she had nothing derogatory in her background. Then, based upon her scores, she could choose from the jobs available, at that time. The recruiter was a former paratrooper and told her that she could also request an “airborne option” along with most jobs (jobs are MOS’s (military occupational specialties) in the army). He told her that paratroopers on jump status receive an extra $150 per month, and that the school is only three weeks long. She choose MOS 42A Human Resource Specialist with the airborne option. Her recruiter cautioned her to reveal absolutely everything she may have done wrong in her life, because MOS 42A requires a SECRET security clearance, and in that investigation all records are available to the Army, including juvenile. Her recruiter helped her set up her Army Knowledge Online (AKO) account, where she could monitor her records and request assignments. She went to the MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in St Louis, where she took the ASVAB for record, got a physical exam (she had been told to remind them that she was going Airborne, because it required a different exam), and talked to a counselor, who tried to persuade her to take a different job, but she insisted that she wanted 42A. She then signed her contract, stood with several others and took the oath of enlistment. At that point she was in the Army.
Her group was bused to the USO office at the airport, where they met other enlistees who had arrived by plane. They were loaded on a bus and transported to the US Army Reception Battalion at Fort Leonard Wood. The time at the Reception Battalion can be anywhere from four days to a week and a half, until they have enough people to fill a basic training company. They were met by drill sergeants, who didn’t yell, but briefed them about what they would do, while at the Reception Battalion. They ate dinner, then were issued the Army PT uniform, which they would wear the next day. Their cell phones were collected, to be returned at graduation from basic training. They separated men and women, then were moved to a barracks and assigned a bunk and wall locker (need lock). They finally got to sleep after midnight. They were rudely awakened at 4:30 AM and told they had 30 minutes to take care of their personal hygiene then clean their living area and the latrine (bathroom), and be outside in formation for breakfast. They were briefed by various people, then the men all got their hair cut off, the women had the option of having it cut to collar length or keeping it up (like a bun) above the collar. They were issued an “EZ pay card” (with $350.00 on it) to purchase necessary items. That money would come out of their first pay. They had blood drawn, got shots and had ID card photos taken. They were marched to the PX and told what to buy. Didn’t make any difference if they had brought the item with them. They were then issued uniforms and boots. The second day was eye, ear, and dental exams, and personnel affairs processing. She had to have her bank routing number and her checking account number. The military only pays by direct deposit. The third day were more shots, photos, ear plug brief, TRICARE brief, and Red Cross brief. The time at the reception station was extremely stressful, many had trouble adjusting to the regimentation. They were lucky, they shipped to their basic training company on day four.
At the basic training company, the drill sergeants did yell, a lot, and in their face. They were separated into four platoons of about 50 people each, assigned to barracks and bunks and wall lockers, where they would live for the next nine weeks. They were marched to pay phones and told to call home and give their family their address. Everyone was assigned a “battle buddy”. Some felt like they had made a mistake, and that they had arrived in hell. Basic training is in three phases – red, white and blue. Red phase (the first three weeks) was total control. Drill Sergeants maintained strict control at all times. In red phase they learned how to stand, march, salute, etc. They had PT every morning, Monday through Saturday, they had classes on army values, life in the army, first aid, hand to hand combat, and land navigation. They spent half a day on warrior tower and they went through the gas chamber. They received their first class on the M16A2/M4 rifle. It was around week three that most began to realize that the drill sergeants really did have serious concern for their training and their wellbeing. They found that the quicker they mastered a task, the happier the drill sergeants became. It was also around that time that they began to “jell” as a platoon, they became a unit, looking out for each other. They started having fun. They also got to use the pay phone on Sunday night. In white phase, weeks four thru six, they mastered their rifle. They learned disassembly, assembly and cleaning of the rifle. They fired on various ranges, and finally fired for record. They were told by some of the drill sergeants that a high weapons qualification score and a high PT score were two of the biggest things to bring out of basic. The drill sergeants became human, not buddies, but more approachable. The drill sergeants were beyond teaching them how to act, they were now teaching skills. They threw live hand grenades, went through the obstacle course, fired grenade launchers, pugil stick fighting classes, as well as ground fighting techniques. In blue phase, week seven and eight were more firing. Night firing, moving targets, close combat firing, convoy operations, moving under fire, rappelling, rules of engagement, and squad tactical training. Finally, week nine. The End of Course Test, takes all day. It is hands on performing all the things taught in basic. Then cleaning and turn in of field equipment, dress uniform inspection and practice for graduation. The day before graduation was “family day”. After the soldiers and the families were briefed on what they could and could not do, they got to spend the entire day with their family. On Thursday morning, Graduation! Graduation was a time of mixed emotions. There was elation at finishing basic, then there was the sadness of separating with some really good friends that she acquired over the past nine weeks. Many spent time thanking their drill sergeants for bringing them through basic training. They would never forget those drill sergeants.
After graduation, Jane and some others were given bus tickets to the St Louis airport, and plane tickets to Columbia, South Carolina – Fort Jackson, for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in MOS 42A Human Resource Specialist.
The military liaison office at the Columbia airport put them on the proper bus which delivered them to their company on Fort Jackson. The barracks in some companies slept four to six people to a room, with a communal bath. Jane was lucky, in that in her company there were three people to a room, with its own bath. They got to keep their cell phones, ipads, laptops, etc, they just couldn’t use them during duty hours. Their day started with a 5:00 AM (05:00) wake up, clean barracks, PT formation at 06:30. PT lasts until about 07:30, then it is breakfast, personal hygiene, and be in formation at 08:45, to be marched to class. An hour for lunch, the DFAC (Dining Facility) was close, back to class, then march back to the barracks and released at 17:00 (5:00 PM). They could wear civilian clothes when off duty. After getting settled, Jane went to the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) on her AKO account, and saw that she was tentatively scheduled for assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division. During the first half of the course, they were free to go anywhere on post evenings and weekends. During the last half, they could also get off posts passes. During the eight weeks and two days of the course, six weeks were spent in class and two weeks in the field. They studied; Researching Human Resource Publications; Prepare Office Documents Using Office Software; Prepare Correspondence, Identify Human Resource Systems; Maintain Records; Interpret the Enlisted Record Brief & Officer Record Brief; Create Ad Hoc Query; Perform Forms Content Management Program Functions; Prepare Suspension of Favorable Action; Prepare a request for Soldier Applications; Process a DFR packet; Process Recommendation for Award; Process Personnel Strength Accountability Updates; Perform Unit Strength Reconciliation; Conduct a Personnel Asset Inventory (PAI); Issue a Common Access Card; Maintain Emergency Notification Data; Prepare a Casualty Report; Create a Manifest; Employ the Deployed Theater Accountability Software (DTAS); Prepare strength accounting reports; Process a Request for Leave, Pass, and Permissive TDY; Perform Personnel Office Computations; Review a Completed Non-commissioned Officer Evaluation Report (NCOER); Process Enlisted Advancements for PV1 – SPC; Process Semi-Centralized Promotions; Research Finance Actions; Determine Entitlements to Pay and Allowances; and Employ the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) System.
After graduation, Jane and a few others who were going airborne were given bus tickets to Columbus, Georgia – Fort Benning. At Columbus they caught the bus to the Airborne School. Monday of the following week training started. The very first period is the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) and the Flexed Arm Hang immediately after the APFT. The Flexed Arm Hang is; Hang on the pull up bar, arms completely straight, palms facing you, pull up until the chin is above the bar, and hold that position for 20 seconds. The purpose is to make sure a person can pull down on the parachute risers with sufficient strength to guide the parachute away from other jumpers or obstacles. Jane did it, plus she weighed 120 lbs, 10 lbs over the minimum for a paratrooper. Intense PT and long runs every training day, Monday through Friday. The first week (ground week) was spent learning parachute landing falls (PLF). They did them on the ground, they did them off 2 foot platforms and 4 foot platforms. Then they did them when being dropped from a swing landing trainer. The second week (tower week) they jumped from a 34 foot tower, in a parachute harness and slid down cables to a mound a couple hundred feet away. Then, the 250 foot towers. They put on a parachute, which is deployed and attached to a metal cage above the jumper pulled up 250 feet, then released. That is to teach jumpers how to maneuver their parachute. And the final week (jump week), they made five parachute jumps including one at night. On Friday or Saturday they graduate and receive their wings, which they wear on all uniforms as long as they are in the Army.
Finally, after almost six months in the Army she was on her way to her first permanent assignment, the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. So it was back on a bus to Fayetteville, North Carolina. At the Fayetteville bus station they caught the post bus which dropped them at the 82nd Airborne Division Replacement Detachment. She spent three days there, processing into Fort Bragg, and drawing field gear, then finally, her assignment; Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), of a Brigade Combat Team. She was assigned to the S1 Section of the Headquarters. Staff Sections of army units commanded by colonel’s and below are designated S1 (Human Resources), S2 Intelligence, S3 Operations and Training, and S4 Supply, Logistics, Maintenance, Transportation. The S1 of the Brigade is a Major, and the NCOIC (Non-commissioned Officer in charge) is a Master Sergeant. The S1 shop consists of two teams. The Human Resources Services Team consists of a Chief Warrant Officer, a Staff Sergeant, two Sergeants, and three Specialists. It processes all personnel actions. And, the Personnel Readiness Team, which consists of a Lieutenant, a Staff Sergeant, and two Specialists. They maintain personnel accountability, personnel readiness management, personnel information management, strength reporting, and casualty reporting. Jane was assigned to one of the Specialist positions in the Readiness Team.
She lives in the barracks – they are sometimes referred to as dorms now. She has her own room with a small refrig and a microwave, plus she has her own TV, stereo, and computer, she shares a bathroom with a suite mate (female) on the other side of the bath. Her weekdays start with a formation at 06:30 for PT (Physical Training). PT is about an hour. Most units do actual PT (calisthenics and run) three days a week and athletics or gym two days. After that its shower, dress, breakfast and be at her desk by 9:00 AM. Lunch time is usually noon. Since she lives in the barracks, she has a meal card, which means she eats free in the DFAC (Dining Facility). There are two DFAC’s within 10 minute walking distance. If she doesn’t like what the DFAC’s have, she can jump in her car and run to Burger King or one the other food places on post. She has been in that job about six months. She has just been promoted to Private First Class E-3. Her base pay is $1,885.90 plus $150.00 jump pay, per month. Her take home pay, after taxes and deductions is about $1,600 per month, $800.00 paid twice a month. All military personnel are paid twice monthly by direct deposit, so she opened an account in one of the banks on post, for the convenience. She has made three parachute jumps since she arrived, she must make at least one jump every three months to maintain her jump pay. At 17:00 (5:00 PM) she is off until 6:30 AM the next morning, except Friday, which means she is off until Monday morning. When she arrived at her company, her team sergeant told her about the Fort Bragg BOSS program (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers). Last summer she went on two day trips to Myrtle Beach with the BOSS people. Cost was $10.00 for the trip down, day at the beach, and trip back. She has been bowling with the BOSS soldiers, and performed some community volunteer work with them. She has a weekend ski trip to Sugar Mountain planned with MWR (Morale Welfare and Recreation). Cost is just over $200, which includes everything, transportation, equipment, instruction, and overnight at the hotel. All details are handled by the MWR people. Being the largest Army post in the US, Fort Bragg also has great facilities. Fort Bragg also has ten Universities and Colleges conducting classes and online courses on post. PFC Jane Doe has already learned that more college hours mean more promotion points, she plans to resume classes in the next semester. She expects to be promoted to Specialist E-4 within the next year.
Next week soldier number two.