Originally published February 8th, 2017 in The Belle Banner

John W. Stockton, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired – The Author of Life in the Army

For a frame of reference in these stories. The Belle Banner is published in Belle, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

This week we have Private Johnny Smith.  Johnny is 22 years old, married to Sarah, and they have a year old daughter Cindy.  Before enlisting in the Army, Johnny worked 36 hours a week at $18.00 per hour, equaling $648.00 per week.  After taxes, health insurance, and 401K deductions, his take home check was just under $500.00 per week.  Sarah did work, but hasn’t since Cindy was born.  Their living expenses were; Rent $500.00, electric & utilities $300.00, Cell phones $125.00, Internet $50.00, car payment $300.00, car insurance $150.00.  That came to $1,425.00 per month, which left about $1,000 per month or $230.00 per week for gas, food, clothes and anything else.  Johnny saw 50 year old fellow workers doing the same work he was doing making not much more money.  He read everything he could find online about the military, then talked to an Army recruiter.  He told the recruiter he would like to get into a field with where promotions were good and that he would like to be assigned as close to home as possible.  The recruiter told him that Combat Engineers were probably second only to the infantry in promotions and that all combat engineer training is at Fort Leonard Wood.  He was told that he could request to be assigned at Fort Leonard Wood, but there is only one permanent party combat engineer battalion at Fort Leonard Wood so the chances of being assigned there would be slim.  The next closest posts would be Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Fort Campbell is larger and the home of the 101st Airborne Division.  Although the 101st no longer jumps out of airplanes it still carries the name.  The 101st Airborne Division is more of an Air Assault division moving by helicopter.  Johnny took a preliminary ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, drug test, and physical fitness assessment test.  The recruiter told Johnny he could ship the following month, and that he should study for the ASVAB and get in the best physical condition possible.

When Johnny shipped, he went through MEPS (Military Enlistment Processing Station) in St Louis, where they tried to get him to go into a different field because he made a high score on his ASVAB tests, but he held to his desire to be a combat engineer MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 12B.  He took his marriage certificate, and Cindy’s birth certificate with him and during in processing at the Fort Leonard Wood Reception Battalion he enrolled them in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System), which made them eligible for TRICARE government health care.  That also authorized his BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing), which was an extra $903.00 per month.  They gave him a form to mail to Sarah, so she could go to Fort Leonard Wood and get her military dependent ID card.  She then had free health care and access to the hospital and all the services on Fort Leonard Wood.

Johnny’s basic training and advanced individual training for MOS 12B were combined in to one OSUT (one station unit training) company.  He was in the same company for 14 weeks, and when he graduated he was awarded the MOS 12B.  The last six weeks were the AIT part.  They spent about equal time in the classroom and in the field.  They studied a subject, then went to the field to practice it.  They learned how to construct fighting and defensive positions, how to build fixed and floating bridges and how to blow them up, how to build obstacles and how to breach obstacles.  They studied route clearance.  In other words, searching for IED’s.  They spent a lot of time on explosives, how to set charges in different situations.  He had a little more freedom on weekends.  Sarah and Cindy were able to visit him a couple weekends.  For his assignments he requested Fort Leonard Wood first, then Fort Campbell, Kentucky, then Fort Riley, Kansas.  In AIT he went to his AKO (Army Knowledge Online) account, then to the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key) and found that he was tentatively schedule for assignment to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  He requested that his orders reflect a move with dependents, so the Army would pay for moving their household goods, and pay them a dislocation allowance for the move.  He also requested 10 days leave, before reporting to Fort Campbell, to move his family.  Johnny’s take home pay, while in OSUT, was about $250.00 a month less than he had been bringing home before enlisting, but they had planned for that, considering that he wouldn’t be eating at home, or spending money on gas.  As soon as he received his orders he went to the Transportation Office on Fort Leonard Wood and arranged for their household goods to be picked up.

As soon as Johnny got his orders, Sarah went online, found a nice two bedroom apartment in Clarksville, Tennessee, next to Fort Campbell.  She sent a $300.00 deposit, and would have to pay the first months rent of $725.00 when they arrived.  Their household goods were picked up the week after Johnny graduated.  They packed their car and Johnny’s old pickup and drove the six hours to their apartment in Clarksville, TN.  Their household goods were delivered the next day.  They got moved in, utilities turned on got to know the area.  They found that their apartment was just 7 miles, about 15 minutes from Johnny’s company.  Johnny signed in, processed in Fort Campbell, and was assigned to an Engineer Company, in an Engineer Battalion, in a Brigade Combat Team in the 101st Airborne Division.  He had just reached 4 months service when he arrived, so his Company Commander immediately promoted him to Private E2.  That first month he was paid $2,000 dislocation allowance for the move to Fort Campbell, so they were able to pay back what they had to borrow from family to make the move and get their apartment.  He has been there 4 months now and was just promoted to PFC E3.  His base pay is now $1,885.90 per month, plus $1,254.00 BAH, and $368.29 BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) (separate rations), so after taxes and other deductions, about $1,600.00 is deposited in his account on the 1st and the 15th of the month ($3,200 per month)..

Johnny is a combat engineer in a squad of seven combat engineers.  The squad leader is a Staff Sergeant (SSG) E6, there are two three man teams, within the squad, each led by a Sergeant (SGT) E5.  Johnny’s Team Leader has been in the army for about four years, and he was just recently promoted to SGT.  His Squad Leader has been in the army for seven years and wears a Sapper Tab, meaning that he has completed the very tough five week Sapper Leaders Course at Fort Leonard Wood.  The Sapper Course is the Engineer’s version of Ranger School, although one of the other squad leaders just completed Ranger School.  When he first got to the company, Johnny’s squad leader wanted to know everything about him.  He and his wife, met Sarah and Johnny and questioned them both about their parents, family health, and financial situation.  He wanted to know anything that might weigh on Johnny’s mind, that he might help with or guide them to help.  There are three squads in Johnny’s platoon.  The Platoon Leader is a Second Lieutenant (2LT), and his Platoon Sergeant is a Sergeant First Class (SFC) E7, who has been in the army 12 years, and has been back to Fort Leonard a couple times for advanced schooling.  There are three platoons in the company, commanded by a captain.  In his first month in the company, Johnny went to two weeks of Air Assault School, on post, where he learned how to guide a landing helicopter, how to rig a sling load for a helicopter, and how to repel out of a helicopter, as well as other advanced forms of repelling.  He received his Air Assault Wings which he will wear on all uniforms.  It seems that no day is normal in Johnny’s company, because they are constantly training on different things.  A normal day, when they are not training in the field, is PT at 06:30, go home, clean up and eat breakfast, and be at work formation at 08:45 or 09:00, lunch at noon, and off at 17:00 (5:00 PM).  They have trained on breaching obstacles, and advanced explosives.  They spent one day in the pool training for a simulated CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashing in the water.  They spend a lot time training with the infantry.  They have done live fire exercises and fired several different weapons.  They have been on a couple of major field exercises where Johnny’s squad supported an infantry platoon.  So far, Johnny is enjoying what he does.  It is professional, high speed and exciting.  During field training, Johnny’s Company Commander (CO) ask Johnny if he would like to be his driver.  The current driver for the CO is a Specialist, who is leaving the army soon, after a three year enlistment.  Johnny told his CO, “if he had a choice, he would like to think about it”.  The CO said certainly, just let him know in a couple days.  Johnny talked to his Squad Leader, he talked to his Platoon Sergeant, and to his First Sergeant.  He then told his CO that he appreciated being considered, but he would rather stay in his squad and learn all he could.  He told the CO that he is on a four year enlistment, and his goal is to make Sergeant before that enlistment is up, and if he does he will probably reenlist.  He said that he likes the army so far.  The CO thanked him for a quick response, and told him that he thought Johnny was making the correct decision.

Sarah has made friends with another wife in their apartment complex, whose husband is in Johnny’s company.  She has attended three Family Readiness Group (FRG) meetings.  The FRG meets once monthly, it is the wives of the company, formally organized and sponsored by the Army.  The, wife of the Company Commander is the leader, and the First Sergeant’s wife is the assistant.  They both have received formal training to be FRG leaders, conducted by the MWR (Morale Welfare, Recreation) office.  The FRG exists to keep the wives informed about what their husbands and the Army are doing.  They are really a wives club where, especially during deployments, they support and help each other.  If the husband is gone and a wife has sick kids other wives will cook or baby sit for her.  Sarah has taken Cindy to the Young Eagle Medical Home Pediatric Clinic at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on post for a checkup.  Sarah was very satisfied with the attention.  Cindy’s health will be monitored by way of routine visits to the clinic.

Next week another soldier.

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