This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri, on October 16th 2019. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Prologue to the original story
Since this story was written, COVID-19 has caused some radical changes to day to day life in the Army. At first, it was just keep your distance and refrain from large formations or groups, but as the virus has spread, most training has stopped, and most soldiers in regular units are at home, or in their room. Fitness centers and education centers are closed, DFAC’s are working, but for take out only, no dining in. Transition to the new ACFT has been suspended. All large training activity has been cancelled. America’s Global Response Force, the 82nd Airborne Division, still has to be ready to go to combat on a moments’ notice, but for now, the first priority is to protect it from COVID-19, and try to keep it healthy.
After a single soldier has completed basic combat training and advanced individual training (AIT) in a particular MOS (military occupational specialty) (job), and any other schools, such as airborne, he or she is assigned to a permanent unit. There are a dozen or so forts in the US and many units permanently stationed overseas. We will look at a soldier assigned to an army fort in the continental US.
First – living. Single soldiers in the rank of Sergeant and below live in the barracks. Those are more like college dorms. The entrance looks like a hotel lobby, and they are two to five stories, with elevators. There is a large ground floor day room with tables, chairs, pool tables, and big screen TV’s. Suite entrances are indoor, from a hallway, with card security entrances. Two soldiers of the same sex, in the rank of private through specialist, share a suite, and each has their own bedroom with a large walk-in closet, large enough to store all their military gear and uniforms and civilian clothes, and they share a bathroom and a fairly large kitchen with sink, cabinets, stove, refrigerator, and microwave. Dorms at some posts have a washer and dryer in the suite, others have a room on the floor full of washers and dryers. Their suite is their suite, they can hang posters, pictures, put up decorations and generally put things where ever they please. The only room inspections, in some units, are monthly, and those are only to ensure that they are clean. Sergeants do not have a roommate.
All soldiers, regardless of rank or job, who are not on shift work, like hospitals, military police or communications centers, have a weekday morning formation at 6:00 or 6:30 AM. That is the PT formation (physical training). That has been true forever. PT has always been the first thing in the morning. However, the Army learned many things from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, one of the most significant is that soldiers have to be in much better physical condition. The desert heat of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan took their toll on our soldiers. For the past four or five years the drive for better physical condition has grown. The method of measuring body fat has changed, and the old Army PT test pushups, situps, and a two mile run is out. This is a transition year. Effective October 1st 2020 the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) will be the test. It is a six event test, with weight lifting, dead weight dragging, backward medicine ball throws, a different chest on ground pushup, a two mile run, and a leg tuck which is – grasp a horizontal bar and bring the knees up to touch the elbows – it’s a bear. The old PT test had different standards for men and women – no more. There is one standard and grading method for both men and women. So, PT is no longer just going through the exercises and running, it is actual physical training – every soldier an athlete is no longer just a phrase. That is a good hour to hour and a half work out, some days outside, some in the gym. Every post now has multiple fitness centers. There are three things that help a soldier get promoted from Specialist to Sergeant regardless of the job, high weapons qualification score (the more targets hit the more promotion points), civilian education, and PT test scores (the higher the score the more promotion points).
When PT is over, it is back to the room, shower, cleanup, get in uniform, and get some breakfast. They can fix it in their kitchen, jump in their car and run to the Burger King on post for a sausage and egg biscuit, or go next door and eat in the DFAC (Dining Facility), which is free for soldiers living in the barracks, most do eat breakfast in the DFAC. Soldiers can eat in any DFAC, the one next door or one down the street, so there is now competition between DFAC’s, which has created three great meals being produced every day in every DFAC.
The next thing in the soldiers’ day is work. Combat soldiers, infantry, artillery, armor, and combat engineers have a work formation, which varies with units from 8:30 to 9:00 AM. They then start training for the day. Support soldiers, clerks, mechanics, tech soldiers, etc., normally just report to their place of duty, the office, the motor pool, supply room, etc.
Lunch is normally an hour. Units designate the lunch hour, 11:30 – 12:30 or 12:00 to 13:00 (1:00 PM), but that will be staggered in sections that have to be staffed during lunch. Soldiers can eat where ever they want, but the combat soldiers in training have to eat where the food is located at that time. Lunch is the biggest meal in the DFAC. For lunch, many people like to just grad something and go, so all DFAC’s have a fast food line, and some even have drive-up windows, just like MacDonald’s. They also serve everything from steak to shrimp.
After lunch it is back to work. A normal quitting time is 17:00 (5:00 PM), then the soldier is off until PT formation the next morning. There are some exceptions, such as parachute riggers who are allowed to pack only a certain number of parachutes during a workday, don’t want a tired and exhausted rigger packing parachutes. When the rigger has packed his or her quota, they are released for the rest of the day. Single soldiers living in dorms do not have bed checks, they are on their own until the next morning. The dorms have built in Wi Fi, plus there are many different recreational activities on posts. Many soldiers spend time in a fitness center some evenings. Every post has a BOSS program (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers). It is a program for lower ranking single soldiers, run by lower ranking single soldiers. They do all kinds of things from organizing bowling tournaments to trips to the beach or mountains, to doing volunteer community work off post.
After quitting time on Friday evening, the soldier is off until PT formation on Monday morning. Some soldiers consider that to be an easy life, some do not. When a soldier makes sergeant, life changes. Sergeants have their own suite, they are paid more, they are addressed as Sergeant, and they have more responsibility. Combat arms, particularly infantry soldiers make sergeant faster than other jobs. It takes anywhere from 30 months on the fast end to around five years, in the extremely slow jobs, to make sergeant. One thing in which all soldiers are highly encouraged to participate, is education. Every college semester hour, regardless of subject, is worth one promotion point to sergeant, and Army tuition assistance pays for up to 16 semester hours per year. If a soldier wants to accumulate hours faster than that, they may pay for it themselves or use part of their GI Bill. There are soldiers who have gone from zero to a bachelor’s degree in less than five years, some of them in infantry. It’s just how the soldier wants to spend his or her time, and as you can see some of them have lots of time.