This was originally published in the Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri, May 6th 2020. Unfortunately, as with many print newspapers, both large and small, the Belle Banner has closed. May 6th was the last issue. I will continue to post Army stories on this blog, because I’m 76 I have lived life, and I believe that life in the Army is a better life than the life I see many young people living, now.
Seniors – you are now on your own. Maybe Dad and Mom are paying for college, whenever college classes start again, or maybe you are going to work, whenever work opens up. The Army is hiring.
First contact a recruiter. Some of you seniors are already facebook friends with SFC Jeff Escott at the Rolla Army Recruiting Office, so that shouldn’t be hard.
1 – Get in shape. You’re in shape? Get in better shape. Run. Run until you get your pace and breathing coordinated to the point where you can run for hours. In other words – become a runner. Start slow and build up. Do pushups, situps, and pullups, also walk – a lot, then walk, wearing boots for the ankle support, and carry a rucksack. Walk more, with a heaver ruck, up to about 40 pounds.
2 – Study the ASVAB. Don’t care if you were at the top of your class, study for the ASVAB, before you take it. The ASVAB is the military IQ test, and it will stay in your records as long as you are in the Army. You want as high a score as possible, especially in English (language arts) and math.
3 – Tell the recruiter everything about your life. You smoked pot and don’t anymore, or you tried it and didn’t like it, or you never touched it. Traffic tickets or any trouble with the law, some things can be waived (forgiven). Medical problems. You had a broken bone as a young child – anything.
4 – You will take a practice ASVAB. Study it first.
5 – Pick an army job. Go online, find out what they do, find comments by current and former soldiers. The recruiters can tell you a lot. Talk to me, I will tell you what I think are the crappy jobs and the great jobs.
6 – You may have to make a preliminary trip to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) in St Louis.
7 – You will get a ship date to basic training. Up until that day, continue to build your physical condition and endurance.
RECEPTION: THE ORDEAL. Your first stop is the Reception Battalion. That week, which does not count for basic training, has forever been miserable. Everything is different, standing in a formation, being told what to do, then wait for something to happen. Because of COVID-19, social distancing will be practiced, formations are at double arms-length, and processing groups will be small. The first day you will get PT (physical training) clothes, which you will put on, then pack your civilian clothes, including your cell phone, which you will get back after basic training. The second day men get their hair cut off, women either put theirs up in a bun or have it cut to collar length, uniforms are issued and ID Cards processed. The next day is shots, dental exams, and eye exams. The fourth day is a physical assessment test. That basically completes in processing, but you may be held at reception for a couple more days, until they have enough recruits to fill a basic training company.
ARRIVAL DAY AT THE BASIC TRAINING COMPANY: That is when you see pictures of drill sergeants all over trainees. It has always been shock, and awe day. It is meant to get your attention that you are now in the Army and are bound to do exactly what the drill sergeants say. But, because of COVID-19, there are some changes. Drill Sergeants will not get in your face, they will stay five feet away from you. Instead of being separated into platoons of 60 soldiers, platoons will now be about 25 soldiers, resulting in a basic training company of 100 soldiers, instead of the normal 240. Barracks are being rearranged to put more distance between trainees sleeping areas. Basic training is as tough now as it has ever been. The drill sergeants are not unnecessarily mean (unless you really tick one off), but it is physically demanding 12 to 14 hour days, six days a week (you will love Sundays). It is professional, and covers a wide array of subjects, so it is “on the run”.
The following is the normal schedule for Basic Combat Training, but because of COVID-19, it is being modified so that the first two weeks are all classes, outside when possible, and frequent COVID-19 tests, satisfied that there is no virus in the company, normal training will then continue. The biggest difference will be the smaller groups. I’m not suggesting that it will be easier, but it will be better. Just like school, smaller classes means better teaching and learning. Now could be a great time to go through basic training.
PT (Physical Training) every morning, six days a week.
Week One: Arrive at company, drill – lots of drill, stand at attention, right face, left face, march, keep in step. Classes on Army Values, first aid, nutrition, army history. Diagnostic PT test. Draw and assemble field equipment.
Week Two: Rappel tower, Team Development Obstacle Course – forces everyone to work together, and Fit to Win Obstacle Course. You realize this is going to be fun. Electronic Skills Trainer (EST) (indoor computerized rifle range), road marches – 2 ½ miles and 5 miles.
Week Three: Combatives, hand to hand and pugil stick fighting (turns snowflakes into fighters), land navigation (map and compass reading), basic tactical field training. The first field exercise called “The Hammer”, which is a one day and night in the field using what you have learned, so far.
Week Four: Starting White Phase “The Anvil”. Another diagnostic PT test. Most of that week will be rifle marksmanship. Classes, zero the rifle, practice qualification, day qualification, then day qualification wearing gas masks, then both at night.
Week Five: First aid lifesaving, radio communications, more land navigation, more combatives.
Week Six: More tactical field classes. The field exercise “The Anvil” – a 7 ½ mile road march to set up a patrol base, conduct a patrol, react to being attacked.
Week Seven: Hand Grenades, classes on casualty movement and evacuation, buddy live fire course, final PT test.
Week Eight: Blue Phase. The field exercise “The Forge”. The Forge is not a “walk in the park”, it is four days covering about 45 miles, not much sleep, only two MRE meals per day, doing and being tested on everything you’ve learned in basic. It is land navigation, patrolling, being attacked, carrying out “casualties”, calling in medivac helicopters, a night infiltration course, and live fire when you’re dead tired. Everything is tested and everything must be passed. The Forge ends at night with a company formation around a large bonfire, and the Commander announces, “You’ve made it – you are no longer trainees, you are now soldiers in the United States Army”. You then put on a beret and a US Army shoulder patch. THE TRIUMPH.
Week Nine: Clean and turn in rifles. Clean and turn in field gear. Uniform inspection, and a couple classes.
Week Ten: Practice graduation. Wednesday is family day – you get to leave the company area and spend the day with your family. Thursday -Graduation!
You will never forget your drill sergeants, whom you thought was crazy on that first day, and then along the way you realized that their mission was to get all of you through basic training.
From basic you go directly to AIT (Advanced Individual Training). The infantry, armor, cavalry scouts, and combat engineers do basic and AIT combined into one company, called an OSUT company (One Station Unit Training), everyone else moves to a different company, even if on the same post.
If you are serious about trying the Army, spend a lot of time researching the jobs you think you might want. I can’t emphasize that enough. What you choose, and are accepted for, is what you are going to get, and what you will be doing for, at least, that entire enlistment. Talk to all the former soldiers you can find, and ask them if they know anything about the jobs in which you are interested. I will talk to anyone, anytime about army.
I also encourage everyone who can get the airborne option in their enlistment contract, to please do so. It is jumping out of airplanes, but it is more than that. It puts you in an airborne unit, which are the most elite units to which you can be assigned, with simply enlisting and going through regular training, plus the three week airborne school. The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina has about 18,000 paratroopers in it, working in most of the jobs the Army has. Fort Bragg is the biggest and best post in the country and the world famous 82nd Airborne Division has the highest morale (happiness) in the military. There is an airborne brigade (about 4,500 paratroopers) in Italy, and another at Anchorage, Alaska.
Again – if you’re interested, talk to me.
Next, some details about specific jobs in the Army, their AIT and their work.