Category Archives: For you who are thinking about the military


     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.

                                         PT Every Morning (except Sundays)

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.

                                                           Rappel Tower

                                                 Team Development Course

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.

                                                            Road March

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.

                                                    The Forge – It’s Over!

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.


     Since I wrote this, COVID-19 has happened, causing the military to modify operations.  Hopefully, it will return to normal soon, although “normal” may be changed.

      This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri March 25th 2020. 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, 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.
     Being a drill sergeant was the hardest job I had in the Army, no question, but on graduation day when parents tell you, “He (or she) stands so straight and confident, you’ve done in 10 weeks what I couldn’t do in 18 years”. That’s rewarding.

     Joining the Army is a scary thought to many. “I will disappear into the Army, I’ll be alone and be away from my family.” Yes, you leave your family here, but you don’t “disappear” into the Army.
The conversion from civilian to soldier starts the first day of Basic Combat Training. There are a few days of boring, frustrating processing, but the abrupt change starts upon arrival at the Basic Training Company. That is “shock and awe” day. You have all of your gear in a duffle bag, you are wearing a new uniform, new boots, and, for some, new glasses. You will have heard stories about the “mean and crazy” drill sergeants. The bus comes to a stop, and it is like hell itself has descended on you. There are a dozen drill sergeants scattered among the four or five busses, all screaming at you to “GET OFF THE BUS”, stand there, you behind her, WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING AT, YOU ARE AT ATTENTION, DON’T MOVE THOSE EYES. Platoons of 40 to 50 people each are identified and separated. The Army has gotten smarter about that. Haley Shanks entire platoon enlisted to be parachute riggers. They went through basic training, airborne school, and rigger school together, greatly improving their opportunity for success. Move to the barracks, bunks are assigned, women on one floor, men on another, and battle buddies are assigned. Nobody in basic training goes anywhere alone, always with your battle buddy. You learn, that day, that you don’t move or do anything that is not directed by the drill sergeant. The first two to three weeks is called “total control”, which means that trainees don’t do anything on their own, the drill sergeant has total control. One of the platoon drill sergeants will probably be present until “lights out” at 2130 (9:30 PM), during total control. That means, being available for questions, nobody watches you take a shower or go to the bathroom.

                                       Arrival day at Basic Combat Training

     Around three weeks you’ve gotten to know everybody in your platoon, and platoon pride surfaces as everyone starts to work together to get everybody through. You’ll see drill sergeants spending extra hours couching someone having difficulty with a particular task. You’ll see drill sergeants spending time with someone who is having personal difficulty. Sometime in the last part of basic you will realize that while on a break, during training, the whole platoon is sitting on the ground bantering with the drill sergeants. The drill sergeants are still the drill sergeants, whom you obey to the letter, but by then you realize that the mission of the drill sergeant is to convert you to being a soldier, and GET YOU THROUGH BASIC TRAINING.

             Haley Shanks platoon taking a break during basic September 2019

     Graduation from basic training is a giant step in life, you are now a soldier, the less than one half of one percent of Americans who will defend this country. Now it is off to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) to learn the job for which you enlisted. Chances are, there will be several others going with you to AIT, so it will probably not be a completely new start. AIT varies from six or seven weeks to a year, depending on the particular job. After AIT, it is off into the real Army, and no, the real Army doesn’t even resemble basic training. Basic training’s purpose is to create soldiers. Soldiers work together on jobs to accomplish missions.

               Graduation from Basic Training — the end and the beginning

     There is another element of training between AIT and the regular army, which I highly recommend. Airborne School. If you can get the airborne option in your enlistment contract, do it, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Jumping out of an airplane, in the Army, is safer than driving a car. You are taught over and over how to wear the parachute, how to get out of the aircraft, what to do in the air, and how to safely land, and that is reinforced before every parachute jump. In the airplane there are two jumpmasters and two jumpmaster qualified safety’s, who constantly check and check and check everything. Safety is the utmost concern, and when you go out that door, the chute opens and you’re in the air, the sensation is indescribable. The high is ultimate. You will never be able to describe, to your family, why you love jumping out of airplanes.

                                                    Paratroopers in the air

     Airborne school (jump school) is not that hard. I don’t mean it is a blow off, but if you’re in good shape physically, and you can jump out of an airplane, you can make it through jump school. Women may have to practice the flex arm hang prior to jump school.
     Being airborne qualified will place you in a different assignment pattern than your friends who are not. If your first assignment is overseas, it will probably be Italy (the most requested assignment in the Army), or Germany if artillery or cavalry (the second most requested assignment in the Army), or Alaska. If assigned in the states, there is about a 90 percent chance that you will be assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Combat arms soldiers will surely be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Support soldiers have about a 90 to 95 percent of being assigned to the 82nd, and a small chance of being assigned to another airborne unit on post, such as the Special Forces Command or the Special Operations Command. The 82nd Airborne Division higher headquarters, XVIII Airborne Corps is on Fort Bragg, as well as its higher, US Army Forces Command.
     Fort Bragg, North Carolina is the biggest and best post in the country, covering over 250 square miles. Population wise, it is the largest, with over 50,000 active duty soldiers, over 4,000 reserves, 12,000 civilian workers, and about 75,000 dependents living on post, giving it a daytime population of around 150,000. Within the Army it is called the center of the military universe, or sometimes, Pentagon South, or mother Bragg. Fort Bragg has multiples of about every recreation facility you can imagine, on post, including two 18 hole golf courses. The hunting and fishing crowd usually eat lunch on post at McKellar’s Lodge, home of the McKellar’s Rod & Gun Club. Fort Bragg has two large main exchange/commissary complexes, with dozens of annex’s scattered throughout post, and a third 83,000 square foot complex scheduled to break ground this fall.

      Airborne and Special Operations Museum – Fayetteville, North Carolina

     The adjoining city of Fayetteville, population of about 220,000, has gone from a rough “GI town” in World War II and the nick name “Fayettenam” 50 years ago, to a very nice city, which is a three time winner of an “All American City” award, with a huge retired military population. The retired military community in Fayetteville started growing in the early 1960’s, when career soldiers, who staid in the Army after World War II, and spent their entire career in the 82nd Airborne Division and/or Special Forces, started retiring. When I came back from Vietnam in 1967, I got out of the Army and we returned to Fayetteville. It is pine trees and sand, a moderate climate, and great congenial southern people. I walked into Gene Autry’s Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, looking for a job as a mechanic, and was hired as a salesman. I was selling cars there when Fayetteville got its first black car salesman, Boyd Harris. When civil rights was front page news in the 1960’s, and some places were having trouble, including riots, trying to forcibly integrate black and white communities, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, as much of North and South Carolina, it was invisible, there were no fights, it just happened. In 2008, Time Magazine named Fayetteville, North Carolina, America’s most pro-military town. The “Airborne and Special Operations Museum”, which opened in 2000, covers about two city blocks in downtown Fayetteville.

                     Senior Drill – SFC Stockton under the hat and on the trail 1980

     If any of my grands enlist in the Army, I will encourage them to try for Fort Bragg, not Fort Leonard Wood.


     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, 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.

                     Single soldier Dorm in the 82nd Airborne Division

                                                      Dorm entrance

                                                        Dorm Dayroom

                                                Soldiers Suite Kitchen

                                          “Lived in”  soldier’s dorm bedroom

     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).

                                               Dead weight dragging

                                                       Weight lifting

     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.

                                 Army Human Resource Specialist at work

                                                    Army mechanic at work

     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.


This was originally published in the Belle Banner, Belle, Missouri December 26th 2018.

If you are a senior in high school, or a junior and don’t have solid plans for life after high school, and more classes in college doesn’t turn you on, or maybe you can’t see going through the application process for scholarships and grants or going in debt to go to college, or maybe you are tired of school and just want to get a good job and start life, what an opportunity you have.
If you fairly smart, and by that I mean of average intelligence. High school grades may or may not be an indication of a persons’ intelligence. High school grades are often the reflection of how a specific class was exciting and inspiring. If the class was not exciting and inspiring grades were probably less than in other classes. If you are a high school graduate, fairly smart, in good health, and good physical condition (not too overweight), and never been in trouble, the Army offers a tremendous opportunity. That is not just for new high school graduates. If you fit those requirements and are not yet 35 years old, you can still enlist, married, single, married with children, but single parents cannot enlist.
Health care is free for all soldiers and their families. The day a new enlistee processes into the Army, with his or her marriage and birth certificates, that soldiers’ family has 100 percent, no deductible, health and dental care. Housing is free. Single soldiers live in dorms, married soldiers live with their families either in family housing on a fort or they may live off post and are paid a family housing allowance based upon the cost of living at that particular location. Meals for the soldier are free. Soldiers who live in a dorm eat free in a Dining Facility. Soldiers who do not live in a dorm are paid a subsistence allowance equivalent to the cost of meals in the Dining Facility.
The pay is respectable. I recently wrote a fictional story of young lovers Jack and Judy. After eight months in the Army they are living in family housing on post, with take home pay of around $500 per week. Considering the value of the free family healthcare and free house and all utilities that is the equivalent of a civilian making $800 to $1,000 per week. Plus reduced cost groceries in the post commissary and “Walmart style” post exchanges and reduced and “no cost” recreational facilities, and on-post day care centers, and on-post elementary and middle schools.
There are around 150 different jobs in the Army, and almost 100 of them carry civilian certifications. Going to college while in the Army is partially free. Most on post and online colleges and universities, with classes for soldiers, have aligned their cost per semester hour with Army Tuition Assistance, which pays for 16 semester hours per year. Leaving the military, after three years, college is completely free under the GI Bill. That’s tuition and fees and books, plus around $1,000 per month living allowance.
We have a great Army Recruiting Station in Rolla, Missouri, with three very good, honest sergeants. They do not lie to people to get them to enlist, but their jobs is enlisting soldiers into the active and reserve army. They try to fit people into army jobs that the person desires, that are compatible with the persons’ skills and abilities, and are available
Now, for the things army recruiters won’t tell you. I won’t write what I think are bad jobs in the Army. I may tell you personally, but what I have considered bad jobs in the Army I have found soldiers loving them. The Army is so varied from job to job, from unit to unit, and from location to location.
The first significant thing, that a recruiter may or may not spend time on, is that the military is completely voluntary. Every soldier is a volunteer and wanted to get into the Army. That is assumed now, but I was in the Army during the draft, and there were many people drafted who did not want to be in the Army and that attitude was reflected in their performance, and their attitude affected everyone around them.
Next, the Army will expect more out of you than you can deliver. That may sound negative, but it’s not. You are challenged and you feel different from civilians and you treat them differently, as they treat you differently. That is a good feeling that lasts forever. When you are on your job with your army team, you do your best to accomplish the mission, everything else is secondary. The mission may be tough or long or hard, but it won’t last forever. Then you look back and see that you did some amazing things. Maybe you saved someone’s life or maybe you saved thousands of dollars by making a suggestion to do something a better way, or maybe your team came out on top of a big administrative inspection.
One of the fears many people have of the military is leaving home and leaving their family. The Army is family. In the Army every soldier has his or her place, the higher the rank the more authority and responsibility. That means accomplishing missions and maintaining the force. If someone seems sad or irritable or depressed, every soldier who sees it will step up and do everything they can to help. Just like family. Someone wrote of an example – If you are drunk in the middle of the night, call your boss and he will pick you up or send someone who can, even a few hours away. A buddy will give you a ride to the airport, because you don’t want to leave your car parked there. Soldiers are continually giving and lending things to each other. It‘s fascinating and happens all the time. If a soldier has a serious problem he or she can go to their boss who can direct them to programs and facilities on post. A civilian with the same problem would lose their job. And finally, whatever religious faith a soldier may or may not have, a Chaplain can help. If he can’t help he will direct the soldier to someone who can.

         Thayer Elementary School on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

                          Free on post family park on Fort Leonard Wood.

                      On post family housing on Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The Army cures prejudice. Race and gender issues are sensitive subjects, and many people have preconceived ideas about people with whom they have not been associated. In the Army you see every race and ethnic origin of both sexes, at their best, working together to accomplish the mission. You will find people smarter than you, stronger than you, and faster than you, all willing to help you as you will be willing to help them. It is amazing. There is a saying; “We’re all green and we all bleed red.” It’s not all “kumbaya”, prejudice and sexual harassment happens, but the Pentagon is completely serious about stopping it. Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is periodic mandatory training in the Army. It is also an office in the Pentagon with its own website.
The Army has the best exercise program. Basic Combat Training has a lot of sweat and sore muscles, and Advanced Individual Training can vary from the same thing to sitting behind a desk. Everybody in the Army works five days a week, and everybody in the Army exercises five days a week. Whatever your job, where ever you are assigned and work, and whatever kind of shift work, you will do some form of exercise five days a week. It is good for you.
And finally – the Army is funny. Really funny. Put a group of people together doing something sensitive and stressful, whether combat, out-loading supplies, or its midnight and you’re trying to finish an Operations Plan that will be presented in the morning, or that same group waiting for something bored out of their minds, and you will see creative minds at work. Humor relieves stress, and soldiers can’t just “quit”, they are the Army, so it is much easier to laugh it off. If you don’t have a sense of humor going into the Army you will develop one and it will last forever.
When I worked in the Command Section of the 82nd Airborne Division, there were two majors in the G3 (Operations and Training) Section. They had two of the most stressful staff jobs in the headquarters, they worked long hours and weekends, just to keep up. They did hard physical training in the mornings and usually played handball at lunch till they were exhausted, just to relieve some of the stress. But they also needed to have fun, so they hatched a plan just between themselves. Their plan was the “rumor a day” operation. They would drop a word at the water cooler like, “Did you hear that we are going to be alerted Thursday night?” Then they would sit back and see how far it went and how it grew. They were revealed when the Chief of Staff (Colonel) finally got to the source of the rumors. The Chief and the Commanding General both had a good laugh, thought it helped relieve stress.

                                                            Biker in Iraq.

                                                            One man Army.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 11th 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, 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.
Health Care. One fifth of the Army (20%) is devoted to keeping soldiers healthy and caring for their families. The US Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) supervises, through four Regional Health Commands, worldwide, 8 Army Medical Centers, 13 Army Community Hospitals (like the one at Fort Leonard Wood), 29 Army Health Clinics, 81 Primary Care Clinics, 8 Occupational Health Clinics, 99 Dental Clinics, 42 Veterinary Facilities, 33 Research and Development Laboratories, 5 Laboratory Support Activities, 10 Combat Support Hospitals, 16 Forward Support Surgical Teams, and six active Medical Brigades, plus other smaller units. A design/build $296 million contract was awarded this past August, for a new hospital at Fort Leonard Wood.
All military health care is now managed through a giant government supervised insurance company called “Tricare”. All soldiers and their families are enrolled in Tricare. Health and dental care performed in military hospitals and clinics for the soldier and family is free. When care is conducted by civilians, Tricare kicks in, and there are different plans for remote locations, more freedom of physician selection, and overseas.

Captain (Doctor) Michelle Kuznia of the Fort Rucker, Alabama Brown Dental Clinic does dental screening at the post Child Development Center.

                       Army Family Practice Clinic at Fort Leonard Wood.

Every soldier, regardless of rank or job has an annual physical assessment, and an annual dental exam. Plus, there are complete physical exams for various jobs, such as flying, diving, HALO (high altitude low opening) parachuting, and schools. New families arriving at an Army fort are assigned a Primary Care Physician, usually in the Family Practice Clinic at the hospital on post. The primary care doctor, is like your civilian family doctor, who monitors the health of you and your family, and may refer you to a specialist, if necessary. Army hospitals also have a complete staff of specialists, including pediatricians. Tricare dental insurance for the family is $30 per month regardless of the size of the family. Military retirees, who are under the age of 65, pay $297 for only themselves, or $594 annually for the family, then a co-pay of $20 per doctor visit. Military retirees over age 65 are enrolled in “Tricare for Life”, for which there is no cost, at all. No annual fees and no co-pay, and it pays everything that Medicare doesn’t. As retirees age that becomes a huge benefit. The Army has some great medical facilities and people. We were both in our early 50’s, when my wife had major spinal surgery at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver in 1995 (it’s no longer there). A large benign tumor was pressing her spinal cord and had already broken her spinal column. The doctor (neurosurgeon) who performed the surgery was a Ranger, the only doctor Ranger I ever saw. After 12 hours of surgery, he flopped on a couch beside me, and in 5 minutes explained exactly what he and his orthopedic assistant had done. He went on to become Chief of Neurosurgery at Walter Reed, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and having just retired from the Army was called to help save Gabby Gifford’s life in January 2011, when she was shot in the head in Arizona. Colonel (Retired) (Doctor) James M. Ecklund.
Housing. All government on post family housing is now privatized. Up until a few years ago, family housing on military installations was government owned and operated. All employees involved in getting military families into and out of government quarters, plus the maintenance of those quarters were government employees. I was the Quality Control Manager, which is a co-hat with the superintendent, on one of the last large government housing renovation projects at Fort Leonard Wood. We gutted, added a room, and completely renovated 250 family quarters in 18 months, and were proud of our work. The government paid about $10,000,000 for the job, which at $40,000 a unit wasn’t bad, even 25 years ago. The company, I worked for, made a profit of about 1.5 million on that job. Then, the government basically gave all family housing on military installations to private real estate companies. The real estate company then rents housing to soldiers. Soldiers sign a rental contract with the real estate company, and activates an allotment, from his or her pay, to the company for the amount of their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). The transformation on military installations was dramatic. On many installations, like Fort Leonard Wood, entire areas of government housing were razed and new houses built. Overall, family on post housing has greatly improved. There has been news, this past year of shoddy family housing. The majority of the complaints come from the Washington, DC area, where there are many very old buildings. Mold is the culprit in buildings that apparently weren’t properly updated.
The companies that now “own” on post family housing are very large nationwide, and world wide companies. Balfour-Beatty has the housing on Fort Leonard Wood, which is just one of the 55 Army, Navy, and Air Force family housing communities they manage. Corvias has Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Polk, Louisiana, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, among it’s 15 installations, which includes Fort Meade, Maryland where much of the mold problem exists. Winn companies have Forts Knox and Campbell, Kentucky. Even with its mold problems, Corvias seems to run the most family friendly programs.
When a married soldier requests ID cards for his or her spouse and children, which is during processing into the Army, if married at that time, it is done on a DD Form 1172-2. That form, which lists the spouse and all children, is also used for a soldier who gets married while already on active duty. On post housing people and on post elementary and high schools also want that form. Doesn’t make any difference that the spouse and kids have a military ID card, those activities want the processed DD Form 1172, because it verifies the age and sex of spouse and all children on one form.

Two and three bedroom duplex’s available to Privates on up on Fort Leonard Wood.

Army soldiers get on post family housing based on rank and family size. Family housing is available in two, three, and four bedroom apartments and houses. Most army posts have family housing areas established by rank. There are areas for only senior officers, some for senior officers and Sergeants Major (same age group), and areas for only junior officers and junior sergeants (same age group), areas for only senior sergeants, and areas for junior enlisted soldiers. When a soldier applies for family housing, he or she is placed on a list for a specified number of bedroom house, in a certain area. Sometimes there are waiting periods of days to weeks to get that particular house. Overall those wait times have been greatly reduced since housing was privatized. Corvias often advertises “move in specials”, which are often older quarters, but renovated, and often only two bed rooms. They often rent the move in specials at less than the BAH rate, which is a gain for the soldier and his or her family. These are great for young newly married privates and specialists, because they are immediately available.

This two bedroom house was recently offered as a move in special in the Corregidor Courts family housing area on Fort Bragg, North Carolina,


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 4th 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, 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.

One the most common arguments I hear, against enlisting in the Army, is “I don’t want to leave my family”. That is a valid argument, I cut my Army career short to spend the last years of my Dads life with him.
Family, for young people getting married and starting life, is you and your wife or husband, and it grows as the kids come along. You go visit his family or her family, but your family is your family. Baxter Black once wrote that there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who do what they have to do to live where they want to live. That applies to many people here. Those who live where they have to live to do what they want to do. That includes soldiers.

                           Family pins Expert Infantryman Badge on Dad

For young couples, in love, who are still in high school, and expect to get married sometime after high school, I encourage you to consider the Army. Some will both try to get as good a job as possible, rent a one bedroom apartment, and start life. For some, both will try to go to college before marriage, and some will get married, one will work while the other goes to college. In last week’s article I mentioned that a married Private in the Army living in family housing, on post, has a take home pay of over $2,000 per month, which considering a free house with all utilities and free health care, translates to the equivalent of a civilian salary of around $45,000 per year. If both are in the Army, they are taking home around $4,500 per month. That is a take home pay of $54,000 a year, plus the free house and free health care.
I don’t discount young love. Love is love, without regard to age. I have written before, that there were 52 of us who graduated high school in my class in May 1961. Eleven married each other or someone one class up or one class down. All but one couple stayed together as long as they lived, and that couple separated late in life after their children were grown.
Over the past 60 years the Army has transformed from, “if the army wanted you to have a wife, they would issue you one”, to a total family orientated organization. The Army is family.

Octoberfest at Pershing Community Center on Fort Leonard Wood – October 2019

I was a Sergeant when we married, six months later I went to Vietnam, and Betty moved back in with her parents. Three years later, I went back to Vietnam, and we were able to rent the house next door to her parents. Our oldest, Sara, was born while I was on leave before leaving for Vietnam. Betty has said often since, that she wished that she had stayed at Fort Bragg with the other army wives. Her mother didn’t understand why she didn’t get a letter every day, or why it took two to three weeks to get an answer, and she heard, “you poor thing”, way too often. During Vietnam, the Army had an insane individual replacement policy where units stayed in country, and replacements rotated in and out on one year tours. Units were continually losing experience and gaining inexperience. If the soldier lived in family housing on post, the family had to move out when the soldier was reassigned to Vietnam, although many of us came back to the same post.
By the early 1980’s, the percentage of married soldiers had sky rocketed and families became a serious issue. Family Readiness Groups started forming, which consisted of the spouses of the unit’s soldiers. They had meetings, but they really didn’t have their running legs yet. Then came September 11th 2001. Units immediately started gearing up to deploy, and the wives wanted to know, “what is going on, and what is going to happen?” Now, starting with Iraq and Afghanistan, complete units, that have trained together for months, deploy together. If the family lives in family housing, on post, they can stay there because it is not a reassignment, just a temporary unit deployment.
Every company in the Army now has a Family Readiness Group (FRG). A company is the basic unit in the Army, commanded by a captain. All soldiers are assigned to a company. The FRG’s are command sponsored, which means that the company commander is responsible for seeing that the FRG exists and is working. It is operated by the unit spouses. The wife of the commander is often the FRG leader and there are committees and projects, all volunteer. The FRG meets at least once monthly, and in many units’ single soldiers are invited to attend, along with the husbands. They are kept informed about upcoming training and possible deployments. During deployments, they are kept up to date on all non-classified information about what their soldiers are doing.

Trunk or Treat, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina – October 2018

The Turkey Trot at Davidson Fitness Center, Fort Leonard Wood November 2019

If you want to get married after high school, the Army is a great start in life. If both of you plan to enlist, get married before you enlist. There are over 20,000 married army couples. There is the Married Army Couple Program (MACP), which you both have to apply for while in AIT (Advanced Individual Training). The only rare occurrence’s when an Army couple is not assigned together, is when one or both have rare, weird jobs in remote locations, other than that they are always assigned together. If only he is going to enlist, get married before he enlists, otherwise you miss out on thousands of dollars.
So, this story is about being an Army family, particularly about being an Army wife. One wife wrote, “Whether you come from a big family, a small family or no family at all, rest assured that you just joined the biggest family in America. Really. Your family is now more than a million strong – Army strong. There is no black, white, brown, red or yellow in the Army – just Green. It doesn’t matter if you’re from the north, south, east or west, educated or not so much, fresh out of high school or edging towards retirement. I come from a big, tight-knit, family – and I love my family – but more than once I’ve cut short my visits “home” to go back to my Army home because I needed the support and understanding only my ‘Big Green Machine’ family could provide. My Army wife sisters were my newborn daughter’s first hospital visitors, they met her months before her own father did. They opened their arms wide to me when I told them my dad was dying of cancer. They sent flowers to his funeral. They’ve helped me pack, clean and hold yard sales. They’ve, quite literally, picked me up when I was too weak to stand on my own. And they have laughed with me – oh, how they have laughed with me. We have watched each other’s babies grow, sometimes from afar, and we have shared so much of each other’s lives that the word ‘friend’ is simply not enough anymore. We are family.” Another wife wrote, “Being part of the Army Wife community is amazing. You can have immediate, life-long friends who will come to your aid at any time. Seriously, they will be there in their pajamas at 2 am if need be. You have a sense of community within hours of arriving at a new destination. You live among some of the strongest and most dedicated people in the world, and despite differences of opinion, rank, or economic situation, you band together in an emergency. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that group?” Another wrote about moving on post, “We had this crazy idea of moving on post and after being here for 2 months, I can honestly say it has exceeded our expectations. We love living here. It’s such fun to drive down the street on any given evening and have to creep along because entire families are out on the sidewalks and in the street talking and playing together. I’m thrilled when my good friend says, “I’m out walking and I’ll be at your house in a few minutes. Want to continue on a walk with me?”

I’m not suggesting that it’s all kumbaya, deployments are harder on the wives than the soldiers, and they don’t get easier, just more experienced. Army wives have to do a lot on their own, without their husband, which makes the FRG’s a great, valuable organization. During deployments or long field training trips, the FRG wives look out for each other, if one gets sick, others help with the kids, clean the kitchen, or whatever. Army wives also have to learn a new language. The Army speaks in acronyms, PCS, AKO, ETS, TDY, DFAC, and the list is endless, after a time, their civilian friends won’t understand them.

Spouse Day, when the wife gets to see what her husband soldier does

The negative comments from wives were primarily about deployments, and the husband soldier being away from the family so much. That is the down side. In my research, to my surprise, I found one thing that a majority of the wives mention as one of the things they loved about being an Army wife. The Military Ball. Almost every unit has at least one Army Ball once a year. One wife wrote, “Most people get to go to the prom once, maybe twice in their lifetimes. We get to go every year. And there’s booze. And decent food. And we can slow dance without being separated by a chaperone, and we’re even encouraged to get a hotel room. Military balls give us excellent reasons to go shopping, get our hair and nails done, and have our pictures taken with our spouses. Or, if nothing else, to give the yoga pants a night off.

Formal Army Ball, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, in Vicenza, Italy June 2018

Next week I’ll talk about health care and housing.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri January 23rd 2019.
I recently wrote about a fictional couple of young lovers, Jack and Judy, who got married after high school and Jack enlisted in the Army. Well this story starts with the same scenario, but with a different twist. Buck and Becky are two adventurers who get married and both enlist in the Army. Although the Army does not guarantee that married soldiers will be assigned together, it has a program to try to insure that they are. The only couples I found not assigned together were where one or both had weird jobs only performed by a few in specific locations.
Their plans for life are to get good college educations, get good jobs and live a good life. If they both spend three years in the military, their education will be paid for with the GI Bill. It would also mean they could get married, live comfortably, and have a great adventure. Buck wants to jump out of airplanes and have some fun and Becky wants to go along for the ride and be part of it, and they don’t want to be separated. Becky doesn’t want to do some of the things that Buck is thinking about, and Buck doesn’t want anything tame. They considered different jobs, which would probably mean training at different posts. Buck would really like to be a grunt, but infantry training is basically 22 weeks of basic combat training at Fort Benning, Georgia. That plus processing time, plus three weeks of airborne school equals almost seven months, and Buck really loves Becky so that is just too long. They have been told that if they chose the same job it should be a “high population” job so that being assigned to the same place wouldn’t be a problem. The “high population” jobs trained at Fort Leonard Wood are military police, truck drivers, combat engineers, and CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear). The only one that they would consider was CBRN. There is a CBRN Sergeant in every line company in the Army, whose job is to maintain the CBRN room with all the protective and detection gear, and conduct and supervise CBRN training in that company. Some support units don’t fully utilize their CBRN Sergeants, but they do in the 82nd Airborne Division. The AIT (Advanced Individual Training) is 11 weeks long with a lot of brainy classroom work and homework, which doesn’t please Buck, but at least they would be close. On the positive side, promotions are fast. Soldiers are currently being promoted to Sergeant at or around the two year mark. They want to be in the best unit with the best of people on the best Fort on which to live. That would be the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 82nd is about 10 percent female with women in most jobs in the division.
If they ship together, they can be assigned to the same basic training company and go through basic together. As an old Drill Sergeant, I can tell you they would be in different platoons, as far apart as possible. It would not be comfortable seeing your wife or husband being treated bad, which does happen in basic training.
So, marriage, honeymoon, ship to the reception battalion, then 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training. Graduation then move down the street to MOS 74D CBRN Specialist AIT for 11 weeks. Another graduation then travel to airborne school at Fort Benning for the three week school.
In their planning they studied the Army’s Married Army Couple Program (MACP). They learned that they each have to submit written applications for that program while in AIT. Both will tell their AIT Drill Sergeants as soon as they arrive at AIT that they each have to submit an application for MACP. As “Future Soldiers” they will set up their AKO account (Army Knowledge Online), as soon as they have their ship date to basic training. Then as soon as they can get to a computer, after they are issued their military ID cards (now called Common Access Card) (CAC), they can set up their full access AKO account. That may be when starting AIT. Also in AIT they will go to the ASK (Assignment Satisfaction Key) on their AKO account and list their assignment preferences, the first being Fort Bragg. When their MACP packages are received and entered at Human Resource Command, they will be officially registered in the MACP, and considered for assignment jointly.
When their tentative assignments are listed on their AKO site, they will request a reporting date to their first assignment which allows them 10 days of leave after airborne school. Providing their reporting date allows it, their company commander in airborne school may approve up to 10 days leave before reporting to their unit. They will need the time to come home and get their cars and personal items and then arrive at Fort Bragg a few days before they have to report in. Fort Bragg always has on post family housing with “move in specials” immediately available, so they can get a house and arrange to get anything else they need before reporting in to their units. They plan to have sufficient savings, at that point to get whatever furniture they will need.
When they get married they will open a joint checking account. Along with birth certificates, marriage certificate, drivers licenses and original social security cards, they will take blank checks with them to process in to the Army. The military only pays by direct deposit. They will both be issued $350 debit cards to purchase necessary items. That money will be deducted from their first pay. The base pay in 2019 for a Private E-1 with under four months service is $1,554 per month and the military pays twice monthly. On the 1st and the 15th. Both would claim married with one dependent (themselves) on their W-4 when they process in, and assuming that they don’t take the full $400,000 Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI), but only $200,000 each, after all deductions their net pay would be $659.56 per payday, with the $350 deducted from the first, after which each would have $659.56 deposited in their account twice monthly, or a total of $2,638.24 per month while in basic training. Shortly after arriving at AIT they would go over four months service, which would automatically increase their base pay to $1,680.90 per month. After 60 days in the Army they would automatically be enrolled in the Army’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), in which the soldier may contribute up to 3 percent of their base pay, which is matched by the government. So then, while in AIT even contributing three percent to the TSP, their net pay would be $679.94 per payday, or a total of $2719.76 per month.
They may or may not be advanced to Private E-2, whose base pay is $1,884.00 per month, at the end of AIT, but certainly when they arrive at their unit. Private First Class E-3, with a base pay of $1,981.20, would come within a month or two of their arrival. Married Army couples have another monetary advantage. They both receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is determined by the location. At Fort Bragg, the with dependent rate is $1,134 per month and the without dependent rate is $984 per month. A married Army couple with no children both receive the without dependent rate. Living in on-post housing, Buck’s BAH would go to pay for the house, which includes all utilities, lawn maintenance, and trash pickup, and Becky’s would be theirs to keep. Plus, not living in the barracks, each would be paid $369.39 per month for meals. That is Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS). BAH and BAS are not taxed, airborne (jump) pay is.
Both being Private E-2, with $150 extra airborne pay, and living in government family housing, Buck’s pay would be $997.63 per pay day or $1995.26 per month, while Becky’s would be $1,489.63 per pay day or $2,979.26 per month, making their combined take home pay $4,974.52 per month.
Assuming that they each are promoted to Private First Class E-3 within a year, and to Specialist at about 18 months, and leave the service after three years, they each would have around $5,000 in the Thrift Savings Plan which could be rolled into an IRA.
I made Buck and Becky airborne because that is the proudest unit in the Army, but if they were not airborne, jump pay is only $150 per month each. So, wherever they were assigned in whatever job their take home pay per month would still be $4,741.48.
So how does a young couple prepare to do this? GET IN SHAPE. Get in the best possible physical condition. Start running, doing pushups, situps, pullups, and lifting weights, not presses, dead weights from a squat that uses your whole body, and walk, in boots – army boots if you can get them – if not good lace up boots, and walk carrying a rucksack with increasing amounts of weight. Basic Combat Training is hard, prepare for it. Also in preparation, study for the ASVAB. It may be easy for you, but study anyway. We don’t know the future, so you should score as high as possible on that series of tests.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May 9th 2018.
Throughout the Bible, Jesus’ message was, you don’t get until you give. Benjamin Franklin wrote “there are no gains without pains. If you want more, you have to do more.
I’m sure there are at least a couple people graduating from high school whose plan for the future is simply to get the best job they can find, and there is nothing wrong with that. There are several local business owners who did just that.
What do you want? Decent money, a nice place to live, afford a nice car, money left over for fun, and be able to go to college? Or, do you want to get married and have all those things. And what about the job, do you want a job that you can enjoy, a job that is respected and carries responsibility?
I recently wrote about who the people are who are enlisting in the Army. By far the largest percentage are those who already know the Army. Either their parents were career Army or they grew up next door to the Army, but if you haven’t been around the military, it is an unknown, and many people fear the unknown. Plus there is pain.
First there is the enlistment process, you have to be medically, mentally, morally, and physically qualified to enlist. There are the ASVAB tests. If you want high tech job such as a highly classified satellite communications specialist or you want to learn to be a computer hacker, then you have to score very high on the ASVAB. Study for it. You need to be in very good physical condition before basic training. Start running and exercise, pushups, situps, and pullups. What job? All jobs are open to women. There are currently a few women in the infantry. What kind of job do you want? Be honest with yourself. Most women I know don’t want an actual combat job, some do. For years, if an enlistee couldn’t do anything else, they made him or her a cook, which was considered the bottom of the list of Army jobs. Not true anymore, now a cook is a respected culinary specialist.
Then there is training. Reception processing is the pits. It is stuff that has to be completed. The first day at basic training is hell, it is meant to be, and basic training is getting tougher. The purpose of basic training is to convert undisciplined civilians into disciplined soldiers. My advice is to try to master every task quickly, and have fun. Try to see humor. By about the third week, most basic training classes have gelled together and really do start having fun. As of this writing, basic training is 10 weeks, but I expect it to go to 11 or 12 this summer. Advanced Individual Training (AIT) varies from 7 to 8 weeks to over a year for cardiology specialists, or computer hackers. If the job you choose has an airborne option, I highly recommend it. That is jumping out of airplanes. It’s not scary, it’s fun, and the units are the elite of the Army, with the best leaders. The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina is the most trained, hardest worked and most used division in the Army, and it has the highest morale in the Army.
After training life is different, radically different, you are another soldier. If you are single, you will live in the barracks. Big deal, you have your own room and your car is parked outside. If you are married you can live in family housing on post. There are apartments and individual houses. They are nice houses with maintenance and utilities paid for with your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which for a Private at Fort Leonard Wood is $876 per month, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina it is $1,134, or you can take the money and live off post. For a young newly married couple I recommend living on post. Everything you need, gas stations, Post Exchanges (stores), are available, plus every post has at least one giant commissary, which is like a grocery store super center. Every post has multiple gyms, chapels, athletic facilities, and recreation equipment available. Medical care is free for the soldier and his or her family. The cost for delivering a baby in an Army hospital is less than $50. Dental care is free for the soldier. Dental insurance which covers about everything for spouse and children is $11 per month for the wife or $29 for an entire family. A married PFC E3 (Private First Class), who has been in the Army about a year, living in family housing on post and claiming 2 dependents on the W4 form, will have deposited in his or her bank account about $1,000 on the 1st of the month and again on the 15th of the month. That equals about $460 per week take home pay or a wage of about $13.50 per hour, after your house and insurance is paid.
Combat units have field duty, training posts like Fort Leonard Wood don’t usually. The Army works five days a week. In the 24 hour a day places, like hospitals or military police, the individual soldiers still only work five days a week. A normal day starts with PT (physical training), then an eight hour day and you’re off. Weekends are off. Federal holidays that are on Monday means a three day weekend off. Every soldier gets 30 days leave (paid vacation) per year.
Don’t want to miss out on college? Every post has an education center where several college and universities conduct evening and on-line classes, and the Army pays for 16 semester hours per year. Advanced education is pushed in the Army, every semester hour is worth one promotion point, up to 75 points in an 800 point system for promotion to Sergeant and 100 points for promotion to Staff Sergeant.
There are over 150 different jobs in the Army. Some require great physical effort, some do not, some require intense academic study to learn and maintain proficiency, some do not. Many are skills that transition directly to a civilian job, some are not. The military is very selective about who it admits into the service, but people are people, and what may be considered a great job by some, may be the pits for someone else. I was once in charge of a section in the division personnel shop in the 82nd Airborne Division. There was a PFC in the office who wasn’t happy with his job. He wasn’t a goof off, he did his work, but he would rather have been somewhere else. One day I asked him what he would like to do, if he could have any job in the Army. He lit up with a gleam in his eyes and said; “Drive a tank!” I have no doubt that there were probably tank drivers who, after spending hours in the motor pool scrubbing and maintaining their tank would have traded places with him in a minute. If you don’t know the Army, it’s hard to know if you’re picking a job that you will enjoy, so do some research. Try to find comments online from people in different jobs. Talk to people who have been in the Army. Talk to the recruiters. The Army recruiters in Rolla, Missouri are a very good crew. Sergeant First Class Joel Watts, who is in charge of that office, has been extended on recruiting duty at least once, maybe twice, which means he is doing a good job, which also means they will tell you the truth. Also try to find and talk to people who have retired from the Army. Whether or not they have been in a job that interests you, over a period of 20 years they were probably around it at some time. I will be happy to talk Army with anyone at any time.
Aside from the job a soldier has, life in the Army could be called a “protected life”. Soldiers don’t worry about making a living and keeping their job, they don’t worry about getting sick and missing work, and they don’t worry about health insurance. They concentrate on learning their job better and doing it better, and doing the things they need to do to get promoted to the next rank, like accumulating college hours. Currently about 45 percent of the people who enlist in the Army will re-enlist at least once, and 17 percent of those who enlist will spend at least 20 years in the Army and retire.

This is a battalion in the 173rd Airborne Brigade at Vicenza, Italy having a family day.


This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri May 2nd 2018.
This column is an attempt to educate anyone who will read it about different aspects of life in the Army. Much has been written about the disconnect between the military and the general population. Most people around Belle, Missouri, who have not served, know hardly anything about normal everyday life in the military. Some teenagers in high school have an image of the military, that after seeing “Lone Survivor”, that anyone who goes into that is going to die in combat. Some only think of a picture of a drill sergeant with his hat brim in the face of a trainee, as the military. Neither could be further from the truth.
So, who enlists in the military? Some stories are that only the uneducated lower classes enlist. Not true. The Army is currently in a “build up”, and for the first time ever it is not lowering standards. It is increasing enlistment bonuses to entice people to enlist for particular jobs. A high school diploma is required. If a person only has a GED high school completion, they must have 15 semester hours of college to enlist. They must also score high enough on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The ASVAB is the military version of an ACT or an SAT. It consists of 10 tests, general science, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, mathematics knowledge, electronics information, automotive and shop information, mechanical comprehension, assembling objects, and verbal expression. The entire test is three hours long, with individual areas lasting between 10 and 40 minutes. There are school districts in some states where a large percentage of students do not score high enough to be accepted into the military.
Next myth. The majority are from poor families. Not true. Fifty percent of enlisted recruits come from families in the top 40 percent of income, 25 percent of those from families in the top 20 percent of income. Only 10 percent come from the bottom 20 percent.
The majority of recruits come from the south and the southwest. True. That’s because those areas are more rural and patriotic and have more poor areas. No, not true. That’s where the military is located. California has the largest military population (184,000) of any state, mostly Navy and Air Force, but it is does not produce the most recruits. California has the largest unemployed veteran and the largest homeless veteran population of any state. California is ranked number 52, as the least desirable state for military retirement. Texas is the second state in military population (164,000). It also has a large retired military population and a large number of enlistees come from Texas. By far, the largest numbers of recruits come from a block of states in the South/Southeast, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Almost half of our entire military force, almost 500,000 active duty, is concentrated in those five states. So, who enlists in the military? People who know the military.
“Army brat” or “military brat” is not a description of an undisciplined child. It is a term of affection, compassion, endearment, and respect proudly worn by children of active duty military families. When one military brat introduces themselves to another each understands that they may or may not have a “home town”. Home was where the family was located. They were probably a world traveler, having lived in several states and different countries. Our kids toured German castles, including Neuschwanstein, the Disney castle, plus the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Saint Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, and the German, Austrian, and Italian Alps. They went to school in North Carolina, Germany, Italy, and South Carolina, as well as Belle, Missouri. Army brats have usually attended several schools, giving up friends as they were leaving, and making new ones at their new home. They grew up watching their father put on a uniform every day and go to work. They saw how proud Dad was when they attended his promotion or award ceremonies. They attended his company picnics and battalion family days. They got to know the soldiers in Dad’s platoon or company, as well as the other kids and mothers. They listened to Dad in the evenings talk about his day, about what was going right and what needed work. They saw Dad get up early and go in to work after he had come in after midnight from a long hard field exercise. He didn’t have to go in early, but he had to see that some things got done. If they were in the car with Mom on post at 5:00 PM, the car stopped and all got out and stood attention as Taps played and the flag was being lowered. Army brats grow up learning the Army from the inside out. They grow up feeling the intense pride their parent or parents have in what they are doing, and when they graduate from high school, some go to a military academy, some to college and take ROTC, and many enlist in the service in which their parent had served.
The largest Army post is Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at Fayetteville, one tenth of all the Army is at Fort Bragg. Camp Lejeune Marine Base, at Jacksonville, North Carolina, with its satellite bases is almost as large. The US Army Recruiting Battalion at Raleigh, North Carolina is the number one recruiting battalion in the country. It supervises recruiting companies in Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greenville, Raleigh, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem. The Commander of the Raleigh Recruiting Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Mitchell, said that battalion routinely brings in three times the number of recruits into the Army each year as many of its peers. He said that the Fayetteville Company, next to Fort Bragg, often enlists more recruits into the Army than entire battalions in other parts of the country. They enlist because they grew up in or around the Army.
The 82nd Airborne Division selects a non-commissioned Officer (NCO) of the year and a trooper of the year, each year just prior to All American Week, during which the winner is announced. It is a big deal! Over the years those selected have gone on to be very successful in and out of the Army. The competition starts at company and battalion level, with recommendations, competitions and screening boards. Finally, for the handful that are left at division level, usually three to six, there are three days of tough competition. The first thing on the first day is the Army Physical Fitness Test, then zero and qualify with a rifle, display their familiarization with different weapons systems, and a written test. On day two is night-to-day land navigation course and additional hands-on warrior task assessments in infantry tactics, nuclear, biological and chemical protection and decontamination procedures and medical evacuation. The final day is the Division Board, composed of the Brigade Command Sergeants Major and chaired by the Division Command Sergeant Major.
In 2015, Specialist Terri Bluebird beat out all competitors to become the first female 82nd Airborne Division Trooper of the Year. She was a combat medic. She was also an Army brat. Both her parents were in the Army, in the 82nd Airborne Division. Both were jumpmasters. Her mother, who was a cook, was the first Native American female to retire from the Army. Terri was born in Womack Army Hospital, on post, and grew up on Fort Bragg. She said; “I just wanted to be part of what they thought was the best time of their life”. She was promoted to Sergeant shortly after that, and the next year was selected for the Army’s Active Duty Green to Gold program. She will attend college for two years, paid for by the Army, while continuing her full active duty pay and allowances, then upon completing her bachelors’ degree, she will be commissioned a Second Lieutenant and return to active duty.
After serving in Vietnam, Sergeant Major Albert Brunson with his wife Delphine and family retired from the Army, at Fayetteville, North Carolina, where he had spent a large part of his career. The family came together for an interview in 2008. There were Albert and Delphine and their sons Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Brunson, with his wife, Lieutenant Colonel Kristen Brunson, Major LaHavie Brunson and his wife Karyn, Major Tavi Brunson and his wife Captain Miryam Brunson. Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Brunson said the values that his father brought home were the reason for his decision to join the Army. He said that the earliest roots of those values was the love of our family and the love of this great nation. He said; “….we treat this like a profession. This is our family business.”
Military pay is sufficient. You won’t get rich in the military, but if you live within your means it can be a comfortable life. After our first was born, my wife became a stay at home mom and didn’t work for the next 14 years, until I retired from the Army. Along the way we bought two houses, one of them new, and several new cars. Health care is not a concern, medical and dental care are provided for the service member and his or her family. Housing is provided. The family can live in family housing on post or receive a housing allowance and live off post. Every service member gets 30 days leave (paid vacation) each year. Most soldiers get off work at 5:00 PM and go back to work at around 6:30 AM, with weekends off, plus soldiers in combat units that train hard, like the 82nd Airborne Division, get many three and four day weekends. When Monday is a holiday, commanders will try to make Friday a training holiday, which means most everyone is off from Thursday afternoon to Tuesday morning. Education is pushed hard, and the Army pays for 16 semester hours tuition annually for evening or online classes. Moves are paid for by the military, plus the soldier is paid a “dislocation allowance”.
Aside from the particular job a soldier may have, the life might be called a protected life.
So, who is enlisting in the Army? People who already know the Army. That is also why they are enlisting in such large numbers.

YOUNG LOVERS – High School – Marriage – Enlist

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri August 29th 2018. 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, 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.
Jack and Judy are a married couple, Jack has been in the Army about eight months, and this is their story.
Jack and Judy started “going steady” when they were about 15, by 16 when Jack got his drivers licenses, they were a couple. Both are from good families and both are smart people. I don’t discount young love as “puppy love”. There were 52 of us who graduated from Belle High School in May 1961. Eleven members of that class married each other or someone one class up or one class down, and all but one couple have remained married to each other as long as they lived, and that one couple separated late in life after their kids were grown. Some of those relationships started before high school. So love is love, and if it is real, it is real.
Both Jack and Judy’s families are middle class working people, not rich, not poor, plus Jack has a sibling a year older who would be first in line for college. Both families wanted the kids to go to college, get an education and a better job for a better life. Jack suspected that if he wanted to go to college he would have to work his way through or borrow the money. Jack and Judy wanted to get married, and they didn’t want to wait four years. Someone suggested three years in the military and college would paid be for by the government. At first they discarded the thought. Although of very strong character and personality, Jack is not a brawny jock, he is more inclined to brain work than muscle work. Could he make in the military? Could they afford to get married? Could they be together? After some research, they began to consider the idea. Jack wanted to be in a good unit with high morale, and fast promotions, but have a job where he could be home at night, and that would allow him the time to accumulate college hours. He learned that the military tuition assistance is $250 per semester hour for up to 16 semester hours per year, and that most colleges on Army posts have reduced their price for active duty students to $250 per semester hour for both evening and online classes. They questioned that if Jack did enlist should they wait to get married until he was through his training. They were told a definite no, absolutely get married before being sworn in, and to have that state marriage certificate with him when he processed in.
After much research, Jack selected Army MOS (military occupational specialty) 74D Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Specialist (CBRN) with the airborne option. There were several reasons for that choice. First, it was available. There are a gazillion 74D’s. One in every company in the Army, another at battalion headquarters, and some at brigade level. Promotion to Sergeant is fast, many have made it in two years. All of the company level jobs call for a Sergeant E5, and those are the positions to which many new 74D’s are assigned. Another attraction was autonomy, Jack read that in many units the 74D does about everything but 74D work, whereas in the airborne units the NBC NCO (Nuclear Biological Chemical) (Non-commissioned Officer) is an important position in the company headquarters, because those units frequently conduct CBRN training. And finally, a big consideration was that the 11 week AIT (Advanced Individual Training) for 74D is at Fort Leonard Wood. The airborne option almost guarantees (probably 90%) an assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 82nd has the highest morale in the Army, it pays an extra $150 per month, and a Private can get on post family housing immediately. If, in the slim chance, he wasn’t assigned to Fort Bragg, it would be to Italy or Alaska and Judy could go with him and get government housing or be paid a housing allowance for off post housing.
High School graduation, marriage and then Army. In addition to his own drivers’ license and social security card and a voided check (all army pay is by direct deposit), Jack had their marriage certificate, Judy’s birth certificate and her social security number. During in-processing at the reception station, Jack enrolled Judy in DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System), which gave her access to all benefits such as medical, dental, travel, etc, and started their BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing). He obtained the paperwork for Judy to get her ID Card. Judy continued living at home with her parents.
Assuming that Jack enlisted on the first day of a month, the first money deposited in their bank account on the 15th of that month was around $770, because Jack was given a government debit card with $350 on it, to purchase necessary items for basic training, which was deducted from the first pay. The next check on the 1st of the following month was $1,090. After 30 days, Family Separation Allowance of $250 per month started, so after that, about $1,215 was deposited in their account on the 1st and on the 15th of each month.
After a few days processing at the reception battalion, Jack’s group was delivered to their basic training company. After the initial Drill Sergeant blitzkrieg, they were assigned bunks and wall lockers and marched to pay phones to call home with their address. Jack and Judy communicated by mail. On Sunday after the third week, Jack got to call home again. Jack got to spend a day with Judy during one “on post pass” toward the end of basic training, and then there was “family day” the day before graduation. Both families went to see Jack graduate from basic.
After graduation, Jack moved a few blocks to the new CBRN training facility. That time he got to keep his cell phone and computer, just couldn’t use them during duty hours (class). That was a new facility with three men to a room with three desks, three closets and a bath/shower. Down stairs was classrooms and offices. Every company in the Army has a CBRN room, sometimes called an NBC room, where protective masks, and MOPP suits (That is an acronym for Mission Oriented Protective Posture. It is basically a rubber (not really-special chemical compound) suit. Top with hood, bottom, boots, and gloves all attached together to keep unseen things from getting to your skin. It’s hot! Training in MOPP gear in the winter is not too bad, it just tires you out soon, in the summer it is hell. Detection equipment, decontamination material, and chemical antidotes are also maintained in the CBRN room. AIT covered biological agents, chemical agents, radiation detection and response, hazardous materials/toxic industrial chemicals, operational decontamination, thorough decontamination, mass casualty decontamination, and basic chemical/biological detection. Plus CBRN room operations, supply, maintenance and training. The CBRN Specialist or NCO is also the most knowledgeable person in the company on CBRN training, which makes him or her an integral part of training in a company that does CBRN training. In AIT Jack went over four months’ time in service, which raised his pay by about $100 per month. During AIT, Judy was at the Fort every weekend. The first three weeks Jack got “on-post” passes, then off post passes.
Jack continually monitored his AKO account (Army Knowledge Online) and particularly the ASK key (Assignment Satisfaction Key). Toward the end of AIT Jack saw that he was tentatively scheduled for assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division, which he had been requesting, but “chat” told him that orders would not be issued until he successfully completed airborne school. He requested that his orders reflect a move with dependents, so the Army would pay for moving some household goods they had obtained, and pay them a dislocation allowance for the move. He also requested 10 days leave, between airborne school and reporting to Fort Bragg. Jack completed the online request for family housing on the Corvias Housing site for Fort Bragg, then called them and gave his tentative report date. He was told to email them his orders as soon as he received them and they would give him an address of a “move in special”, which he agreed to accept. He then visited Post Transportation on Fort Leonard Wood and completed paperwork for the move to Fort Bragg, he just had to email them his orders when he received them. Finally 74D graduation on a Thursday. Judy was able to drive him to the airport in St Louis where he caught a flight on Friday to Columbus Georgia (had to change in Atlanta) for airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Three weeks, ground week, tower week and five jumps later, Judy drove down to Fort Benning on Friday and pinned “jump wings” on her new paratrooper. They drove back home together and got ready for the movers, who would be picking their goods up in a couple days. They split their 10 days between home and Fort Bragg, they wanted to get settled before Jack had to report in. The quarters they got was a two bedroom duplex. It was an older house in an older housing area, but recently renovated. Jack’s BAH paid for rent, utilities, lawn maintenance, trash pickup, access to a community pool, and a community center. Their goods arrived and they bought a few things they needed to set up housekeeping.
Jack reported in to the 82nd Airborne Division Replacement Detachment, spent three days drawing gear and processing into Fort Bragg. He was assigned to a company to replace the company CBRN NCO, who was in the process of leaving. Jack had only a few days to get oriented before the Sergeant left, but being the smart guy that he is, he quickly got a grasp on the CBRN Room. He meticulously counted all items and signed for the room. He studied the training schedule and questioned the Supply Sergeant and the First Sergeant about what CBRN items may be needed for what training.
Jack went over six month time in service about the time he arrived at Fort Bragg so he was automatically advanced to Private E2, which was another $100 raise, When they moved into government family housing he lost the BAH, but he gained $150 jump pay and $370 per month for meals since he wasn’t living in the barracks. So, now as a PFC (Private First Class) E3, at eight months in the Army, after taxes and SGLI (Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance) are deducted, about $1,075 is deposited in their bank account on the 1st of the month and again on the 15th of the month. That equals a weekly take home pay of just under $500, which for a 40 hour week would be around $15.00 per hour. Throw in complete health care coverage and a house with all utilities and Jack is making the equivalent of a civilian making $20.00 an hour or over $40,000 a year.
Jack and Judy are fictional characters, but the process and the figures are real, based upon 2019 pay scale.