At the end of the long day, a group of us all designated to go to the same Basic Training Center were herded to Broad Street Station where we began our journey by train to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Arriving in the wee hours of the morning, the drill sergeants were awaiting us at the station and the screaming and harassment began. Thus began my entry into the Army and its method to turn young men into soldiers and we all learned quickly that it was a good idea to not stand out from the crowd, to follow the rules and keep your mouth shut. Oh, we had our moments of mischief in order to test the system, but we also learned that we'd never get away with it. Somehow, someway the drill instructors knew every feint and every trick. It was like a mini-1984, eyes were everywhere.
Of all my memories of the eight week initial training, nothing is better remembered than the gas chamber exercise shown above. Groups of us were marched into a block house filled with tear gas and wearing a mask, told to remove our mask and state our name, rank and serial number, than count to ten before exiting. No matter how big a breath you took before following instructions, you always ran out of breath and had to at least take a small gasp of air, leaving your eyes and throat burning and coughing your lungs out as you left the chamber. Invariably, when you went to wipe the tears out of your eyes, they came in contact with tear gas residue on your sleeve which set your eyes on fire again. Five minutes later you were fine.
Then nighttime low crawl under fire was also a new experience, with the explosions and tracers over head in a barbed wire setting gave you just a small taste of what would be to come. It was just the Army's way to start getting your mind set for what you were there for and their system is quite effective. Those who need to lose weight, those who need to gain do so and all begin to take the orders and rules seriously and understand that if you are not part of a cohesive unit you'll be the loser.
And the daily forced marches in deep sand trails accomplished their purpose, making us lean and mean and stronger with our stamina improved dramatically. They really had it down to quite a system although we thought at the time that they were sadistic.
When it was all said and done, I opted to accept an assignment offer to attend Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning which added a much greater dimension to my Army experience. Designed to turn a young private with a college degree into a commissioned officer, the training was more rigorous, mentally demanding and it taught just how much you can accomplish without sleep.
I'll sum it up this way in the words of a Tactical Officer, a new OCS grad himself assigned to train us as he had just been trained. On the first day while we were braced against the wall he said to us, "Men, remember how you felt on the first day of Basic Training? You had status then."
And so another adventure began preparing me for the future. While there were days when I hated it and saw no humor to what was happening to me, I now, many years later can look back and laugh. You always forget most of the pain and remember the things that offered some humor. And I think I am a much better man for the experience.
So here's to my days of training in the Army and the impact it made on me for all of my love. I'm glad I did it. God bless you all.