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The dates in the posts are when things actually happened. Since I had no Internet in Basic, I'm entering my blog now.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Land Nav

Today we got to try our hand at land navigation or land nav for short. That involves measuring a map to see the distance and direction you need to travel, then using a compass figure out the direction you need to travel. Then you start moving. To know how far you have travelled, you count your steps. Before starting out, you count how many steps you have to take to travel 100 meters. After learning the theory, they turned us loose in the woods. Many people were lost, but I had already learned and practiced the skill with Civil Air Patrol (Search and Rescue). The best part was when they sent us out at night to try our hand in near-total-darkness. We had a lot of fun and we were finished in time to "ambush" some of the other groups.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Lock it up!

Tonight, as we were lined up for evening formation, DS Annoyed came storming out of the barracks and asked in a thundering voice "Private Lemming, just which one of your Drill Sergeans is an asshole?!" Turns out, Private Lemming forgot to lock his locker. The DS used that as an opportunity for an impromptu locker inspection, and found a half-finished letter in which Private Lemming describes his DS's to a friend. The next few days were tough for Lemming...

Saturday, August 27, 2005


Well, Private Hocus-Pocus continues to cause trouble. She's constantly telling others what to do (though she has been given no authority), yet refuses to listen to anyone - be it a well-intentioned fellow soldier in training (which we call a "battle buddy"), or be it a squad leader or platoon guide ("PG"). I am now PG, and one of my responsibilites is to count the number of soldiers presnet in our platoon for evening formation. That is not easy when everyone is walking around, so I give the command "Platoon, Fall In!" That instructs everyone to line up in formation, to facilitate counting. Well, tonight private Hocus Pocus refused to fall in because "she was talking to someone". I gave her the option of falling in immediately, or pulling double-duty. She thought I was bluffing. I wasn't. She must not have enjoyed the long night. She didn't suddenly become a model soldier, but now she falls in when told to do so.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I was starting to get the feel for being PG (Platoon Guide) today. People began listening even when the DS wasn't around, and I knew what to do and when. Then, on the way back from chow, something quite out-of-the-ordinary happened. It concerns a female I will refer to as Private Hocus-Pocus. Ever since the first day here, Private Hocus-Pocus has stood out as being quite odd, and a troublemaker. She loves to tell people what to do, but never listens to people around her. She has not recognized that in order to be a good leader, you first have to be a good follower. She also seems to be confused...among other things about her religion. We have one female (Private "Be Real") that practices Druidism, which I gather is similar to Wicca. Private Hocus-Pocus also claimed to be Wiccan. The next day, she told someone else that she's Catholic. On the third day, she claimed to follow yet a third religion.

Getting back to the after-chow formation, I was just taking a headcount when I heard a loud "thunk!" I looked up just in time to see that Private HP had just thrown her M16 violently on the ground (thank God we're not issued any ammo yet!) and began shaking and convulsing as if possessed. I went to her, along with several other people and asked "what's wrong?!" She appeared to be in a trance or something, staring with a blank expression and shaking as if trying to cast off something, but acted as if oblivious to the world. Then she just sat down and continued to ignore the world. The DS came over and tried to find out what was going on. After she ignored him as well, he told her (in a loud DS voice), "when you decide to tell us what the hell is going on, we'll try and help you." He then directed me to take the platoon back to our classroom. He and Private HP joined us a few minutes later. She was "normal" again (for her). Most of us put her behavior down to a "voodoo attack".

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sick Call

People have been getting sick ever since day one. Combine many people in close quarters, a high-stress environment, and little sleep - people are bound to catch things. I have been fighting a cold for several days. Usually I would just sleep once for 12 hours and feel better. Here, that is not an option. Since things seem to be getting worse rather than better, I went on sick call. They saw me around 0600 this morning (no time for a sick person to be awake!) The decision was to give me some cough medicine and a decongestant, and send me back to duty. I asked to be given a running "profile" for a few days, but the medic felt that, since the weather is quite warm, I can run just fine now that I"m taking medication. Seems counter-intuitive to me, but he sees a lot of sick soldiers, so let's hope he's right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Victory Tower

Basic Training consists of 9 weeks of instruction, punctuated with several events designed to build skills, confidence, and teamwork. Victory Tower is one such event. They took us out to a clearing in the woods where a 50' tower stands. There, we first demonstrated basic ability with ropes by grabbing onto a thick rope and swinging ourselves over a 10' wide pit. Then the fun begins! We go over to the north side of the tower. There, we climb a ladder to a platform. From there, we climb up a robe bridge consisting of a single thick rope to walk on, and two thinner ropes that serve as handrails. That takes us up to the main tower. At about a 20 degree incline. From there, we crawl back down to the main platform, pulling ourselves on top of a single, thick rope. For me, that was the most challenging part of the day. Then, the exercise takes you back up a rope bridge just like the first one, but this time with only one handrail, located directly above the thick rope you walk on. Once up on the tower again, you proceed down a cargo net (thick ropes tied to form a series of 1 foot squares like a chess board) to return to ground level. From there, it's off to a brief class in how to tie a swiss harness - basically a single piece of rope tied around your waist to form a climber's harness. From there, wearing your harness, you pull yourself up a 70 degree inclined platform, with boards nailed across it to form ladder rungs, using a thick rope. Then for the final thrill - a DS at the top of the tower latches you into a 40' rope that drops back down to ground level - vertically! First, we have to stand with our feet against the top of the wall, and lie our body horizontally, suspend 40' above the ground by the rope and harness. Then down she goes. Kick off from the wall, hand holding the rope off to the side, you accellerate downward, still horizontal, toward the ground. Bring the hand with the rope behind your back, and you slow down, feet move back toward the wall, and you come to a momentary stop. Repeat the cycle a few times and before you know it, you have rapelled a 40' wall! It was a most excellent day.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Week One

The first week is.....slow. There are lots of classes (admin-related, UCMJ, personal hygiene, customs and courtesies, etc., etc.). There is also lots of marching. Because plenty of us aren't disciplined enough to shut up and listen to the DS, we also become well-acquainted with the front-leaning rest position. While that might sound restful, it is anything but. It is actually the position you reach while on the top-half of a pushup. If you have any doubt as to how "restful" the front-leaning position is, try it out for a minute....or 5...or 10. You can arch your back up high, or sag in the middle, as long as your knee doesn't touch down. One thing is for builds muscle! Near the end of the week, we were issued an M-16. While that might sound cool, but it loses much of its charm when you realize that your weapon will be with you from daybreak to sunset. That litttle 8lbs gets to be quite heavy after 12 hours of carrying it around in your hands (never slung over your shoulders). It also makes for an excellent exercise accessory. If your're not quite sure how to incorporate it in your daily workout routine, just ask any DS. Notice I called the M-16 a weapon. In the Army, it can be referred to as an M-16, a weapon, or a rifle....but never as a gun. Kind of like telling the captain of the Nimitz that you like his boat. Our DS explained that to us in no uncertain terms. He said if anyone calls it a gun, they might as well get down and start pushing. No more than three minutes after that, Garcia (a slightly overweight, generally intelligent Hispanic) asked the DS a question about his "gun". None of us could believe he f*cked that up in just three mintes. We also got to disassemble/assemble the M-16. I was 4th when we tried to disassemble for time. First place was a guy from "the block" who cleans his AK-47 every night back home. The first three weeks are called Red Phase. After that come White and Blue Phase. They say, although Red Phase seems to pass at a snails pace, the other phases fly by. Let's hope so!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Getting Started

The first week of BCT was pretty uneventful. We spent a lot of time learning the basics such as how to march, how to exercise the Army way, and how to maintain our barracks. Many hours were spent in the classroom, learning things like Customs and Courtesies, UCMJ, and prevention of sexual harassment. During the latter class, the presenter asked the audience of 200 or so to share what they consider to be signals that their partner is open to sexual interaction. There were a number of funny answers, but one had the whole room in stitches. "Country", an overweight, but lovable hick from Kentucky stood up and started out with a thick hillbilly accent, "well, one morning I was out in the barn...", with which the whole room errupted into laughter (and I guess a little sympathy for the livestock. :-) Even the presenter lost her military bearing. Once things settled down, he continued "I was milking my cow" (which he mimed out, and more laughter ensued) "and my girlfriend walked in on me". The presenter asked "So how was that sexual?", to which he replied "Well, it kind of turned her on". "Go on" urged the presenter. "Well, she kinda showed me what she wanted" said Country. "And what was that?" "She wanted me to pull on her titties." Again, the whole room, including the presenter, errupted into laughter again. We have had many fun and funny moments, but of course it's not all fun and games.

Training is divided into the Red, White, and Blue phases. During the Red phase a major emphasis is "if an individual fails, the whole team fails". Translation: If someone messes up, the presumption is that his buddies should have straightened him out. Sometimes that words - peer pressure causes some people to shape up, but sometimes the individual in question just doesn't respond. Drill Sergeants are good at identifying those people, and working on them with other methods. What this boils down to in plain English is that we end up doing lots of push-ups and sit-ups in Red phase. Being punished like that upsets a lot of people, but I just look at the DS as my personal fitness trainer, helping me to meet my PT goals.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Spoon Platoon

As I left Reception, I wondered who would do well, and who would have a hard time adapting. It did not take long to see. Witherspoon (son of the boxer) wa the first to show a serious attitude problem. He had been getting on the Drill Sergeant's nerves for a few days. This evening, we were all in the classroom, and were supposed to do some pushups. Witherspoon decided to be 'slick' and stop pushing whenever the DS looked in a different direction. Unfortunately for him, he's not the first to try that trick and the DS caught him. He got an on-the-spot lecture on integrity (one of seven Army core values), then had to stand facing the wall for over an hour. After the class, the DS had 4th Platoon fall out to take showers. When Witherspoon started to leave too, the DS said "Not you Spoon! You're not in 4th Platoon right now. Your in Spoon Platoon". We all had a good laugh over that. In the days that followed he joked about the "Spoon Platoon", too. The whole ordeal seems to have helped him. I haven't seen him in trouble since then.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


It's bad enough to get up at 5am to do PT. What makes it much worse here is the presence of millions of fire ants all over the base. When we hit the PT field at 0' dark thirty, the only illumination comes from the distant street lights, and whatever light the moon gives off. Not nearly enough to see if there are ants around, or (much) wore, an ant hill. When you get bit, it stings intensely for a few seconds, then itches for a few minutes to an hour after that. The next day, a little sore forms that looks just like acne. My first personal encounter with fire ants occurred this morning - when I realized that I must have been standing on an ant hill. My left leg began to hurt. Running both hands over it, I felt many tiny bodies crush. Once the sun came up that morning, I counted over 50 tiny bites. I still look forward to PT each morning, but step carefully and hope to avoid another encounter

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Who Will it be Now?

The next 9 weeks depend, to a great extent, on the Drill Sergeants that we get. As I mentioned before, there are at least two broad categories: Highly trained professionals who use their position of authority to teach and train, and that minority who seek the power to gratify their own ego. I have been assigned my three Drill Sergeants, and have discovered a new kind. Two of them are of the highly professional type. The third I will call Drill Sergeant "Annoyed" (because he seems always to be in that state). His heart definitely seems to be in the right place. However, the only teaching "method" he has at his disposal is to always act annoyed if anything is not as it should be. The recruits learn how to avoid upsetting him, but never aspire to go above and beyond to impress him as they do with the other two DS's. As for the other two, one I will call DS "And Stuff". He's originally from Jamaica and ends every other sentence with "and stuff" whether or not that word choice makes sense. For example: "Okay, don't piss me off and stuff", or "Line up for chow and stuff". He's a great guy. He'll "smoke" you in an instant if you mess up, but he's also incredibly loyal to his soldiers, and goes out of his way to help them out. The other Drill Sergeant I will refer to as DS "Not Loud". She does not like to talk loud like some other DS's, but expects to be listened to. Like DS "And Stuff", she inspires loyalty in her soldiers.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hell Breaks Loose

It's the event that most recruits look forward to with a sense of apprehension and fear. The first day of Basic Combat Training. As they loaded us onto the bus, I glimpsed faces tense with nervousness. A few subdued jokes were made to try and cut the tension, but the ride was mostly quiet. I looked at the impending events differently...more with a sense of curiosity than anything else. When you have already lived some, you gain perspective that many younger recruits don't have. You realize that the process you are about to go through is carefully designed to make it perfectly clear who is in charge, and who isn't, for the next 9 weeks. Some fraction of trainees are used to leading their peers, and to defying authority (parents, teachers, etc.). The first day is designed to disorient them, and take them out of their accustomed element.

The first day of BCT, the weather was hot and humid, we have come to know as Category IV heat. I would guess it was in the low 90's and darn near 100% humidity. We were rushed off of our busses onto a grassy hill. There were about 200 of us, and around a dozen Drill Sergeants standing around. A few of them stood out from the start: an athletic black man with a loud, booming voice, and a man I have come to call DS Bull, because he looks to a tee like the bailiff character in Night Court.

They quickly herded us up the hill into four rows, yelling out things like "Move faster!", "Look what a sad-ass group we got this cycle", etc. Those four rows, we later learned, would become our platoons. A platoon is a group of 40-50 soldiers who all train together under the direction of three drill sergeants. First thing they did once the platoons were formed was march everyone up the hill and give them a cup of Gatoraid. At that point, I knew things really won't be so bad. After our immediate liquid needs were met (remember, it was HOT that day), they ran us to another part of the hill, had us form a big circle, then gave us three minutes to run down the hill, find our bag, and run back up. That really can't be done in three minutes, unless you work as a team to help eachother find bags. A few people did cooperate that way, but most just looked out for themselves. Teamwork is one of the core principals that BCT attempts to instill.

At this point, we were all soaked in sweat, wondering what else we would have to endure. To my surprise, that was it. We were marched into a classroom and began filling out paperwork. All-in-all, we ony spent less than an hour in the high-stress environment of initial arrival. Most were glad, but I had actually hoped it would last longer - that way, it would have made a better story ;-)

A Few Other Happenings at Reception

Well, I'm in BCT (Basic Combat Training) now. We arrived Wednesday, 4 days ago. It has been interesting to say the least, but before I get to that, I want to share a few other things that happened in Reception Battalion.

When we arrived, one of the first things they did was the obligatory "haircut" (hair removal might be a better term). A big reason for that is to make everone more uniform - part of the process of getting people to realize that they are part of the team. As soon as we started to grow a little hair back on our heads, about 5 people got together and decided to shave the sides of their heads to give themselves mohawks. Needless to say the Drill Sergeant (DS) didn't like that one bit :-)

Here in South Carolina, it is HOT. Not just hot but hot and humid. Hydration is very important. One afternoon, when about 100 of us were assembled, the DS (Drill Sergeant) had us all drink our 1 qt. canteen and hold it over our heads upside down to show that we're finished. I don't know exactly why, maybe she got nervous that most other people were finished, but one girl ended up dumping at least half her canteen on her head. We all had a good laugh at that, especially the DS.

Speaking of laughs, there is a guy - a really tall, skinny guy, nicknamed Lurch. He's pretty nerdy, and likely lead a sheltered life before joining the Army. One evening we were all in formation and...the company phone rang. The DS answered and we heard one half of the conversation: "Yes ma'am. No ma'am. Yes he's here ma'am." Upon hanging up, the DS yelled out "Lurch" (though he used Lurch's real name, which I don't recall) "Didn't you call your mama?" to which Lurch replied "Yes, Drill Sergeant!" "Did she answer?" queried the DS. Lurch replied in the affirmative. Then the DS further asked "Did she answer?" "No." said Lurch. "Does she have an answering machine?" the DS then asked. When Lurch again replied "No.", the DS said "You didn't call your mama! Go call her now!" And so he front of the whole company.

Well, I am in BCT now. I'll write all about the first hours and days in my next blog post, but for now let me just say that I'm doing well. Think of me next time you see somebody doing pushups :-)

Friday, August 12, 2005

HR Department From Hell

If you join a civilian company, you usually spend an hour or two with HR, then get to work. In the Army, it's very different. They actually assign you to a special "department" for a week while they get you in-processed. In Army lingo, I'm in the 120th Training Battalion, Charlie Company, 89th Platoon. In that time, you sleep, you set up direct deposit, get uniforms, learn the basics of marching, and...go to medical. The latter involves getting 5 vaccinations at once. They line you up head-to-toe and march you through a number of vaccination stations. The culmination is known as the "two-fisted stab" - a technician takes a syringe in each hand and deftly jabs both into your arm while chatting with an assistant. It looks intimidating when you see it happen to the guy in front of you-but actually it was almost painless. Apparently, practice makes perfect, and they sure do get a lot of practice.

Who Will Stay and Who Will go Now?

The ARMY draws all kinds. I share a barracks with rednecks, farm boys, smart kids, and gangbangers. Many are young (though there are some older ones, too) and many started off with littled discipline and lots of attitude. The ARMY requires you learn certain skills in Basic Training, and to pass a physical fitness test. The easiest way to fail Basic, though, and to get sent back to try again, is to refuse to learn discipline. Looking around the barracks, I wonder who will graduate with me, who will have to repeat Basic, and who will never make it. We certainly have some interesting characters. There is Radio. He's a very slow black dude who looks just like Cuba Gooding, Jr. Then there's Melon. He's a REAL slow white dude with a head the size of a melon. To understand JUST how slow he is: We were talking and joking. He walked away for two minutes, talking and nodding to himself, told himself "yeah, that's it" and then came back to share his comment with us - even though the topic had shifted two minutes earlier. We also have a few people related to famous people. There's Cochren, related to the late Johnie Cochren. And there's Witherspoon. Boxing fans may remember paying to see his dad on pay-per-view, getting knowcked out by Tyson in the second round.

Who will stay and who will go....soon we'll know.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Two Kinds

It's been almost a week since I came to Reception Battalion, and I have seen quite a few Drill Sergeants. A pattern has developed - most of them are highly professional trainers. They certainly know how to yell when the situation calls for it, and they LOVE having their recruits do pushups. Still, you can see that the "bad-ass" is a job skill for them, and that they are generally good people. Some of them get us laughing at appropriate times. However, there are a few who do the job in order to wield power over others - you can see in their eyes, and in how they interact with their peers, that they derive satisfaction from telling people, who can't talk back, what to do. For example, two sergeants "tag-teamed" one of the slower recruits, giving him conflicting orders just to see what he would do. When he made his choice which sergeant to obey, the other one punished him. We ship to BCT - Basic Combat Training - tomorrow. There, we get our Drill Sergeants.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Sleep? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Sleep

You often hear about how the Drill Sergeant gets right on the bus when you arrive and yells "Everyone off the bus! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!!" Reality was a first. We moved off into a big hall for the first part of inprocessing. A few girls had their hair hanging down. A female Drill Sergeant let them know, at the top of her lungs, to get that hair up NOW! A few more incidents like that, and a couple of girls were near tears. We spent much of that evening going from one station to the next, getting PT (physical training) uniforms, voluntarily giving up contraband, getting checked that we actually gave it up, and a few other things that have become too much of a blur to recall anymore. One thing I learned that night was that, in a typical group of recruits, there are always a bunch of screwups that draw the Drill Sergeants attention. It would be a few more days before I realized how serious the Army is about "if an individual fails, the team fails."

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Warm Reception

The day began with an alarm call at 0400, or 4:00am for you civilians :-) The bus for the airport was scheduled to leave at 0500. A quick glance at my hotel desk clock indicated the time to be...0611?! What? Panic set in momentarily. Just awake after 4 hours of sleep, I searched my hazy memories. Yes, I did double-check the time against Weather Channel the night before. That's it...another quick cross-check. TV on...and the correct time was indeed just after 4:00am. Did I accidentally change the time while groggily searching for the "snooze" button? Improbable for certain, but the only plausible explanation that came to mind. Hours later I met two young men on the flight who were on their way to Army Ranger School. They had stayed at the same hotel...and their clock, mysteriously, indicated over an hour later than the correct time. They, too, swore they had checked it the night before. The only explanation we could think of was...we were the only Army shippers - and the man running shipping at the hotel is retired Navy. Who knows...

In its wisdom, the Army provided us with meal checks - US Government checks enprinted with a "maximum" spend amount and the label "for food services only". The travel briefer said they could be used anywhere including on the flights. I used my first meal check at San Francisco Airport to get breakfast. That's not quite as easy as it sounds. The cashier had never seen the checks. Neither had the manager - but she decided a bird in the hand is worth more than the wholesale cost of the bagel. I did worse on United. They had never seen the checks , and absolutely, positively could take only cash. After a while, though, the flight attendants decided to slip us a few dinners.

Arriving at Atlanta, the expense was QUITE different. Approaching a Chinese restaurant, my meal check was spotted before I reached the counter. The first question was "how much you maximum?" Then a team of three Chinese quickly helped me max it out. Now that's capitalism at work.

The bus ride to Ft. Jackson was uneventful, though the restlessness grew as we approached the base gates. A glance at the bus clock showed - 9:11 - a reminder of why I was there. The bus pulled up to Charlie Company, and the Drill Sergeant got on...

Friday, August 05, 2005

How to pass the AFAST

This posting is dedicated to helping future Army pilots (including Army Reserve and National Guard) pass the qualifying test, known as the AFAST. If you're not thinking of climbing behind the controls of an Apache or Blackhawk, you may want to skip this post.

When I first learned I had to take (and get a good score on) the AFAST, I began looking around for whatever hints and material I could find to help me prepare. There was not very much useful information out there, so I thought I would post my experience to help you prepare for your AFAST.

The most important first step is to purchase a study guide. I looked at all of the ones available and found the Arco guide to be by far the best:

All of the other Army Aviator applicants I spoke with selected the same guide.

Also be sure and review DA Pamphlet 611-256-2. It covers basically the same things that the study guide does, but in less detail. You must confirm that you have had adequate time to review it before you may take the AFAST. It is available here online.

There are a few things you should know when studying. First of all, there is a section called Complex Movements. The idea is that two dots are separated by 0, 1, 2, or 3 units both left/right and up/down. The study guide says that you should figure out how far to move the small dot to the big dot (or circle), and then use the legend printed at the top of the test page to indicate your answer. Do not use the legend! You only have 5 minutes to answer 30 questions. If you use the legend, you will only get about half-way through. Memorize the legend symbols. That is the only way to finish all questions in this section.

There is also a section called Instrument Comprehension. They show you a picture of an attitude indicator and a compass, and then 5 different aircraft. You need to select the one aircraft that is flying as indicated by the instruments. In the study guide, I had a hard time selecting the correct one because the guide reproduces terrible photos of old F86 aircraft. It is often hard to know what you are looking at. On the actual test that I took, the aircraft were cleanly drawn F16's and much easier to recognize than the pictures in the study guide.

The section of the test that covers Mechanical Comprehension is similar to the mechanical knowledge section on the ASVAB. I suggest getting out your ASVAB study guide and reviewing the sections that deal with mechanical systems (pulleys, levers, etc.)

Everything I came across in the section on Helicopter Knowledge was covered in the FAA publication Rotorcraft Flying Handbook. It is available free online from the FAA, or if you prefer to study from a hard copy you can purchase it:

Finally, remember to bring proper documentation to the test. It seems like something that anyone who thinks they have the stuff to become a Warrant Officer should know to do without being told. However, when I tested, 2 of 5 testees did not have the proper paperwork on them. You need the Request for Examination form and proof of your social security number (driver's license with social security card, or a military ID). Be sure that your ID is current! Outdated ID cannot be used to authenticate yourself. One testee had his military dependent's card confiscated because it was out-of-date. Finally, you may need additional documentation. One applicant was attempting to transfer from the USMC. Apparently one needs a letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which he did not have on him. In short, if you don't know for sure what you need to bring, ask. No matter what, bring proof of your social security number.

Good luck!

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