Tuesday, June 7, 2011

PART IV - OFF TO BASIC TRAINING

I found it much easier to roll out of the sack the next morning. Our barracks sergeant of course found fault with no few of us and even Fall on Yer Face made it out to formation with the rest of us. We underwent the usual inspection, none of us meeting the sergeant’s expectations. After the flag was raised, we marched in step [almost] to the mess hall. Much to our surprise, we were marched back to the barracks afterwards where the sergeant spent an hour showing us how to repack our duffel bags so the clothing would not become wrinkled.

Once all the duffels were packed and padlocked, we were ordered to heft them on our shoulders to fall out. Six or seven 45 passenger army busses sat there and we were loaded into one. [It just happened there were 40 of us in the barracks bay.] Once all the busses were loaded, we drove out of the processing area and up a long hill to new buildings erected in two orderly rows.

These would be our living quarters while taking basic training. I don’t remember exactly how it was organized but it seems to me each floor held a training company of four platoons of 40 ‘Cruits and each building held a training battalion. The ground floor had a mess hall, an orderly room for each company,  three day rooms, and laundry facilities. I managed to claim an upper bunk near the door leading to the latrine.

“Secure yer duffels to your bunks and fall in!”

We hurried to comply - some less swift and garnering “Drop ‘n gimme 20!”
We were then led to the same stairway we’d entered on - I think we were on the 3rd floor - and marched downstairs and into the mess hall. The other two companies were just ahead of us in the training cycle so they got to eat before us. But, there was lots and lots of food left.

We were then given the afternoon to “police our areas” a term for making our foot and wall lockers meet the exacting standards directed by our new DI.

I doubt anyone else fully appreciated who would be in charge of turning raw ‘Cruits into soldiers. Our Drill Instructor had five stripes of a a Sergeant First Class on his sleeves. He also had five service stripes showing 15 years’ service along with foreign service bars showing a lot of combat time. His Fruit Salad indicated a man who’d been there and done that. A Silver Star earned for some truly heroic action. A Purple Heart ribbon with two little things showing he’d been wounded three times. I later learned another ribbon was for two awards of the Bronze Star. When I checked it out on a chart outside the Day Room [which we were only allowed to use after showing we earned the privilege], I saw he’d served in Korea on a whole lot of campaigns.

Unlike the four-striper in the processing area, our Drill Instructor did not need to shout to catch one’s attention. He had a way of getting into your face and speaking in a reasonable tone that made you shiver and wish to find a hole to climb into. I never heard him use a single world of profanity - until some idiot turned on the firing line and pointed a loaded M-1 rifle in the direction of the soldier standing next to him. Even then, after the initial burst, he calmed to quietly and effectively dress down the individual so the rest of us could hear - and learn.

The first thing he pointed out was a bulletin board on the wall next to the door. “You will all check the board every time you come near this door. It will list the classes for the next day and, most importantly, the names of those selected for various details.”

Guard duty? What on earth? With what? And where?
KP or Kitchen Police I knew. That meant working in the mess hall.
Latrine Duty was also self-evident.

*     *     *

 “You know military drill?”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

“Good. When we fall out, you will take the 2nd platoon Guidon position.”

“Yes, Drill Sergeant!”

When the sergeant yelled for us to fall out, I ran downstairs and quickly found my spot. The three other platoons were almost formed up and a sergeant with six stripes and a diamond in the middle, our First Sergeant, gave my fellow soldiers dirty looks for failing to do the same. For the first time, we saw our officers. Three Platoon Leaders, lieutenants with silver bars, stood slight ahead of the platoon sergeants with another, the Company Commander wearing two silver bars in front of all with the six-striper slight behind him, another officer with a gold bar slightly to one side.

Ours was the middle of three companies. We were put At Ease and our DI’s walked through each platoon to make minor “adjustments” in our posture and uniforms. How could men not see how others wore their headgear? Did they think they could make theirs individual?

The company commander then asked the first sergeant to “Call the Role.” Each platoon leader passed that to their sergeants who then barked the names of each individual from a list on a clipboard. [Not a computer - an actual piece of wood with a clasp to hold papers.] Each ‘Cruit called out “Present, Sergeant” until all answered. The sergeant then reported the results to the platoon leader who then reported that to the company commander.

The company commander then asked the first sergeant to “Call the Role.” Each platoon leader passed that to their sergeants who then barked the names of each individual from a list on a clipboard. [Not a computer - an actual piece of wood with a clasp to hold papers.] Each ‘Cruit called out “Present, Sergeant” until all answered. The sergeant then reported the results to the platoon leader who then reported that to the company commander.

A bugle call came through the loudspeakers and began a routine I would become very familiar during the following weeks. A sergeant major standing with the battalion commander [a lieutenant colonel] called “Stand At Aten-shun.” Each first sergeant followed suit, echoed by each platoon sergeant. The sergeant major then ordered “Present Arms!” at which the order was echoed and we raised our hands to our forehead in the hand salute. We held it during the playing of the National Anthem, at which we heard “Order Arms” and dropped our hands.

The officers then turned the companies over to the sergeants who inspected us once again, “suggesting” changes in our recent responses. The other two companies were dismissed and the men streamed inside to the mess hall. Out platoon was the last to be released as we had far more infractions to be corrected - often accompanied by many “Drop and gimme twenty!”

Again, the food was filling and high-energy in content. Some of the older men complained about it but the newbies like me found nothing to complain about.

And then, after breakfast, came the part all of us awaited - issuance of our weapons and field gear.

Ours were metal



Like this

 The list is rather lengthy so I’ll cut it down to a few items all of us couldn’t survive without. A poncho to hold off the rain. A shelter half - or one half of a tent to shared in the field with another soldier. Web belt, backpack, entrenching tool [a nice name for a folding shovel] and, most important of all, our mess gear. There was also our helmet and helmet cover and a first aid pack.

But, that wasn’t all. We went to a barred door and, after showing our ID card and dog tags, we signed a sheet and were handed an M-1 Garand Rifle with bayonet, bayonet sheath and weapon cleaning kit.

Rifle, M-1 Garand - the basic infantry weapon
 We were told, quite firmly, we were to memorize our weapon’s serial number as firmly as our individual serial number.

Now, in truth - we were soldiers!




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