US Army Retired

US Army Retired

Friday, July 22, 2011

PART IX - On to Advanced Training

It was a strange bus ride home from Fort Ord. Duple knew how angry I was with her and we spoke little during the long ride. We stopped once or twice to stretch and eat. Otherwise, she stared out at the passing countryside while I did something all soldiers are trained to do - take advantage of the chance to sleep and rest.

Basic training changed everything for me at home. The house was the same, the neighbors greeted me as if I hadn’t been away, and I got some smiles for wearing my uniform. And, everyone greeted me with handshakes and hugs when I went to church. The youths I'd know were now grown up and had far different interests.

But, the biggest change came when I went out to Redlands. Having no car, I had to take the Greyhound. The people were nice and the Lunts waited for me at the bus station. The other guys my age were gone but the young gathered around, curious about what it had been like to go through basic. However, the greatest change was at the Wednesday evening social event. None of my old buddies were there! Ned and Donald were up in Utah attending college and Tom was involved in working with his father. And, the girls, while very nice, had their eyes on other guys.

Against my will, I made the visit I dreaded; with the man I had thought was my father. Jack [he was no longer Dad to me] and Kit were far more interested in their little girl. Patty looked at me as a big brother but that didn't ease the anger and hurt I felt at having been lied to.

    It was with a great deal of relief that I packed my things and headed for LAX. I had never flown in anything but the WWII trainer my mother and her boyfriend had died in. The Boeing-C7 looked impressive out of the window of the terminal. But, the sleek Connie caught my eye. Something about the three rudders and aerodynamic nose spoke of safety and speed. Even then, boarding the more mundane Boeing was enough of an adventure.

I seem to remember our landing twice on the way to Washington, D.C. - I have no idea where. I was seated next to a man who'd served in Korea and he was extremely nice to a new recruit, as he could tell from my uniform. He gave up his window seat so I could sit transfixed to catch glimpses of the country passing below through breaks in the clouds.

Arriving at Washington National Airport told me right away my vacation was over and I was back in the army. A huge sign directed all military personnel to a particular section of the terminal. Once there, another sign segregated the officers from the enlisted personnel. A Specialist Five grumbled for a copy of my orders, then pointed me to a waiting area. “A bus for Fort Belvoir will be here at thirteen hundred hours. Make sure you're on it.”

The area was run by the USO and had a lot of amenities for military personnel. There were all sorts of military types there; Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. We tended to gather in our own groups and I found the ones waiting to go to Belvoir. We chatted about where we came from and, when I said Redlands, one of the guys grinned and came over, offering his hand. “I'm from Redding. Everybody gets the two mixed up.”

His name was Harold and I had no idea then we'd be spending well over two years together.
I'd been to the Washington area a couple of years earlier with my Boy Scout Troop so it wasn't that strange to me. The bus arrived and we all loaded on, Harold and I sitting next to each other. I was able to point out a few things as we drove, even remembering where Mount Vernon was. 

Of even greater surprise was learning Harold and I would attend the same school for Engineer Equipment Maintenance. He had worked on such stuff in his hometown, growing up in an area with a lot of timber.

Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was far different from Basic in many ways. But, in others, it was similar. Daily PT followed by breakfast, then off to class. I must tell you that, although it's been a whole lot of years, I remember how well the material was presented to us.

We not only had classroom work but they actually took us out into the field and taught us how to operate each piece of equipment. To me, that was the best part of all. The reason was simple – how could we fix 'em if we didn't know what they were supposed to do?

And the classroom work was also hands-on as pieces of equipment were laid out before us and we took them apart and put them back together. It was like learning to field strip a rifle. We only took them apart enough to clean, oil and replace the major parts.

Barracks life was somewhat different but we still stood foot and wall locker inspections, had GI Parties cleaning the area to include latrines, pulled Sentry Duty and – yes! - Kitchen Police. But, we were there to learn how to fix some serious pieces of equipment and that was what they had us concentrate on.

Harold and I graduated one/two from the class and were selected to go on to more advanced training. And then, I got an introduction to something my life in Southern California had not prepared me for – a major, road-closing snow storm. I awakened in the middle of the night to visit the latrine. I glanced out of the barracks window, amazed to see nothing but white. It wasn't that cold inside but someone went into the basement and fired up the oil-fueled heater.

We couldn't fall out for Revile as the snow had piled up and sealed the ground floor doors shut. Some guys from upstairs went down the outside staircase where someone from the post engineers met them with shovels. They had used bulldozers to clear snow from the streets. As soon as we got out, we were put to work with snow shovels. Even with hundreds of us working, it took at least a couple of hours before we could make our way to the mess hall.

It continued to snow all day, that night and the next two days. We had heavy overcoats, boots and gloves so more than a thousand soldiers were kept busy shoveling sidewalks and roads. The rough part as the entire fort was cut off from the rest of the area. Virginia state workers couldn't clear the major highway so lots and lots of civilians were stranded.

And yes, the mess halls ran low on food to cook. So, a warehouse was opened and we all ate K-Rations and C-Rations. At least we had the mess halls to heat our food and drink.

Harold and a lot of the others just shrugged it off. Ah yes – Army life.

Once everything was cleared away, it stopped snowing and we went back to learning how to be heavy construction equipment mechanics. Once again, Harold and I finished numbers one and two in the class. We even learned we were being sent to Europe to the same outfit. We didn't know where only that it was a separated platoon of an Engineer Field Maintenance Company.

Off to Europe!

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