Basic Training


In January of ’84, I went to one of Iowa‘s big two universities.  I think almost every state has the one that everyone knows about and then “the other one.”  Iowa State was that other one.  But there was never any doubt that this was where I was supposed to be, as it was THE place to go if one was going to be studying agriculture.  In learning about cows, sows and plows, ISU is second to none.  


At this point in time, I had no campus church and knew very few people there.  I lived in the dorms and had a chance to meet other people but starting out in January put me a bit behind, socially speaking.  My roommate was from Kuwait and he studies about 20 hours a day so I saw very little of him.  I was involved in intramural sports and the Tae Kwon Do club.  So there were opportunities.


I’m not quite sure why I didn’t seek out a church during that first year.  I suppose I was all excited about having all of that freedom.  I remember that first spring semester being challenging and exciting with my grades being fair.   In fact, that was pretty much my story academically.  I was okay getting C’s and throughout my undergraduate academic career the were classes where I was all too happy to get a ‘D’. Grades just didn’t mean that much to me.


In 1984, the Cold War was in full swing.  The Soviet Union was a huge rival, and looked to be our most likely adversary in any future wars.  Their influence and domination was right there when I was in Berlin.  Ronald Reagan was trying to bring the military back from the 1970’s when drug use was so rampant among soldiers on duty.  The morale of the military under President Carter suffered mightily as our country looked weaker and weaker.  And so congress put into place a stronger and better GI Bill with higher pay and bigger signing bonuses.  In the 1980’s, Rambo had been theaters as well as assorted other Hollywood movies where we went back to win the Vietnam war.  Being a soldier was cool, again.  Plus it made some economic sense.     


In January, I joined the Army Reserves.  The money looked good plus they would pay on my student loans.  Plus it provided another career option if I wanted.  We met one weekend per month plus a couple extra weeks of training, usually in the summer.  In 1984, the reserves were still in pretty bad shape, while the active duty soldiers were getting whipped back into shape.  Having a few months of going to drills before actually going to basic training gave me some advantages.  One of which was learning how to take apart and clean an M16 before anyone else.  Also, not having been to basic afforded me some cover that time I inadvertently discharged one on the drill floor and scared the hell out of everyone.


That summer, I shipped out to Fort Leonardwood, Missouri.  Ft. Leonardwood was the most God-awful place on earth, or seemed like it to me.  Nothing but trees and rocks.  And drill sergeants.


Basic training is the one experience that binds every single soldier together.  Those of you who have been through it know exactly what I’m talking about.  Years later, you will still remember your drill  instructor’s name, and what he looked and sounded like when he was right in your face yelling at the top of his lungs.  You’ll remember the gas chamber, the grenade range, the rifle range, low crawling, running, marching, PT and the mess hall and KP.  And the hours with your weapon.  Heaven help you if you lost your weapon!


It was stressful and it was meant to be.  There is nothing NOT stressful about being trained to kill other people while avoiding being killed.  And most recruits are 17-21.  Some of them shaved for the very first time in basic.  For many, it was their very first time away from home. My bunkmate, Blackwell, was actually from Missouri and this was his first time away from parents.  He had doubts about whether he was going to make it, at times.  We all did.


That summer, the U.S. was hosting the summer Olympics in LA.  Of course, in response to Carter’s boycott of their games in 1980, the Soviets and their East European allies boycotted these games.  Whatever medals would be won would be a bit less because of that.  Not that any of us in basic training knew or cared because we got no news from outside.  None.  No radio, no TV no newspapers.  We had 10 weeks of total control.  We could see the USA Today headlines at the mess hall and that was about it.


A lot of guys did get closer to Jesus during that time.  It was kind of hard not to.  We supported each other and looked to prayer for support as well as the letters from home.  Prison Pete often writes about how much letters mean to him and I identify with that.  In basic training, that’s all we had as far as outside news. 


Almost everyone went to chapel except the die-hard atheist.  And even some of those went after staying back in the barracks for a week.  Chapel was the one place where the DIs were not allowed to yell and scream at you.  The pastors basically told us that we could write or read letters during the service and it was okay.  It was meant to be a sanctuary and it truly was.  Almost every guy picked up a Gideon’s Bible that first Sunday and most of us carried it with us.  Other than letters, it was about all we had to read!


Basic training was also about being tired all the time.  We were up before the sun and many times were not bedded down until after it set plus we had to do guard duty during the night.  We were always on the move, in the dirt or mud, always marching or doing double time.  The DIs kept us on edge all the time, and this was also draining.  It was a near constant state of vigilance, making sure everything was always squared away with the boots, uniform and equipment plus watching to make sure everyone else was squared away.  It was not uncommon for one guy in the platoon to cost the rest of us extra push ups, grass drills or duties because he fucked up.


Oh yes.  In the military, the language was NOT PC at all.  If your ears burn from the sound of the word “fuck” than the military is not for you.  Again, chapel was relatively free of it. but as soon as we marched out of the parking lot, it was back the the f-bomb. 


Basic Training was generally a good experience for me.  I learned a lot.  Mostly I learned that I could do and take a lot more than I ever dreamed I could.  I made it, and not everyone can say that.  I entered a maggot and left a soldier.  I still have a lot of the soldier pride in me from those days 22 years ago, long after I’ve outgrown all of my old uniforms.  I learned about discipline, honor, strength, teamwork, leadership and basically sticking with something even if it is difficult.  I would serve in the reserves for 6 years, which was the longest I would be affiliated with any group or  commitment until my marriage.   There would be challenges and difficulties beyond basic training within the Army, but the character building that took place that summer would serve me well into the future.


I could say so much more, but I think you get the gist.  While money was a huge consideration for enlisting, I came out with a lot more.   But still, as a summer job it wasn’t a bad deal.  All food, clothing and expenses paid, plus I got paid for it. 


While basic training was through, and I went home, I would still have to go back to Ft. Leonardwood for more training.  Unless I did something else.  Which I did.





7 Responses to “Basic Training”

  1. FTN Says:

    I think we need some 20 year old pictures of you from basic! I bet that would be entertaining.

    It’s funny that you talk about a lot of soldiers wanting to go to chapel and read the Bible back then. I get the impression now that most of the free time is used on video games and porn.

  2. diggerjones Says:

    That may be, once on active duty. But Basic Training is a whole different thing. They basically tell you to take nothing with you but the clothes on your back when you go. And those end up getting taken away after the first day.


  3. Therese Says:

    My aunt from Iowa went to “the other one” too. Had it been your plan to become a farmer ultimately?

    At the beginning of your story when you talked about raising cows for the fair and how it helped pay for your trip it made me smile. I made it to Israel partially from raising sheep for the fair and slaughtering chickens. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, right?

  4. Digger Jones Says:

    There was a sliver of a chance that I might have considered farming at one time. It was very remote.

    Wow! That would be a lot of sheep and chickens!

    You are forever full of surprises.


  5. therese Says:

    What? Most girls don’t do that??


  6. diggerjones Says:

    Most girls are too chicken to slaughter chickens.;-)


  7. therese Says:

    That was pretty bad. 🙂

    I can do some stuff.

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