Life in the United States Military
My Experience as a Service Member
My story starts in late 2009, yes I know that is not long ago, and since then I have gained a decent amount of military experience.I had never really given the military much thought as a career choice. Of course, we had recruiters come to my high school, like I am sure many of you had. The way that I got roped into the military life was by going up to the recruiting station with a friend of mine; I had absolutely no intentions of joining the army, but here I am as the sergeant typing out this piece you are reading today.
Going into the army I had no idea what I was getting into, this could be from not doing enough research or the wrong avenues of research. In any case the people that are supposed to tell you what you are getting into (recruiters) did not help much at all. Day one I would say was going to the recruiting station. They will tell you all about what the army can do for you, and why you should join. Don't get me wrong, there are tons of perks to being in the army, but we will get into those later. I was a high school drop out with no future to speak of, and didn't even have a GED. As soon as I found out about a military program to get my GED I was all ears. I signed up in August of 2009, went to get in-processed in October 2009, and was off on my way to the GED program in November 2009.
Here I was at my first "duty station" expecting to be screamed at as soon as I got off the bus. There was no yelling, and everything was actually very orderly. The GED program was a great introduction to the army. It was not nearly as taxing as Basic Combat Training (BCT), but we did learn everything we would need to know for BCT.
We woke up every morning around 0400 (4:00 AM), a time that I had barely knew even existed, to get ready for Physical Training (PT). This consisted of a bunch of yelling and chaos, "GET YOU ASS UP, SHAVE, BRUSH YOUR NASTY TEETH, WHY ARE YOU NOT DRESSED, HOW ARE YOU NOT READY YET, LETS GO, MOVE", this was the norm for most mornings. We had to be up by 0400 to be rushed through the morning rituals; only to be waiting outside for PT to start at 0500. We were usually all outside on the drill pad before 0430, standing in formation silently waiting for PT to start. The main thing to take away from this is the number one thing you will do in the military often referred to as "hurry up and wait". The way this comes to fruition is that a higher ranking individual will say, in this case, PT will start at 0500. The next in line will say everyone needs to be on the PT field by 0450. Going down the line to yet another leader it is converted to 0440 and so on. Once my platoon was in a battalion (BN) formation over an hour early, but I digress. Back to the point, we were in a formation at 0430 waiting for something that didn't start until 0500. To give you more of a feel for what that is like, go stand somewhere without moving, or speaking for half an hour every day for a month. It is not the most pleasant thing in the world; however, now the DMV is a cakewalk. PT generally went on for about an hour, which is the standard at most duty stations. PT can consist of many different activities. Typically a few stretches to start off with, some push ups, sit ups, and a bunch of running. I was never particularly fond of running, and I still hate running. I remember one of the first days very vividly, we were running in a parking lot around a center island, only 15 minutes had passed, and I thought I was going to die. This is all done to get you ready for a PT test (yes you get tested on how well you can exercise). The PT test consists of two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit ups, and a two mile run. Depending on age and gender there are different standards for everyone; these standards can be found by quickly googling APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) standards. If after looking at the standards you don't think that you would be able to pass don't worry, you will get tons of practice. That was only the start to the day.
Directly after PT you have to go shower, which is good because some people just smell horrible, but don't waste any time. We had to shower and get dressed by 0630 so that we could go stand in formation to wait for breakfast chow at 0700. You don't get to walk yourself to the dining facility (DFAC) like an adult. You must walk with everyone in a formation, and I know what is going through your head right now. You are thinking of something you have seen on TV, "LEFT...LEFT...LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT", well you are exactly correct. Although, it isn't always just left,left,left. There are many different marching cadences to keep everyone in step; some of them are pretty funny, some of them are pretty boring, and some are just gruesome. Arriving at the DFAC also had a whole process. There are a few different ways to orderly separate a four rank formation into a single file line, but none of them are as simple as they could be. We normally stood in line at the DFAC for about 20 minutes every time we went ( breakfast, lunch, dinner). Standing in line at the DFAC has it's own procedures, as I am sure you have guessed by now. We were standing in a single file line, no talking, standing at the position of "parade rest" until we had to move forward, in which case you would go to the position of "attention" take your one or two steps forward then snap back to parade rest. This went on the whole way through the line which was set up very much in the way that a school lunch line is set up. When we got our food we weren't able to get any sweets, and only able to eat with a spoon (try eating salad with a spoon). As for what we could drink the only option was water. That might sound a little cruel to a person that is used to Dr. Pepper and Little Debbie, but as a forced diet program it provides some great results. As I am sure you will have deducted by now, there was to be no talking, and you had to eat quickly. As soon as we were done, we brought our trays to the tray drop-off station then proceeded outside. What did we do out side you might ask, well I wont leave you in suspense, we stood quietly in formation until every one was done.
With breakfast out of the way, now it was time to go to class for my GED. We went to what was essentially a school house setting, and learned about things that would be on the GED test. This was perhaps the most informal part of the day. We could actually talk to each other, and build a good deal of camaraderie amongst our peers. We were still there to learn, some of us more than others, so we did have to do a fair amount of good old fashioned school house learning. This was about as you would expect if you are thinking about high school all over again. That is, of course, if your high school was a one room building that was built during World War One, and smelled of mildew. Lunch was at 1130, so we went outside at 1100 to stand in formation and wait. This process went exactly like breakfast. Afterwards we came back to the school house to clean the ever loving shit out of it every day; if this took less than two hours then we didn't do a good enough job. If this was the case then we would have to start all over.
The time between cleaning the school house and dinner was used for learning soldiering skills. Mainly just the basics; we learned things like how to user covering fire, buddy movements, how to carry an injured person, simple combat life saving (CLS) skills, and proper firing techniques. This of course wasn't everything we learned there, but it is just a few things right off the top of my head. 1700 (5:00 PM) was dinner time, so about 1630 we would get into formation to wait for dinner. Dinner chow went exactly the same as breakfast and lunch.
After dinner chow it was finally close to the end of the day; however, this does not mean that the remainder of the day got any easier. We would usually go up to our barracks and get yelled at for one thing or another. It was usually something different every time, no better way to learn than the hard way I guess. After our smoking session (forced exercise until muscle failure) it was time to shower and then "lights out". Lights out meant you were in bed, but not necessarily asleep. This time was use to write letters home, read a book, or to some people just to write in a journal. Needless to say we weren't allowed to have our cell phones the whole time we were here. Our letters home got read before they got sent out; one soldier got caught spinning a pretty exhilarating tale about how he had been sleeping in a fox hole every night in the rain. This soldier ended up getting us all smoked for his tall tale. At 0400 the next morning everything started over. This went on for about a month, then we took our GED exams. If you passed you got to go to BCT, but if you failed you had to stay for another month. If you failed twice you were out of the army. I passed on my first try, but there were a few unfortunate souls that couldn't pass. I got pretty lucky in the fact that after I had passed Christmas exodus was among us. This means that all of the in-processing units were on leave for christmas. I got to go home for two weeks. This time was mainly spend with family since I was not used to being away from them, and the time I was gone seemed like forever.
It felt like a couple days more than a couple weeks before I was on my way for BCT. I did my BCT in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Upon showing up to be in-processed it was almost exactly the same as when I first got to the GED school, only this time I knew what to expect. In-processing only took a few days. It was very organized, and the "hurry up and wait" mentality was not in short supply. Uniforms were issued, we got immunizations, and we did a whole lot of standing around in the snow (this was January 2010). After a short in-processing term of 3-4 days, we were off to our BCT units. I thought I knew exactly how it was going to be, because I had all of my "extensive military experience" from my one month GED course. No, this was not how it was before. The cattle car pulled up to our BCT barracks, and then it started, "HURRY UP, OFF THE BUS, DON'T TALK, I KNOW YOU AREN'T LOOKING AT ME, WHAT IS YOUR NAME, SHUT UP, GET ON THE GROUND, GET IN FORMATION, CARRY ALL OF YOUR THINGS, WHAT KIND OF NAME IS THAT, WHY ARE YOU WALKING". This is what I had head all about, but it wasn't even close to the experience I had at the GED school. We were all lined up and sorted out into our platoon (1st platoon, 2nd platoon, or 3rd platoon). Platoons were sorted by last name; my last name beginning with the letter "F" I was placed in 1st platoon. My platoon sergeant was an infantry sergeant first class (SFC). This man meant business, and he made sure we all knew it. The first day was all yelling, and laying down the ground rules. The rules pretty much consisted of don't talk unless I tell you to, don't do anything unless I tell you to, hurry up, do exactly what I say, keep your things "dress right dress" (the exact same as everyone else's, and organized), and do everything fast. The rules were simple enough, but following them just isn't exactly in human nature. These rules were made so that you would brake them and get yelled at and smoked. This is referred to as the "soldierization process"; this pretty much just means that they will break you down so that they can rebuild you. Some people say that it is brain washing, I can see where they would say that, but this process has been proven to turn horrible civilians into disciplined upstanding freedom fighters. The process is a little difficult at first, but once everyone starts to get the hang of it BCT can be fun. BCT is a nine week process in which you will learn a lot of useful skills. We learned everything you can imagine about shooting, some very basic mixed martial arts (MMA), how to ruck for long distances, about what it means to be a team, and I think most importantly we learned how to be a leader. Everyone got a chance to be in charge of other people; this may sound like a great thing, but it was very bitter sweet. When the people we were in charge of did good we were praised, but when they did bad we got torn down hard. This made it pretty evident on who was going to make a fine leader some day, and who was going to need a lot of work. We logged a lot of time shooting M16s, as a matter of fact it is what I can remember the most about BCT. We shot in the sun, in the snow and in the rain. Call me crazy, but I think shooting an M16 in the mud while it was raining was one of my fondest memories of BCT. The first few weeks were the worst of it, and it wasn't too bad as long as you didn't mess up. Everyone messes up, but that is expected. After the break down portion of the soldierization process it is mostly smooth sailing; this usually takes about three weeks. After that everyone starts to get along pretty well, and you will make friends that you will remember for the rest of your life. I had a great time in BCT, I got to shoot machine guns, I got to throw grenades, I even got to shoot an AT4 (an anti tank rocket launcher). Other than the things I mentioned this was very close to the same schedule as the GED school. We usually ate MREs for lunch though, because we were out training most of the day. At first we thought MREs were the coolest thing in the world, but they get old really quick...REALLY QUICK. The final week of BCT was a good week for most of us, I say most of us because there was some heart break for the people that didn't make the cut. Thats right, not everyone who goes through BCT gets to be a soldier. There are plenty of reasons why someone wouldn't make it through; these reasons can be anything from they couldn't pass a PT test, they couldn't shoot well enough, or they couldn't complete all of the tasks required to be a soldier. Don't let this discourage you though, I think there was only two people that didn't make it out of my graduating class of about 100. The last three days of BCT were great. On the third from the last day we got to walk across the stage as a soldier in front of our families, this was one of the best feelings I have ever felt in my life. The second from the last day was "family day" this meant that we got to spend the whole day with our families (with a few conditions), we just weren't allowed to drink, smoke, dip, or do anything that would get us hurt or in jail. These rules were immediately forgotten as soon as we made it to a convenience store, I got a pack of Marlboro Reds, and a 24 pack of Bud Light (well I was only 19 so my dad got the beer). I had about 15 people from my platoon in my hotel room playing beer pong with me. The final day of BCT was a great day (even with the hangover), our drill sergeants knew that we had drank, but they didn't seem to care too much since we all made it back. The final day was a whole bunch of packing all of our stuff and moving over to the "other side of the tracks", this just meant going over to the other side of the rail road tracks to advanced individual training (AIT).
I had no idea what to expect as I arrived at my AIT unit, but when I got there it was apparent that this was going to be a lot easier than BCT. Upon arrival to AIT they searched our bags for contraband, issued us a room and a key card to said room (we got to live in a room with one other person, which is the most privacy I had in along time). Our room still had to be dress right dress, but we had a lot more freedom. The biggest thing was that we could have laptops, and our phones (while we weren't in class). Our days consisted of 0500 PT, 0700 breakfast, 0830 class, 1130 lunch, 1230 class, 1700 clean, and anywhere from 1800-1900 we were off for the day. I had forgotten what freedom was like at this point (ironic considering my career choice), so I had no idea what to do with all of my free time. We still had to march everywhere before we were off work, but being used to it, it didn't really bother me. When we were in class we learned how to do what our job would be in the army, in my case 14E (PATRIOT enhanced missile maintainer/operator). I cannot got into exactly what we learned, but I can say that there was a ton of studying involved. It very closely resembled being a full time college student, but being paid for it. While in AIT we were given many more freedoms than we were used to, but it was soon apparent that they were giving us just enough rope to hang ourselves with. If you messed up, that was the end of your privileges. I am not going to say that I never broke the rules, because this is a truthful and informative blog. I just never got caught, which is what separated the good soldiers from the bad soldiers, we all broke the rules. The freedoms weren't just handed over to us, mind you. There were three phases that every one had to go through. Phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3, simple enough right?. Phase one was for everyone as soon as they arrived, it lasted for about a week. During this phase you had to stay in uniform even after class, this could be your regular uniform or your PT uniform. During phase two, which lasted about two weeks, you were able to go off post, but only in uniform. Phase three was the phase with the most freedom. We could go off post in civilian clothes, we could stay off post on Saturday night, and we were allowed to responsibly drink alcohol. For obvious reasons, this is the phase in which most people got in trouble. If we got in trouble while in phase three, we went straight back to phase one. There isn't much more to say about the AIT portion of my career, because most days went by all exactly the same.
AIT was finished for me in August 2010, and I was on my way to my first "real" unit. I got orders for Korea, and I was not very happy about that. I tried to switch orders with someone who had Ft. Sill as their permanent duty station, but I was not able to get it done. I got a little bit of leave before I went to Korea, which was great. All of my friends wanted to throw me parties before I left, so I spent about two weeks just partying with my friends. Needless to say I don't really remember much of it; however, I do remember going to Six Flags Over Texas while extremely hung over. The flight to Korea was the first time that I had been in an airplane longer than two hours, and it was pretty awful. When I got to Korea there was someone there to pick me up from the airport, and take me to go get in-processed. First I had to in-process the the country, which was at a different post than I was assigned to, but we got to learn a lot about the area. I was there for about a week, then I finally got to my assigned duty station. I bet you can't guess what happened as soon as I got there. I had to in-process the unit, this was a week long process that involved a bunch of online certificates. After I in-processed I was sent to my first real unit, and I was ready to get my army on. I quickly learned what it was really like to be in the army; hurry up and wait seemed to be an army wide theme, and everyone was just waiting to get off work to go to the bar. While at work we did a lot of training, and I mean that is about all we did. Korea had a really high turn over rate, because most people only stayed for one year. This high turn over rate meant that we had to do a ton of certifications. Certifications meant that we had to go to the "field" a lot. When we went to the field we were out for a couple weeks to a month at a time. Going to the field just meant that we went to a remote location to train on our equipment, and get very little sleep until we could finally certify. Once we got certified on our equipment we were in the clear for a little while, but as soon as someone on crew got ready to leave Korea we had to go out and do it all over again. In one year we went to the field maybe five times. The times that we were not in the field were the days that we all lived for though. On week days when we got off work we would go out to the "ville", which was just a strip of bars right out side of post. We all had our bars that we liked more than others, and more than anything this is the reason we would hang out with who ever we hung out with. On the weekends we would go to the big city close to post, for me this was Daegu. The night life in Daegu was amazing, as a matter of fact I loved it so much that I decided to stay in Korea for three years. As time in Korea went by there were times that were horrible, and there were times that were great. I suppose that would be the case with most jobs though. In the beginning of my second year in Korea I met my wife there, and this is a common thing for soldiers in Korea. A lot of people have to go all the way to Korea before they can find who they want to be with. This part might catch you off guard, but my wife isn't Korean and has never been in the military. She was teaching at an international school in Daegu, so yeah, I went all the way to Korea to find someone from Massachusetts. Korea was a great place to go to learn my job, and it was great for promotion opportunities. Korea wasn't all greatness and fun though. There were a lot of people who lost rank, plenty who messed up bad enough to get kicked out of the army, and there were people who were driven apart from their spouses. The secret to being in Korea was the same as everywhere else; just keep your nose clean, and don't piss off the wrong people.
As my time in Korea grew to an end I got orders for Ft Sill. I was going back to the very familiar Lawton, Oklahoma, but this time I was permanent party. When I got to Lawton, my unit was deployed. I was on the rear detachment, this just means that I was at Sill with a fraction of the unit since everyone else was deployed. As a member of the rear detachment we didn't really do a whole lot. When the unit came back from their deployment, we had to help them with their bags, and make sure that everything went smoothly for their arrival. Once the unit was back for a while the rear detachment got split up and dissipated to the other batteries. The schedule became a more predictable one, regular PT, and regular time to get off work. My life was turning into a regular 9-5, other than having to be at PT at 0600. Very shortly after the unit got back I was promoted to sergeant and moved up to a headquarters battery. I was now at the point I wanted to be, and life was looking pretty good. Not long after that we started training for the next deployment. We had all of our deployment crews training every day. We went to the field a few times, just like in Korea, and everyone got certified. There isn't really mjuch different between units, except for this unit deploys to Kuwait.
That brings us to the deployment. The unit deployed to Kuwait in July 2015. We knew it was going to be hot getting to the desert in the summer time, but I don't think anyone was ready for the 127 degree heat we were greeted with on day one. When we got here, wait for it, we had to start our in-processing. Once we were all in-processed, it was time to get to work. We started going out to site with the unit that we were replacing. It was great to get to work along side people that had already been there for a year. There were even a few familiar faces from Korea, which made it just that much more of a smooth transition. We had to prove that we knew what we were doing, so yet again another certification. After we got certified, we assumed shift over the outgoing unit. Shift work is 24 hours on shift, 24 hours off shift, then an 8 hour shift. This pattern just keeps repeating itself; of course, there are exceptions where some times two crews will have to go 24 on and 24 off back and fort. The whole year goes on the same way with periodic certifications, but there is a fair amount of free time with the 24 hour off cycle. Kuwait it's self is not a bad place to be deployed, except for the no alcohol rule. There are fast food places on post, a few stores, and a few gyms. They have famous people come visit from time to time, and concerts sometimes. I don't have much more to say about the deployment since I am still in that stage of my military experience. I am about six and a half years in, and now you know my whole story.
I hope this has given you a great insight to the life of a member of the United States military. The men and women that I work with have to put up with a ton of unfavorable situations before they can say that they are a veteran.