My Friend Henry

In a sort of continuation from the last post, let me tell you about my friend Henry.

I met Henry when he showed up at HHD, 334th Quartermaster Battalion in the summer of 2006. I was into my second year as Unit Administrator (or may have been promoted by that point, but that’s not important). Either way, I was kind of the first face people saw when they showed up new to the unit because that was kind of my job.

Henry was a young kid – he was always a kid to me. He showed up as a 17 year old excited for basic training. I hope I wasn’t too jaded by that point in my stalled Army career to make him regret his decision to enlist, but probably not. He was super gung ho, and would be for the next little while, at least until the Army started to suck the drive out of you.

Continue reading “My Friend Henry”

This Army Life, Volume 11

Resurrecting a bit of an old series that just ended with no real conclusion. No actual talk of basic training. Or AIT. Or most of my 10/2 years in the Army. But I’ve always been super great at not really finishing “series” on this here blog; just wasn’t expecting to find that I didn’t finish this one back in the day for some reason.*

*The reason was that I probably got too busy getting ready to deploy in the fall of 2009 and whatnot, and then I tried to chronicle the deployment (which also didn’t go that well) and I likely just forgot about it.

There’s a couple reasons I’m coming back to this today. The first is that 20 years ago this weekend, I finished “the crucible” (or whatever they called it) at basic training, the final exercise of basic training prior to graduation that tries to roll everything learned over the prior 9+ weeks into being an “infantryman” first before heading of to learn your actual MOS at a different school.

Before I get on to the second*, let’s spend some time writing the basic training post that I never wrote, that probably should have been written sometime after Volume 10 back in 2009. That linked post talks about heading “downrange” at Fort Benning, but not actually discussing what transpired in my time on Sand Hill, so let’s talk about that a bit.

*Moving this to a second post as I don’t want to take away from the content of that post with this one.

I’ll start off by saying that I hated basic training almost from the jump. I wasn’t prepared physically for it – I thought I’d be fine and that they’d really whip me into shape once I got there – and this in turn made my first few weeks of training pretty terrible. From nearly failing out after my first PT test to some other issues with things that relied on strength, it was very hard for PFC Eberhard for the first half of training.

Once we moved onto the things where it helped to be smart, I started to do a little better… until I had some setbacks when it came time to qualify on the rifle range. I had never really shot guns before, and it was definitely a learning experience. I was so terrible at it that I got “special instruction,” and as a result I was injured, primarily because I had to crawl in and out of a foxhole attempting to zero my weapon. A strained hip makes it hard to march and I eventually ended up with a temporary profile, which further inhibited my physical training.

I pushed through, started getting better at the physical stuff, than failed my first attempt at my final PT test. The blasted pushups! I felt like I had been well prepared for it, but I got nervous and forgot how to do pushups in the best way for the test, which caused me to reach muscle failure earlier than anticipated. I still killed the situps and passed the run, but I would have to take the test again a few days later, which was a super fun thing to look forward to. I still remember SDS Anderson yelling at me at the turn around point on the two-mile run, that I had cost the platoon some privilege or whatnot for not being a first-time go, but I also wasn’t the only one to fail, so it is what it is. I was able to pass the do-over a couple of days later and finally feel proud about wearing the PFC rank I had enlisted with, but we still had a week or two left of training, including our final field exercise.

The final field exercise is supposed to be tough, and it definitely was. But it was also scaled back a bit for us because it was unbearably hot and they didn’t want to have any heat casualties. Training in the Georgia swamp in June/July was pretty miserable, especially for a kid like me from the dry desert of Utah. People from other companies had had various people “fall out” of the final ruck march due to heat stroke, so they made some modifications to it. They shortened it (I don’t remember how long we actually ended up going), we no longer had to wear ruck sacks of a certain weight, and we were wearing our patrol caps instead of helmets.

We began our final trek at around 10pm on July 3rd. They wanted to wait until the sun went down so it was “cooler” for us, but it was still likely in the 90s with 1,000% humidity. We had a time standard to meet, and if we didn’t do it, we’d “do it all again tomorrow” or so they said. Needless to say, after about four hours and lots of stops, we all made it through to wear we needed to be. At around 2 in the morning on the 4th of July, we were all deemed to be basic training graduates.

I’m not going to lie, I’m glad it was dark and nobody could see my face. After 2 months of struggles, I had accomplished something that had felt impossible just six weeks before. I cried quietly to myself for a few minutes, both from exhaustion, but also from pride. I had joined the Army because my dad had served, but I also because I wanted to prove that I could do something. By finishing that long march and mere days away from graduation, I had proved all my doubters wrong.

About a week later, we graduated, and I was off to AIT at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I didn’t have the same physical struggles there; in fact, I reached what was likely my peak physical condition and received an award as Distinguished Honer Graduate because I performed well in the classroom and the PT field. But none of that would have been possible without my struggles at basic training, which was truly a life changing experience.

I didn’t keep in contact with anyone from basic training; my “battle buddy” was kind of a dope and a massive liar and we just never got along. Everyone else went their separate ways and since I wasn’t active duty and had a weird MOS, I wasn’t likely to see any of them again. I tried to keep tabs on them when I got access to some systems in the course of my civilian job, but I ultimately stopped caring after a few years.

But that doesn’t take away from my experiences at basic training. I still remember DS Williams’ southern drawl, and how he was kind of chill towards a lot of us because he was reaching the end of his time as a drill sergeant. I remember SDS Anderson’s fast pace of speech and how if he started to yell it was super hard to understand what he was saying sometimes. And DS Smalls and his war stories about Grenada and his “confirmed kills” and just treating us like people when we needed it. As much as I hated the experience at the time, I do value it for the positive changes it had on me for at least a little while.

It’s hard to believe that it was 20 years ago, that this kid succeeded when he thought he would fail and have to return home disappointed. But I made it, and that’s all that mattered.

July 5th maybe? Or perhaps a few days later…

18 Years Ago

Thanks to the Memories thing on Facebook, I was reminded that I joined the Army Reserve 18 years ago today. That means that about this time on that fateful Monday, SSG Nyman had dropped me off on my second attempt to join up, after having gone previously and failing to “provide a sample” due to my inability to pee on command in front of other people. Maybe I should have taken that as a sign, but I persevered and finally enlisted, even if I didn’t get my massive ($3,000) enlistment bonus on the spot when I signed on the proverbial dotted line.

This anniversary is often secondary or tertiary to all my other Army anniversaries, and I tend to forget about it until I see the annual reminder. I always remember my last day in the Army – February 6, 2011 – which, as you will note, was 10 years and six months to the day of the day I signed. Leaving then also led me to losing my job, something that I didn’t really prepare for fully and something that I never really recovered fully from until I started working for the Air Force two years ago.

I probably should have left about two years prior on my initial ETS date. I wasn’t getting anywhere, I hadn’t passed a PT test since November of 2001, shortly after I returned from AIT – and I barely passed that test as it was. I started to get fat not long after for various reasons, and I stopped missing weight by 2003 or 2004, and I was always on the “Body Fat Control Program.” I wanted to do so much more while I was in the Army and I was being held back, but I was also scared about my post-Army prospects with nothing but a degree in political science and no “real world” skills. Continue reading “18 Years Ago”

TDOH: Hamilton and the Army

Note: “Ten Days of Hamilton” is explained here. Today is Day 6. 

As a kid in the Caribbean I wished for a war
I knew that I was poor
I knew that it was the only way to 
Rise up
If they tell my story 
I am either gonna die on the battlefield of glory or
Rise up
I will fight for this land

Hamilton – “Right Hand Man”

As mentioned previously, Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean, far from the fledgling American colonies, though he was tangentially involved in what was going on through his employment with a trading charter. He learned a lot about trade and how the world at the time functioned, but he also had a lot of free time and some very helpful folks that would give him things to read. He filled his free time with reading – and writing – and eventually made it to America and his destiny.

As indicated in the quote above, Hamilton knew that his upbringing would prevent him from attaining the height of society. (He was very prescient in that way). Based on his studies of history, however, he also understood that there were “shortcuts” to the leading class, and that was through the service in the military.* Hamilton arrived in America three years before what would become the Revolutionary War, and began training with a New York volunteer militia company at King’s College (now Columbia University) shortly after the events of Lexington and Concord and in advance of the Declaration of Independence.  Continue reading “TDOH: Hamilton and the Army”