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.