Veteran Status: Part I, Basic Training
A Five-Part Series on My Life in the Army
Private Krzycki, Lisa A.
United States Army Basic Trainee
Fort Jackson, South Carolina
August, 1989- October, 1989
After high school I went to Eastern Michigan University for one year and lost my oh-this-is-what-freedom-tastes-like mind. Out of money and nowhere to go, I joined the Army. I enlisted for three years instead of the usual four, finding that one extra year just too much of a commitment. I was 19. For the next couple of months I did nothing but work the day shift at an auto-parts factory in Howe, Indiana and then run in the afternoon. I listened to Prince on my Sony Walkman and ran and ran and ran. My recruiter never told me that I’d be timed on my running, he only said there would be a lot of running. A key goddamn detail, as it turned out, that plagued my entire Army career.
Basic Training is just that – basic. You learn how to shoot, shit and eat like a soldier. The you that is you is stripped down to a thing that can perform in any circumstance or condition. Because there is no longer you, you exist and thrive in the greater we. This is a powerful transformation if you realize (and are reminded) you will come back and in better condition both physically and mentally. If you miss it or if you were unaccustomed to being taken down a peg, you could suffer through Basic Training. There was more than one girl on suicide watch during my time at Fort Jackson. I did just fine.
I was called Alphabet because of my consonant-heavy surname. Difficult to pronounce yes, but the nickname was more to prove that my individuality no longer mattered. Though I could barely pass the run I frequently had the highest scores for push-ups and sit-ups. My Drill Sergeant commented once “Boy, Alphabet, you sure do have some muscle holding up all that fat.” To which I dutifully shouted, “YES DRILL SERGEANT.”
The drill sergeants openly disliked us, even the female drill sergeants. They shared their preference for male cycles over female cycles because we did everything more slowly plus all our annoying feelings. Outside of the push-up wins, I blended in easily and rarely experienced any wrath until I started rifle training. Turns out I was an expert marksman and spent that time under heavy scrutiny as I vied for the top spot in my company. I ended up in second place.
The Army gave me my first real feeling of earning food and a shower. I ate grits with butter and honey every single breakfast while moving through the chow line and I mean mounds of it. Hot water, soap and three minutes rivaled any spa day I’ve had since. When I slept, it was quick and deep.
Everyone went to church on Sunday regardless of faith or creed because of who sat on the other side of the aisle – BOYS. Our one and only opportunity to see the male form in close proximity (drill sergeants do not count)- and they were all clean and shiny. I witnessed several subversive exchanges of notes. My god, the flirting and heavy panting should have caved the roof in. It was awesome.
Basic Training did its job; I was a good soldier. The drill sergeants did their job; we as a platoon hated them so our bond as a unit grew stronger. Here are some of my friends and fellow soldiers:
Linda. My assigned “buddy” and mentor as she was 34 years old. (Age 35 is the cut-off, or was then.) An anomaly, she was also married and had a son. She joined the Army – in fact I think she reenlisted – because it was the best job she could find to support her family. She often cried about missing her son but only in the privacy of the barracks late at night. Only now as a mother myself can I fully grasp her sacrifice and pain. She was the voice of reason and an excellent comrade.
Sage. These pictures were taken close to graduation as we certainly were not allowed cameras during training. Our personal items must have then been released back into our possession. Sage’s personal items were castanets. She used cholesterol on her long, long hair to keep it healthy and shiny. Her name was Sage. She was the most interesting person I had ever met in my life.
Julie and Julie. Friends from California, one or both grew up on an almond farm and they pronounced almond as “am-and”. I didn’t even know how an almond grew, let alone that they were farmed.
PFC Small, my squad leader. One day during rifle training we disassembled, cleaned and reassembled our M16s for inspection. The last step in the process was to pull the trigger in front of your drill sergeant proving you had reassembled and cleared your rifle successfully. Standing next to my squad leader, she positioned her rifle in the air, pulled the trigger and FIRED A BLANK. When I realized I wasn’t dead I was grateful to merely be deaf. PFC Small was not my friend but her actions spurred me to question authority.
Funny what being shot at will bring out in a person.
Next up: Veteran Status: Part II, Advanced Individualized Training