Constant Fear and the Dirty Little Secret

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Me at the bayonet course.  Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri – Spring 2009

Warning:  This post is rather high in sodium.

The above photo is the only known one taken of me during basic training other than the class photo.  The only cameras we were allowed to have, were those on our cell phones.  You read correctly!  We were given the use of our cell phones in basic training, if only for 20 minutes each Sunday.  The camera on the flip phone I then had wasn’t very good anyway, and I much rathered take the opportunity to talk to my family back home.  So I didn’t spend any time taking pictures as other soldiers.

Looking at this photo, I know that although I was all dressed up to get good and dirty, I didn’t look very macho.  I guess I was already very tired, stressed out, bored, and who knows what else that morning.  Besides, I’ve never done much of that looking macho stuff anyway.  Being a married father of two little boys at the time, I had gotten soft.  I had worked pretty hard months prior at losing the weight needed to enlist, but hadn’t really built any muscle.  I think that was one of the reasons my drill sergeants (DS’s) enjoyed picking on me.  I gave the best effort I knew how in basic training, but I never was one of the physically hard core soldiers.  No one is in basic training, and certainly few headed for desk jobs as I was.

As one would suspect from watching military themed movies, fear was the main source of motivation used throughout basic training.  It may sound horrible, but I really doubt a government could crank out soldiers who were ready to face death without at least getting them used to functioning while dealing with such a feeling.  It was used in many different ways.  Sometimes it was fear of punishment we might get if we failed to perform properly.  Others, it was used in the form of actual punishment to help back up those threats and help us imagine how bad the punishment might be at later times, whether the offenses were real or made up.  

The military has claimed for many years to be tough on hazing, but that thought seems to go against the grain of the true nature of basic training.  There was a fear of humiliation, also a fear of the unknown.  The DS’s often gave us situations by surprise that were highly unfavorable to say the least, to which we had no other choice but to respond in the best way we thought we were expected to.  The only positive reinforcement I recall from my ten weeks there, was the thought that if I made it through this experience, I would have a solid career.  At times, things were so bad that I don’t think some of us cared about that idea anymore.

One evening with about a week and a half remaining, we arrived back to the barracks after a day of hot and sweaty who knows what kind of training.  While in formation, our platoon sergeant began to yell at us as he always did.  This time we had really messed up, or so he would have us believe.  Twas the night before we would leave for our final and week long Field Training Exercise (FTX).  DS So and So in his ranting, told the entire company that his platoon (the one I was in) had failed badly at guarding their posts during fire guard previously, and that we would be given the charge of it for the whole building for that night, when we usually only covered our floor.  That meant that instead of staying up for one random hour of the night, each of us would be doing it for two or three, leaving us much shorter on sleep than we were used to.

That night, I showered and packed for the next day as fast as I could, but still had 1/3 of my packing list to go at lights out.  In basic training after lights out, no one is allowed to do anything besides “utilize the latrine” unless you are pulling fire guard duty.  “That’s okay” I said, “I can do the rest in the morning before we form up to march to FTX.”  After a little sleep, my first shift was on an upper floor.  No problems here.  My second shift was a little different though. 

In the words of Winnie the Pooh, there suddenly arose a “rumbly in my tumbly”.  My guts started talking to themselves.  I knew I had to get to the toilet fast, or surely there would be a disaster.  There were soldiers all over the place starting to rustle and make their final preparations for our FTX.  I asked all that were within sight if any of them could cover fire guard for me while I used the crapper.  Nobody would.  They were too busy getting ready.  I didn’t dare just go use the restroom.  What if I got caught by Drill Sergeant leaving my post?  I could only imagine what they would do to me for messing something up right before ‘go time’.  Guess I would just have to hold it until my shift was over.  This couldn’t be good!  I didn’t have time to take a crap!  I still need to do some packing, besides shaving and changing into my combat uniform before we leave!  

But my colon had other plans…I crapped myself.  Not just a few skid marks on the runway kind of crapping one’s self either.  But my insides were soon free of yesterday’s lunch, and obviously dinner.  In a short horrific moment, the total of all my fears had come true!  Luckily for me, the PT uniform we were required to wear during fire guard included some compression shorts which true to their reputation, held what needed to stay in, in until I was able to deal with it properly.  What was I going to do, run up to the CQ office and tell Drill Sergeant I had just shat myself?!  The showers weren’t turned on in the morning.  Think fast Private Taylor!  

The morning wakeup hasn’t sounded yet, but oh well.  Screw everyone who withheld their help when I needed them most!  I ran down the hall as fast as humanly possible.  I knew I couldn’t throw my PT uniform in the bathroom waste baskets.  They had already been emptied that night.  If I put them in there now, we’d get back from FTX in a week to find a stinky bathroom and a heavy, muddy PT uniform with my last name carefully written on it in black Sharpie.  Drill Sergeants love that stuff!  For some miraculous reason, I had a few garbage bags of my own in my locker.  I knew just what I’d do!  My battle buddy was out of our room for a minute, so I made quick use of the socks I had on and some baby wipes (baby wipes were our method of bathing while out on training exercises, as well as for soldiers who deploy to far out desert posts).  I then as tightly as possible triple bagged the offending garments and tied them up, and hid them under some other things in my locker and proceeded to get dressed the way lightning gets dressed every morning.  

As I scrambled to stuff the last handfuls of stuff into my rucksack, two of my DS’s showed up in my room and started marching around and yelling at me in an agitated way, speaking of how I better not make everybody late.  At this point, I don’t care.  I’m sweating like crazy, and functioning faster than reality.  Everything smelled like poop to me in that time.  Can they smell poop like they smell fear?  Because I don’t know which one smelt worse at that moment.  If they found my little hidden treasure, I was toast.  I closed my locker, strapped up, and ran out to formation as fast as an over-loaded weakling could.  It was my lucky day.  There were a few soldiers from other platoons that had everyone waiting longer than I had, so the worst screaming was saved for them.  I was on my way to a week of hell, but it didn’t matter because my secret was safe!  Before basic training was over, most of us had realized that basic training wasn’t as bad as we thought it was.  A worse period called AIT (Advanced Individual Training) that made basic training look fun was just a bus ride away. 

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