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Veteran’s Day

Posted by houstoncollector on November 11, 2008

I am a veteran.  Well, technically, at least.  I was nineteen years old and it was late 1991.  I was in a bad personal situation, and was basically told by a family member (who I was staying with) that I either needed to join the military, or find somewhere else to stay.  So, after losing 50 pounds in about 3 months (with the help of the local Army recruiter), I enlisted, and went to basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

It wasn’t directly to basic training though.  See, I had the problem a lot of fat kids have.  No muscles worth speaking of.  In order to enter Basic Training, you have to be able to do a certain number of pushups and sit-ups.  Sit-ups, I could handle.  The pushups, though, I was lost in.  So, it was off to a group for the physically-unable.  The barracks that we used were the ones that were featured in the movie Stripes, and dated back to the 1950s if not earlier.  Our days were pretty much filled with intense physical training.  Jogging, pushups, sit-ups, working out on exercise machines…it was all designed to get us into shape so that we could enter Basic.  A few weeks went by, and I still wasn’t able to pull off the pushups.  On the day that they were ready to send me back home….I managed to pull it off, and it was off to Basic.

Basic training isn’t like what most of us saw in various movies.  There was no beating of people by drill sergeants.  One of the things that I didn’t realize at the time is that the Drills weren’t there to make your life miserable.  They were there to do their jobs:  break you down and then build you back up into a soldier.  If you showed any type of weakness or rebellion, and they would make your life a living hell, and try to do everything in their power to make you quit.  However, the Drills couldn’t lay their hands on you unless it was to assist you.  They could punish you, which they did, when I made the mistake of getting mad when they jumped on me for only losing 5 pounds in Basic, and I opened my mouth and told them that muscle outweighed fat.  I spent 20 minutes in the Pit, which was literally a sawdust pit where I was told either Front, Back, or Up.  Front was pushups.  Back was sit-ups.  Up was jogging in place.  Now take that and make it continuous for 20 minutes.  Even this, though, was to toughen you, to make you in prime physical shape and to prepare you to be a soldier, which meant /following orders/.

Now, admittedly, through all of this, I got to play with weapons.  Now, I’m not a gun nut, but it was still interesting, getting to learn how to use (as well as tear apart) various weapons, including the M16A1 (the rifle in use at the time), the M60 (machine gun), the M203 (grenade launcher attachment for the M16A1, which we fired smoke grenades with), and what my failing memory thinks was the M9 (light anti-tank weapon, which in training was modified to shoot 9mm ammunition).  There was even grenade practice, and I was told by my Drill that I was weak, and to throw as hard as I could.  This led to me overshooting the mark when trying to qualify with grenades, but I managed to go 6 of 7 on my second attempt.  I even got to throw a live grenade, which was quite a bit different.

I managed to make it through all of training, and we started hearing rumors that we might be sent to Iraq if things didn’t go well there, as it only took two additional weeks to train a soldier out of basic in infantry training.  Of course, the first ‘war’ in Iraq only took 3 months to fight, so we didn’t go.  

I made it through basic and ended up going to AIT at Ft. Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis.  Once I was there, my sinuses and allergies hit with a vengeance, and I went from running the 2 mile in about 15-16 minutes to 25-30.  I was miserable, and I started having discipline problems due to that, even going so far as to have a psych eval because I felt that I was losing it.  While on detail with the JAG office, I found out that the US Military could not keep a recruit (anyone in training up through AIT) in the military if they wanted to leave, all we had to do was go to our Company’s CO and tell them that we wanted to go home.  Being 19 and stupid, I did just that instead of waiting another 3 weeks to be medically discharged for not being able to make the 2 mile run.  I was enlisted for a total of 181 days.  The legal definition of a veteran is 180 days served.

 

So yeah.  I’m a veteran.  It’s not something I’m proud of, though, and I don’t bring it up very often.   However, I do view it as a life experience, and something that I feel everyone should go through once in their lives, to see what the men and women who fight for our freedoms go through to get where they are now.  Yes, some of them enlisted for the wrong reasons.  Most of them, though, enlisted out of national pride and civic duty.  They didn’t necessarily ask to be shot at, although they knew it was a possibility.

So, on this Veteran’s Day, 2008, I want to say the following:  To everyone who is serving now in the United States military, or who has served in the past….  Thank you.  Thank you for everything that you have done and sacrificed, for everything that you’ve endured for the rest of us who have stayed home.  Thank you for giving your blood and your very lives for this country, even though the government has not always been there for you, even though the people themselves have not always been there for you.

 

Thank you.  Now and always….thank you.

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