08 July 2013 – Even though I was surrounded by 50 other people, all I can remember is being lost with my own thoughts as we travelled down the highway to our final destination, Fort Knox. I was already caught off guard at the sweltering heat; even though it was sunny, the air felt wet on my skin like it had just rained outside, and this was in shorts and a t-shirt. The heat would be the least of my worries though. The next 29 days at Fort Knox meant conquering my fears, pushing my body to extreme limits, and yes, it even meant surviving the wrath of the army’s finest: Drill Sergeants.
The Drill Sergeants were the first people that we, the cadets, met upon arrival at Fort Knox. The key to survival was to do what you were told and to always look straight ahead. I learned quickly that wandering eyes and a swiveling head were perfect bait for Drill Sergeants. Plenty of fresh cadets were targeted because of nosiness. The Army is about discipline, and if you did not realize that from the moment you stepped off the bus, you would realize that soon enough.
On our agenda for the next month would be a rope’s course, rappelling, combat water survival training, map reading, land navigation, Basic Rifle Marksmanship, STX Lanes, a stream crossing, and water borne operations. These were the events that we expected; we also received skills and training in other areas, such as discipline, drill and ceremony, and military customs and courtesies, which were acquired during our time there.
A typical day meant a 0500 wake up call, but usually first formation would be five minutes after that so we learned to set our alarms for 0415 to conduct personal hygiene and to be outside by 0450 for first formation. We learned early on that when the Army says one thing, it actually means something else. First formation was stressful in the beginning, but as we all began to get the hang of things, it was one of the best parts of the day. We were able to put the skills that we learned into action, and it was also a fun social time with members of our squad and platoon.
I was part of Foxtrot Company – 2nd Platoon, Fourth Squad. We had the best drill sergeants (DS), the best STO’s (Squad Tactical Officer) and the best cadets by far. We had the best sense of camaraderie with each other; our platoon joked around a lot, but we knew when to be serious, which distinguished us from other platoons.
After first formation, we went to the chow hall for breakfast. The time allotted to feed 150 cadets was 45 minutes. With that in mind, my platoon was always the first platoon into the chow hall; we took great pride in beating the other platoons, and no matter how hard they tried to beat us, we never lost a chow race. The line in the chow hall snaked along the wall at the front of the building, all the way to the door. If you were in the back, you waited a good 15 minutes to get served. And to wait in a chow line is not like waiting in a regular line. You had to stand at parade rest until the person in front of you moved forward. Then from there, you snap to attention, take a couple steps forward, and back to parade rest. There was no talking in line, and there was no talking when you sat down either. The actual consumption of food took about 7 minutes. We had no time while we were in there to taste anything we ate. You were wrong if you were looking around and talking to friends. You ate your food and left the building.
By the time chow was over, it would have been about 0600, so movement to our next location would start at around 0620. For example, the week that we did land navigation, movement to the land navigation site started around 0630. A safety brief would start at 0705 and then we started plotting our points on our maps at 0730. By 0800 we were in the woods in order to locate our points and then by 1130 we were gathering back at the starting point. We would move to the busses and then by 1215 we were back at the company area to have lunch chow. By 1315 we would have been moved to the classrooms for instruction on map reading. We were in there for about 3 hours, so by 1630 we were with our STO to learn about leadership and basic duties of an officer. By 1730 we would have been moved to the chow hall for dinner chow, and then after that we may have had some drill sergeant time until we had to meet with our STO at 1930.
Drill Sergeant Time was my favorite time. When we were with the DS we learned so much about the real army. They were our true gateways to knowledge. There was a period during my time at Fort Knox that I contemplated if being an officer is the right path for me; I so looked up to my Drill Sergeants, who are experienced NCO’s. As an officer, I will never have an NCO experience, and that is why so few officers are respected. An officer truly has to prove himself. I will be a Second Lieutenant in less than 2 years. I will be 22 years old, will never have seen or experienced a combat situation, yet I will be saluted by men and women who have been serving for longer than my whole lifetime. It is a very humbling experience if it is used the proper way.
The friendships that I made will be lifelong bonds. I still talk to two girls in a group message on our cellphones every single day. It is a really good feeling to have people who are the same as you in uniform, and who are also the same as civilians. We understand each other like others cannot understand us. It is also amazing to know that I work for the best organization on earth. The U.S Army has changed my life in just one short month, and I cannot wait to see what it has in store for me for the next couple of decades. My time at Fort Knox was grueling and tiring, but it was rewarding and completely enjoyable all the more. If I was given an opportunity to go back, I would say “yes” in a heartbeat!