I have just spent the last five months of my life training for the U.S. Army
at Fort Leonard Wood, MO.
Fort Leonard Wood is one of the two bases that have Basic Combat Training for
females (the other base being Fort Jackson, SC). It takes nine weeks until you
reach the finish of basic training, and the first day doesn't even count!
Day Zero is perhaps the worst day through all of basic training, as you quickly
find out that you are not in as good of shape as you thought you were. The first
thing learned is the acronym CAPE, or Corrective Action by Physical Exercise.
The second thing learned is that being CAPEd is the worst punishment possible.
Day Zero is mostly spent in the "front leaning rest"; this is the
starting position for a push-up. Of course, there are other exercises as well,
such as the high jumper, flutter kicks, side straddle hops (or jumping jacks
in the civilian world), and many more very painful exercises -- they may not
sound bad, but imagine spending your entire day doing them.
For the first three weeks of basic training, if you're a beginning soldier,
you are called a private. You are in "Red Phase", which means the
Drill Sergeants have total control over everything you do. We were allowed one
three minute phone call, and a quick run through the "shoppette" for
the items we needed for personal hygiene and such. During this phase, groups
of soldiers called platoons start learning to work together against the common
enemy, "The Drill Sergeant." Within the first two weeks, we were already
going through rappelling, leadership course, team development course, and running
the PECs (Physical Endurance Courses). By the third week, everyone was physically
and mentally exhausted, and almost everyone was ready to go home.
Then came the most time-consuming lessons of all: Basic Rifle Marksmanship,
In BRM, all we did was sit and clean or fire our weapons. It was a time to
get acquainted with the weapon we would be using when we ship overseas to Iraq
(or wherever else we might go).
After the Red Phase and BRM came the White Phase, bringing with it a chance
to go through the Confidence Course, the bayonet course, grenades, ITT, and
Advanced Rifle Marksmanship. During this phase, the Drill Sergeants become "a
little" more relaxed about what you can or can't do. The new phase means
another trip to the shoppette for supeopleies, and even a phone call!
My company, however, did not have the pleasure of being in white phase for
the next three weeks. Because of our rowdy behavior, our phase banners were
taken away. My platoon was even later kicked out of the company and pronounced
"back in red phase for a week" -- we called it Bulldog Week.
Eventually, we made it to Blue Phase, right before we left for our five-day
Field Training Exercise, or FTX. We had our final PT (physical test) just a
few days before our FTX, in fact -- it was imperative that we pass, because
if you didn't pass, you'd have to retake the PT test after we returned.
Fortunately for me, I passed with 16 push ups, 57 sit ups (both in 2 minutes
time), and an 18:16 two-mile run!
The FTX is probably the most exciting part of Basic Combat Training. It all
started with a 10-kilometer tactical road march to our FTX site; then we had
to set up a perimeter and start the task of digging our fighting positions.
We went on several exercises and we got gassed many times (once during chow!).
My favorite part was when we got ambushed at a checkpoint for vehicles moving
in and out of the perimeter....
After our 5 days were over, we packed up and headed out on the last requirement
before we could become a soldier: a 15-kilometer road march. After an exhausting
week, and with 40 lbs or more on our backs and 8 lbs in our hands, this was
the hardest march of all (even though it is only a little over nine miles).
What happens after that is only for a soldier to know.
Then, of course, we had our wonderful graduation. When you walk into a Basic
Training Graduation, you can feel the pride radiating off of every private,
standing perfectly still in formation. What they went through, most people won't
even think about, let alone try.
It is an amazing feeling to look back at what I went through and realize that
no one at home can understand... it is the hardest and best thing I've ever
done. So long as you don't give up, you can do anything; trust me. I thought
I would never make it to be a soldier. Now, I stand proud.