Veterans' Stories

A Basic Combat Training Experience by Spc. Tristan Weis, USA

As a new feature on our website, veterans have the opportunity to share their stories with us. As President of the Board, I don’t want to ask a fellow veteran to share something that I am not willing to do myself, so I have decided to begin writing my own story to share and archive. As time permits I will add additional information about my personal military experience. For now though, please read my story. It is the story of what prompted me to military service and what my first experiences were like. I don’t have any photos to share right now, but once I go through all of my old pictures I’ll add them so you can not only read my story, but see my experiences as well.

My Military Experience – The Introduction and Basic Training

It was the middle of the night, everything was dark and all I could see were silhouettes of cold metal bunks set neatly about the room. Something startled me from my sleep; I’m not sure what it was. I was confused, I was panicking, and I was completely disoriented by my surroundings. Whatever woke me up must have been in my mind because everything was quiet. The soft rumbling of the HVAC system was all I heard. As I sat on my bunk, covered in green wool blankets, I began to collect myself and gain my bearings. It was March 8th, 2002 and I was in the receiving barracks of Fort Leonard Wood, MO.

It wasn’t the Drill Sergeants yelling at me while getting off of the buses, or the long lines standing at parade rest packed in hallways like sardines. It wasn’t the quiet and rushed meals at the dining facility, or the cattle line moving into the medical receiving area for a variety of immunizations that I remember most from my first military experience. Rather it was the first night I was there and woke up not knowing where I was. More importantly, I think it was a direct reflection of how I’d gotten there.

The summer of 2001 I was working a mediocre seasonal job at a country club cutting crisp lines on putting greens and spending hours mowing the intermediate of the fairways. I thought I would be spending a lot of time working mediocre jobs just to get by. I was only 19, so I did not quite grasp the reality of the world to come. In fact, I do not think any American really understood the reality to come.

It was a Tuesday that would change the direction in my life. A Tuesday that weighs heavy on my heart but at the same time gave me inspiration. Just like any other ordinary day, I was out driving an old reel mower on the course somewhere cutting the intermediates when the greens keeper came hurling over a hill and quickly down to me. I had seen some reckless driving, but never like this from him. He was not alone, he had already picked up two others and told me to shut the mower off and get into the cart. We went straight to the clubhouse.

For the next two and a half hours, I watched the television show devastating footage of New York City and the World Trade Centers. I watched helplessly as the towers crumbled and fell. I was not alive for the attack on Pearl Harbor, but in my mind, this was my Pearl Harbor. As I sat watching the television, I decided that if there was ever a time to become a man and do something that I believed in, it was now. I wanted to help. I wanted to be there. I wanted it to never happen again. I wanted retribution. As my grandfather served in World War II in the Army, my father from 1972 to 1995 in the Air Force, my brother in 1990-1994 in the Army, I would follow those footsteps and enlist in the Army and another brother would enlist in the Marine Corps.

At Fort Leonard Wood I was assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Infantry Division, Third Platoon. My platoon was nicknamed the “Road Dogs,” but not at first. We initially were “Maggots.” Then after the first phase and our Guidon changed colors, we were called “Road Pups.” During the third phase of our training, Drill Sergeants Stroble and DeJesus started calling us “Road Dogs.” After nine weeks of intensive training, it was a welcomed relief to know that we all had matured and grew into soldiers of the United States Army.

The first day my battalion formed with new Privates we were packed into cattle cars and forced to put our faces into our bags so we could not see or talk. We drove for about 15 minutes before stopping outside of a large warehouse. The scene was chaotic. About 120 new Privates were grabbing green duffels and scrambling to run inside and get into a formation by newly formed platoons. Drill Sergeants were screaming, “Move it! Faster! I’ll put a boot in your ass if you don’t get in there now!”

Once we were all in the warehouse, all I could hear is the sound of boots pacing the floors with a sound of purpose, duffel bags hitting the floor, and then the sound of our First Sergeant, First Sergeant Reagan, commanding our attention. After a brief lecture, we were introduced to what hydration means and how to properly do a variety of exercises. I think I was forced to drink more than four canteens of water during our forty-five-minute introduction to our battalion. Push-ups, sit-ups, overhead arm claps, and jumping jacks were all demonstrated on a stage and then in military fashion, repeated in numerous sets and repetitions by all of us. It was push-ups, drink a canteen of water, rush to refill it at Lyster bags positioned throughout the warehouse. Then, repeating. Quoting from one of my favorite television shows, The Walking Dead, “It’s best that when you have to eat shit that you bite, swallow, and repeat.” There definitely was not any nibbling here. From this point forward, I knew, we all knew, that the Drill Sergeants were in command and not following their direction and orders would result in disciplinary measures that at the least would be uncomfortable.

Training days were long and nights were short. We ran everywhere. If we were caught not running, the favorite pick was the bear crawl. If you do not know what that is, it is when you place your palms on the ground and plant the soles of your feet firmly on the ground and awkwardly walked like a bear. Running was the better option.

Every morning we had physical training (PT). It would rotate between running some days and others doing muscle training. We had what was referred to as “the pit” for our muscle training. This was a playground of sorts. Not one full of brightly colored slides and swings, but consisted of landscaping timbers encasing a composition of rock, mulch, and dirt. On more than one occasion after a PT session, I would literally have to shake my PT uniform out to get the embedded mulch out of it. Sometimes I would get it back from the laundry and I would have to pull splinters from the material that were still firmly lodged in them. PT was not only painful because of muscle fatigue, but also, because of the unpleasant surface, we trained on and in.

I like bananas, and in some circles, people may even find that when certain people eat them, it is akin to being a sexual act. Well, I assure you that after 7 weeks of eating in the same chair, at the same time, every day and being forced to watch a female Private eat a banana while chewing with her mouth gaping open has killed any such sinful response from me. We did not get to choose a seat. Our formation was like a chain. You cannot move links around on a chain, so I was locked into place. Finally, knowing the consequence of my next action, I had had enough. When this particular soldier began eating another banana, she ate one at nearly every meal, I stood up from my chair and leaned over the table and looked her right into the face and said, “Have some courtesy. Chew with your damn mouth closed. Nobody wants to be forced to watch your food churn in your mouth and listen to your lips smack. It’s disgusting.” Then, I picked up my tray and brought it to the tray return. I spent the next 15 minutes while everyone else finished eating performing a selection of exercises outside in my designated space in the soon to be filled formation. Looking back on that decision, she never chewed with her mouth open again, stopped eating bananas, and I was satisfied. Any amount of punishment was worth not having to endure another meal with the same experience.

I suppose the rest of my basic training story goes much like everyone else, PT, small arms training, drill and ceremony, late nights of doing fire watch in a concrete building that could not possibly catch on fire, and learning the basics of combat.

All of my training leads up to the fact that I left for basic training on March 7, 2002, and a year later in March 2003, I was standing in the sands of Kuwait as a combat medic. I was ready to serve with the Headquarters and Headquarters Service Battery of the 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery Regiment to join the war effort to keep American’s safe at home and abroad from threats of terrorism. All of the hardship of Basic Combat Training (BCT) and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) were well worth it to give me the opportunity to serve my country in a meaningful and honorable way.

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