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Welcome To The
RADIO RESEARCH COMMUNICATIONS
UNIT VIETNAM
A SAGA OF BASIC TRAINING!

The following article is provided by Walter Chisholm. It was taken from July 1966 Arogosy Magazine. It is a pretty good accounting of that 56 day period of our lives when most of us were affectionally known by such names as numb nuts, dickhead and other favorites. It was from the time when basic training was just that, basic training and not the summer camp it has now become.


SHAPE UP OR SHIP OUT!

(A SAGA OF BASIC TRAINING)

ARGOSY Magazine, July,1966

A solemn procession of two-and-a-half-ton trucks lumbers through the blazing heat of a July afternoon. Within these metal monsters 200 cringing blobs of raw humanity are crammed like olive-green sardines, steeped in an oil of pure perspiration.

One of the sardines is you. You and your companions crouch together in a silent, sweltering huddle, listening to the ominous drone of the motor and carefully avoiding one another's apprehensive eyes. Though your mind cannot conceive of a place more horrible than the U.S. Army Processing Center, which you have just departed, intuition tells you that the ultimate atrocity is yet to come. Your imagination strains to anticipate the hell awaiting you at this destination called a Basic Training Company, but alas, it is a fate impossible to contemplate.

What am I doing here? your mind beseeches. Desperately, you probe into the past…eighteen short days ago…when these nightmares first began:

GREETINGS:

You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States. . . .

The letter trembled in your hands. You read it through five times, hoping that you overlooked somewhere the words, "April Fool," but the words were not there. This thing was no gag. You spent the next two weeks praying for world disarmament, to no avail. Drearily, you packed a small bag with sufficient clothing for three days. It was time to go. Dad shook your hand. Mom leapt upon you and saturated you with tears until your madras shirt began to bleed.

Now you are 500 miles from Mom and Dad, fused to a bunch of kids whose ashen faces echo your bewilderment. Your name has been augmented by an endless string of impersonal ciphers. No one calls you "Mr." any more; your title is now "Recruit (E-1)" which makes your status roughly equivalent to the excrement of a baby gnat.

You set your jaw defiantly. Screw them, you proclaim in silence. They won't break me. If they think I'm gonna play their silly war games . . .

The truck rumbles to a halt. You peer into the ruthless sunlight, looking for the fire and brimstone. You see nothing but pleasant little buildings, identical to those you just left…cream-colored wood, green shingles. But Satan is there to greet you.

"Aw RIGHT, ya buncha candy asses. Move, move, MOVE!!"

Eager to comply, you leap from the truck with your duffel bag on your shoulder, which results in your being driven up to your knees into the asphalt street.

"Eight-ball, you betta ****ing shape UP! Po-leece up dat duffel bag! Let's go, move out, double-time, doubletime!"

You re-heft the Gargantuan bag to your shoulder and stagger up the street, joining your comrades in a straggly formation. Standing before you are the fiends who will be your keepers for the next two months. They are all ex-guards from Devil's Island and each regards you with unbridled disgust, as though you were a leper.

During the past five days, you have been subjected to a series of degradations specifically designed to strip away every vestige of your individuality and integrity. The first debasement came when you arrived at the local Induction Station and were directed to strip for a so-called "physical examination." It was then you learned, from the viewpoint of a steer, how meat is processed in a Chicago stockyard. Behind you in line was a little redheaded stud who kept waving an envelope. "Got a letter from my doc," he said. "The bastids ain't gonna git dis mother!" If you had followed his advice, you would be a civilian today. "When the sawbones leans over to rap your knee wit the hammer, you know? All ya gotta do is kiss him on top of his head!"

For some reason, you did not kiss the doctor's head, and so you stand petrified on a company street, your baggy green suit thirstily sponging up the sweat that cascades from every pore. You hope that little fart with the letter gets hit by a trailer truck or something. The field first sergeant is calling off names, assigning the recruits to platoons. "When I call your name, I want every Swinging Richard to sound off like you got a pair!"

Four days ago, you were on a train thundering across endless wasteland. One of your traveling companions leaned over and told you, "I hear they're sending us straight to Vietnam."

On the verge of delirium, you sought out your group leader, a specialist returning from leave. He told you that your destination is a place called Fort Jackson and you asked him what this camp was like. His answer was not encouraging: "If they wanted to give the world an enema, that's where they'd put the tube."

The Field First is still calling off names. "Martin!"

"HEA, Ser-GENT!" cries Martin.

"Mas. . . Mas-to-zee . . . oh, for Christ sake . . ."

"Mastoswicky, SIR!" offers a voice from the ranks.

"Mas-to . . . **** it," says the sergeant. "Alphabet!"

Three days ago, you arrived at the Reception Center, an exact replica of a Nazi concentration camp. There, your brain was immediately sucked clean by a series of aptitude tests called the Army Classification Battery. You, of course, tried to make your highest score in the area that interested you most. This was a mistake, for your assignment after training will be determined by your lowest score. The Army does not want you in a position you are qualified to hold; this would only make your superiors look bad. If you had scored low on all the aptitude exams, you might have been asked to take the Officer's Candidate Test.

Two days ago, there was the Individual Clothing Issue, when you were gifted with an entire wardrobe of the finest military attire, which you suspected was last worn by King Kong. Then came another "physical exam" and an Initial Immunization in which you were set upon from every quarter by sadists with blunt needles, presumably to prime you for the weeks of needling that lay ahead. When you looked as haggard and miserable as possible, it was time to have your picture taken for your ID card. This operation was also instructive, since it gave you a glimpse at how convicts are photographed.

"Ri-HACE! Fo-war . . . HAR!" The roll call finally completed, your platoon is marched off down the street to your new home. "Pa-too . . . HALT! Lef-HACE!"

A fly lands on your nose and you quickly brush it off.

"Don't -you - know - how - to - stand - at – attention, DUD?" your sergeant asks.

You freeze every muscle while the Sergeant articulately promises you instantaneous castration for the further flicking of an eyelash.

Of course, all your time at the Processing Center was not consumed by such atrocities. There was the delightful diversion known as Fire Watch, in which you walked around the barracks for three hours at a stretch, wishing to God the whole state would burn down. Were you disinclined to indulge in outdoor activities, you could always attend a function known as a GI Party, or join a class of Kitchen Policemen and learn all about Home Economics. Perhaps the best pastime of all was a variation of hide 'n' seek, called Copping Out. This game involved eluding all the demons who prowled about shanghaiing victims for ungodly details, and when you were successful at it, you whiled away the evening hours staring into the latrine mirror at the fuzzy cue ball that used to be your head.

This morning, you were issued dog tags and a meal card, signifying that you would be treated like a canine and fed accordingly. Then you were packed into a two-and-a-half-ton truck. So here you are, standing on the hot pavement while your platoon sergeant delivers this welcomeing address:

"Gen'men, I am your new father and mother. You will learn to love me, for I am kind and understanding. Some of you think you do not belong in this man's Army. You think you will malinger and goldbrick and otherwise **** off. Negative, gen'men. Let me elucidate you on this point. The very initial dud what jumps the cadence, will discover his ass affixed to the woodwork. For I could care ****ing less why you are here. You are going to soldier or you will be hurting. Your bodies belong to me and it's mox nix about your minds. You try to turn your tour here into organized grab-ass, and you will find yourself shittin' in short cotton. Do you read me? Those who do not read me, get down an' give me ten!"

You fail to recognize what language the Sergeant is speaking, but his message is crystal-clear.

He then says, "Any of you had ROTC, I want you should put your hand up."

You do not raise your hand. This means you have just missed your chance to become a squad leader, a blunder you will regret for the next eight weeks. If you had it to live over, you would not only swear you had four years of ROTC, you would also claim to be an Eagle Scout who spent two years with the Peace Corps, as well.

Gathering equipment necessary for you to function as a soldier, you learn you are preparing to exist in two armies simultaneously. These armies are like handkerchiefs: one for show and one for blow. For example, to maintain the highest standards of physical hygiene, you are forced to buy a slew of grooming aids: shaving implements, soap, toothbrush and powder, shoe brush and polish, etc. Then, to be sure you own these items, your keepers require you to have them on hand at all times for inspection purposes and the items must be as flawless as your appearance. You, therefore, must sneak out and buy these articles in duplicate to have a set you can actually use. The result is, when you stand by your footlocker for inspection, it appears that somehow you have washed yourself with a bar of still-wrapped soap. The reason for this is simple. Visitors to an army installation must get the impression that it is a most pleasant, efficient and immaculate establishment, when in reality it is a nightmare of chaos, waste and filth.

Now your fifty-six-day marathon is officially under way. A typical training day commences at five a.m., just as a portion of renewed strength has begun to seep into your prostrate body. The barracks lights flick on, demolishing the sanctuary of sleep. Like a newly activated machine, you roll out of the sack and pull the cover taut across your mattress, your body operating completely independent of your mind. You flip the dust cover over your pillow, then plod to the latrine. Bodies move like zombies all around you, grim and silent. You relieve your bladder of its nocturnal production, then brush your teeth and shave.

Returning to your locker, you now attempt to put on a clean pair of fatigue trousers. The pant legs are starched together so tightly, about the only way you can shove your feet through is to have two buddies hold them while you leap into them from the top of a double bunk. Passing this ordeal, you lace your boots.

"FALL OUT!"

You join the boot-step thunder moving toward the doorway and soon you are in formation, dressed and covered, filling your lungs with the last breath of cool air you'll draw today. Your uniform consists of boots, trousers and T-shirt, which unfortunately, is the uniform for Physical Training.

"RE-port!"

"FIR-patoo-aw-pres-coun-fer---SUH!"

You jog half a mile to a huge field, and stand wheezing as the sergeant climbs upon a platform before the company.

"EX-ten-to-the-lef---HAR!"

"Harms--DOWN!"

"From-fron-to-rear, coun-HOFF!"

The air is filled with the roar of numbers. The guy in front of you snaps his head to the side and bellows, "TWO!" You snap your head and scream, "THREE!" You hear the guy behind you holler "FIVE!" like a true dud.

The sergeant shakes his head. "Can't you shitheads COUNT?" The entire procedure is repeated until everyone is letter perfect. Then the sergeant commands, "Even-numbers-to-the-left---UNCOVER!"

There ensues a fifteen-hour session of physical abuse which is said to last but fifteen minutes. During this workout, you keep an eye glued to the instructor, making certain that when he looks in your direction you are exercising like a fanatic; when he looks away, you drag ass.

Exhausted to the verge of nausea, you jog toward the company area, chanting gung-ho hypocrisies in rhythm with the flopping of your boot steps in the dust: "R-A -- all-the-way!" and "Up-the-hill - down-the-hill---Rangers--Rangers!"

It is time for breakfast. Typical of a canine, you must perform before you are fed. There is a chin-up bar outside the mess hall, and as you pass beneath it, you jump up and pull off a few before you can go in and eat. By the time you sit down at the breakfast table, your stomach will not accept solid food and you settle for a glass of cloudy water called lemonade.

After your "meal," you hi-tail it back to the barracks to ready it for daily inspection. Since your platoon has not been awarded the company pennant for several days, you are informed that you had "best get offa the stick and get this place shaped up," or your collective butts will be hay and your sergeant will be the mother****ing Grim Reaper.

This work completed, you don your fatigue shirt, modified field pack and helmet liner and by eight a.m. are marching sullenly along some god-forsaken dirt road, the sweat already creeping through your eyebrows and into your eves. If there's anything you do not feel like doing, it is singing. So you sing.

"I gotta gal in San Antone ... She can do it till the cows come home!"

When you arrive at the training area, you are audience to a learned lecture delivered by an illiterate Will Rogers: "Mens, what are the SOP regardin' a Gas Attack? Negative, mens, You do not take bicarbon' of soda. Affirmative, you do utilize yo' gas mask. What does you do in event of a nu-cu-lar bomb detonated in yo' ee-mediate area? You bends over, positions yo' head between yo' legs . . . an' kiss yo' ass GOOD-BYE!".

After an hour of such hilarity, you spend the remainder of the morning hob-nobbing with the sand fleas and permitting chiggers easy access to the tender flesh inside your boots. At the end of a hard morning in the field, there's nothing like a good meal to make you feel like it human being again. And the meal you receive, sure enough, is nothing like a good meal.

Your savory repast consumed, you now GI your mess gear, which involves submerging it in five garbage cans affixed with smokestacks and scrubbing it with a latrine brush. Can One is filled with a boiling Pre-Dip Rinse, Cans Two and Three are filled with hot, soapy water and the last two, with clear, boiling water. As expected, after this operation, your mess kit emerges bright and shiny, with a nice thin layer of protective grease over it.

The afternoon is a carbon copy of the morning. The training area changes perhaps, the instructors are different, as are their subjects, but invariably you find yourself bludgeoned with teaching plans designed for third-grade dropouts. The most valuable information you gather during these sessions is how to keep 200 indolent men in a state of semi-consciousness. This is accomplished by a device known as "ON YOUR FEET! . . . Ready . . . SEATS!" which keeps you exploding up and down like a well lubricated piston. Most instructors recognize the disinterest generated by their subject matter and attempt to present it as painlessly as possible: "Mens, what are the treatment fo' a belly wound? Negative, mens, you do not administer bicarbon' soda!"

By mid-afternoon, the mercury has passed ninety-nine and you are beginning to dehydrate. The water in your canteen tastes like tepid iodine, so you live from one trip to the Lister bag to the next, washing salt tablets down with the cool water which seems at once to run out of your body from every pore. A few of your comrades pass out from the heat, but you are not one of the lucky ones.

"They're gonna get recycled," someone tells you, which is a bunch of horse shit, of course, but it's nice to think about on the long match back.

Upon returning to the company area, you stand retreat. In addition to the bugle call being a thing of particular beauty, the formation signifies the end of the day's formal torture, plus the advent of mail call. After a brief trip to the mess hall, where your taste buds are paralyzed by a portion of creamed chicken droppings on toast, you retire to the barracks, take off your boots and socks and scratch the chigger bites that speckle your legs. Ecstasy. At last you are free to spend the remaining evening in relaxed camaraderie with your fellow recruits.

Garrison life is a bit different from what Hollywood has led you to expect. With all due respect to John Wayne and Company, troopers do not lounge about the bays playing "Danny Boy" on concertinas and harmonicas. Instead, there are fifteen radios vying for your attention with renderings of romantic ballads with words like, "Doo-Doo-Waa, Yea-Yea!"

Conversations, though they do consist primarily of reminiscences from civilian life, are generally not about good old Mom and her terrific apple pie. More often, you listen to the yokel from Alabama describing his many sexual conquests: "When all wuz jest a li'l' shaver ah usta git ma jollies out'n the watermelon patch. 'Course, in th' winter when th' melons wuz too cold, why ah'd mosey out 'n' fetch me an ol' bitch chicken . . ."

While such tales are being spun, you direct most of your attention to other pursuits, such as shining your boots and brass. The constant spitting into the lid of your shoe polish can leaves your mouth forever puckered and dry and your nasal passages are impregnated with the odor of Brasso, Blitz clothes and floor wax. Your fingers are black from shoe polish and the ink from your stamping kit, which you use to imprint every article you own with your initial and the last four digits of your serial number, knowing full well that each mark you stamp will have to be replaced after the next washing.

At last, it is time for lights out, which means you may perform the final most cherished ritual of your day. You withdraw a small calendar from your footlocker and draw a huge black X across today's date. One day nearer comes the goal your life is now directed toward: Phase Out.

The barracks leaps into darkness. You crawl into your bunk and relax for the first time in seventeen hours.

The night swirls and eddies over you like black water in a quiet cove. Your body is numb with exhaustion, for it has been taxed to the very limits of its endurance. Your brain is quite alert, however, for it has not had to function much at all. Part of it - the part that contains the real you - remains curled within you in a little ball, biding its time until the day it can come out of exile and return you to the same proud, intelligent and sensitive creature you were before this fantasy all began.

But at least another small portion of your brain has begun to show signs of actually enjoying its eight-week holiday. As evidence, every once in a while, you catch yourself doing something…well, let's face it….something "gung ho". Just yesterday for example you found yourself screaming "AAARRGGHH!" during bayonet training and really meaning it. And when you write home it seems you're always bragging about the hardships you're enduring, as though you were proud of the tough son-of-a-bitch you are becoming.

You close your eves and hope to dream of home, to visit for a few fleeting hours the reality you seem to be losing touch with in your waking hours. Brainwashing, you are learning is an awesome thing. You slip into the carefree realm of slumber and you are at peace. Suddenly, the lights flick on again and a new day has begun.

For more than three weeks, you have not been permitted to leave the company area except in formation. Perhaps what you need is a break in routine and a change of scenery to bring some perspective back to your life. On the momentous fourth weekend, your company is promised its first Post Liberty. This means you will be allowed to leave the company area all by yourself, provided you are not scheduled for weekend duty. You present yourself before the Company Bulletin Board to see if your name appears on any of the duty rosters posted there. The First Sergeant God has smiled upon you: you may scamper from your cage in search of sanity.

Of course, you must confine your quest within the boundaries of the camp. The post theater offers such delightful diversions as "The Battle of the Bulge" and "The Hill"; the Service Club furnishes pool tables surrounded by fellow recruits who were cutthroats and bandits a few weeks back. So you end up at the PX drinking low beer, playing pinball machines and engaging in conversations that always begin with "What week are you in?" If a recruit sports a weapons-qualification medal, you ogle him like he was Audie Murphy, and should he inform you that he is in his eighth week, he is God Almighty. Post Liberty only further depresses you.

Then, on the fifth weekend, you are awarded your first pass and are turned loose into the local town. The first thing you learn about its citizens is that they despise the military, and the second is that they are a bunch of parasites who would perish if the Post weren't near. The town's main street is a midway of gin mills, cat houses and various sideshows: the sweet, all-American girls who frequent these places all have syphilis or TB, drink nothing but champagne and speak the same language as your platoon sergeant. It is not long before you flee to the USO.

Here, you are met by a multitude of mother images and you begin to loosen up. You even get to send a free telegram to the folks back home. There is a dance at the USO that evening for which young ladies are shipped in from some place where everyone looks just like your sister. You are seeking to regain reality, but you keep ending up in the Twilight Zone.

Meanwhile, back at the training schedule, you are being introduced to such medieval tortures as the Gas Chamber, the Infiltration Course and a three-week-long phenomenon known as Trainfire, which involves orientation and marksmanship qualification with a weapon known as the M-14 rifle. This versatile armament is a tremendous improvement over the old model, for in the days of the M-1, the most memorable thing a soldier learned in 106 hours of instruction was how to slide the rifle bolt back for inspection, then let the bolt slam shut on his thumb, thereby relieving him of One Each - Nail, Thumb, Black and Blue.

Aside from Record Firing which determines your shooting skill, there is also the proficiency test in which your entire company is rated for efficiency, then berated for inefficiency. Perhaps the most memorable of all examinations is the Physical Training Test. This test requires you to do pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and squat jumps until your entire body turns to Silly Putty, and its finale involves flailing your feet through a 300-yard run, after which you collapse, senseless and retching upon a hill of belligerent ants.

Finally, the eighth week arrives and the last obstacle looms before you: Bivouac. Carrying several hundred pounds of equipment, you plod ten miles into no-man's land and pitch your tent beneath the stars. You eat K-rations, smoke cigarettes left over from World War I and permit yourself to be fed upon by various insects that have starved themselves for weeks in anticipation of your arrival.

During the march home, your full-field pack digs two-inch ruts into your shoulders, your rifle makes your right arm hang half a foot lower than your left and the rotten smell of your own body makes you gag with every breath. One-hundred-and-six thirty-inch steps per minute, two and one-half miles per hour, the march takes four hours that seem like four months and shortens your life by forty years.

The final hurdle is passed. Now! Now, brave soldier, at last the time is here! Donning your crispest khakis, you join a thousand other classmates for your Graduation Review. You march past the reviewing stand, your eyes right, your rank in perfect alignment, and you are . . . yes, goddammit, you are PROUD! Somewhere, in the depths of your metal heart, there is a fragile voice pleading for recognition. But it is drowned out by the thunderous chords of "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

The clothing shakedown is a breeze. When you turn in your weapon, it is spotless. Across the quadrangle awaits a bus to carry you home, where there will doubtless be a ticker tape parade in your honor. This is your last formation. Your name is called. You sound off like you've got two pair- and double-time it to the first sergeant to receive your precious orders:

RCT (EI) YOURNAME US522496264 TOE 2yrs ETS

Jul 68 BPED Jul 66 DROS none (PL), Mo pur par 161

SO 13, rel asg (RSI) Perm Latrine Orderly for STRAF

Aloc 4A. etc. . . .

Resolving to decode the thing later, you pack it away carefully and break for the bus, your duffel bag weightless on your shoulder. Your hair is bristle-straight, your body lithe with wiry muscles and crammed with destructiveness. Where is that puny juvenile who slouched into camp just two short months ago? He has dimmed to but a shadow in the near-forgotten past. You are not that wet-eared infant any more. Now you are a trained, professional killer and your mind is scheming for an excuse to wear your uniform throughout your leave.

Go back and take the old hometown by storm, killer! Thrill Mom and Dad with such princely rhetoric as "Who policed up my ****ing C*** Cap"' And when you do, prepare to learn a simple truth:

You, oh, staunch and fearless warrior, are no longer fit for anything in this world, but to be a ****ing soldier.