I was going through some old boxes and found a notebook with journal entries from my Army Basic Training. I clearly remember where I wrote it and what I was doing when I wrote it--sitting on the floor on a Sunday morning, while leaning against a washing machine as my clothes washed. But what I don't remember, are the events in the journal.
They made me laugh and brought to light how important journals can be in our lives, and not just for writers. They really are snapshot of moments, good and bad, stories we can pass on to our posterity.
Here's a page--tweaked of course, to resemble more of a story than random thoughts and events. This is the retouched version of my first experience with the Army and drill sergeants, some twenty something years ago.
“Get off the bus!” A man poked his head in the pale green Army bus. His brown felt hat shadowed his eyes. “I didn’t stutter. I said move it.”
We jumped to life in mass confusion, grabbing for duffel bags, suitcases and other belongings.
“If I have to tell you one more time, it’s going to be a very long night. Move it!”
The passengers panicked some dropping things in the rush to get off. Two other Drill Sergeants in brown hats waited outside, yelling orders, lining everyone up on a painted yellow line that ran across the pavement in front of us.
I looked down at my luggage, which sat on the ground beside me. Damn. I’d left my hat on the bus.
“What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” The voice hit me like a wall of concrete.
“I left my…,” I spluttered
“Whatever you left, forget it. You ain’t gonna need it now.”
“You heard me! I didn’t ask you anything. If I don’t ask you anything, you don’t talk. Do you understand?”
I felt tears well up in my eyes and I nodded, looking down.
“I asked you a question,” Smokey the Bear barked. “Let’s try this again. Do you understand?” He dipped down and looked up into my face. “What are you doing? Look at me when I talk to you,” the drill instructors voice pounded at me. “You ain’t nothing.”
“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.
“What! What? I ain’t no sirrrr. I’m a sergeant. From here on out you will address me as drill sergeant. Do you understand? Nod that head one more time and you’ll be holding up earth all night.” His breath was in my face, so close I could taste what had been on the menu that night.
“Yes drill sergeant.”
“Yesss drill sergeant,” he mimicked me in a whiny female voice. “Grab some balls when you answer me.”
I didn’t have balls, so I wasn’t quite sure what the hell it was he wanted. “Yes, sir I mean drill sergeant,” I said a little louder and glanced toward the end of the line when someone snickered.
“Did you all hear that?” he yelled in my face. “If any of you two bit, sewer born, worm sucking low life good for nothing trash have anything to say, you better speak up now!”
The line went silent. Not a person dared to breathe.
“I didn’t think so. You’re all a bunch of pussies.”
“No drill sergeant, we’re not. We’re soldiers,” a foolish young man at the end of the line spoke up.
The drill sergeant quickly forgot me and rushed over to the recruit, stopping inches from his face.
“We’re soldiers?” He used that feminine voice again. The kid smirked. “Not on your best day. You have to earn that right.” He got closer and grinned in the kid’s face. “You think this is funny?”
The kid shook his head and stopped smiling.
“You ain’t no soldier, boy. You’re a pussy if I’ve ever seen one and I’ve seen a lot of pussy.” The drill instructor turned around. “Here’s a little something you’re all going to be familiar with before I’m done with you.” He smiled. “It’s called the front—leaning—rest—position.” He turned his attention back to the foolish young man. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Gene, sir,” the boy grabbed some balls and yelled.
“Gene, sir?” He went nose to nose. “What the hell did I just get done saying? Do you think I said it so I could hear myself talk?”
“No, drill sergeant,” the kid said with a panicked voice.
“I ought to make you hold up the earth tonight for that one. What’s your full name?”
“Gene Cherry, what?”
“I don’t know drill sergeant. Just Gene Cherry.”
“It’s Gene Cherry, drill sergeant!” The instructor glared. “From here on out you will end all your answers with drill sergeant. Understand?”
“Yes, drill sergeant.”
He turned to look at the other recruits. “You are all privates. Do you understand?”
A few members of our group mumbled.
“I asked you if you understand!” The volume of his voice went up.
“Yes, drill sergeant,” the group yelled.
“That’s better.” Turning back to the recruit he smiled again. Something I realized wasn’t a good thing. “So we have a Cherry in our group. A pussy at that. Well Private Cherry is going to demonstrate the front leaning rest position. Right Cherry,” the instructor questioned.
“I do not know.”
“Shut up! I didn’t ask you if you knew shit, which I already know you don’t. All you privates got shit for brains.”
“Get down on the ground.”
The kid quickly sat down.
The drill instructor laughed. “You didn’t think I meant for you to rest, did you? Get on your belly. Now. Move it!” The drill instructor walked around the recruit. The boy turned to look at him. “What are you looking at? You had better put those eyes to the front. Okay. I want you to push up.” He ran around to the front of the kid and dropped to a knee. “I said push up. Do it. Now.”
The boy’s shaky arms pushed his body off the ground. “Straighten that back. Look up. Eyes front. Get that butt down. Are you some kind of sissy, Cherry?”
The drill instructor turned to look at us. “This is the front leaning rest position. You will all be familiar with it. When I say assume the position. You all better drop and it better look like this.”
Cherry’s stomach began to sag toward the ground.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You’re spoiled, pampered. Don’t worry. We’re here to work it out of you. Recover and fall back in line.”
Cherry slowly got up.
The drill instructor spun around. “Too slow. Get back down. You’ll learn to put some fire in your ass.” He moved away from Cherry to the front of the line. “The rest of you fall into the building and line up in the hallway. We’re just getting started. Oh yeah. This is going to be fun.”
We must have filled out paperwork for three hours. I could feel my hand cramping from all the writing. The Army wanted to know everything about you. I wondered what they did with all of it.
“Okay.” A drill instructor called out. “If you marked an “F” in block six of this form, stand up. Your drill instructor is here to pick you up.”
Myself and the rest of the females in the group got to their feet. As we were leaving we could hear him yelling.
“With the way some of you boys look, you should be leaving with the women. Take a last look. You are to not to talk to them or look at them again for eight weeks. Welcome to Basic Training.”
So, do you journal? If so, do you incorporate it into your writing? I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.
Have a great weekend!