Ground Week, Part 1: In which I wonder about my sanity, logistics, and meet the charismatic Captain Greene
Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed when I got off the plane in Columbus, Georgia was the humidity. I’d just come from Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Hot. Mountainous. Dry. Fort Benning? Humidity worth a dozen clichés.
One thing about living on a military post–it’s big. Getting around can be a challenge. Fortunately, the Airborne Training Battalion was about twenty minutes worth of sweat away. I spied a shoppette on my way there.
It was Saturday and the training battalion area was deserted. Anyone who wasn’t unlucky enough to be pulling duty was gone, gone, gone. But I needed to sign in, find out where I needed to be and when I needed to be there.
At the threshold of Charlie Company, there was a sign informing anyone who entered or left that they first needed to do ten pushups. I scanned the area. No one, I mean no one, was around. The windows in the barracks were dark. Was anyone watching? Would it matter if I simply stepped into the company area? Technically, I wasn’t signed in yet, so technically, the rule didn’t apply to me.
It felt like I stood there forever, but it was only a few moments of indecision. Then I put my stuff on the ground and knocked out ten pushups. If nothing else, I figured I should get used to doing it.
I had no idea.
I found out there was a company formation on Sunday afternoon–required for everyone. I went back to my room in the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) to polish boots and contemplate the little round thing in the center of my room. I think its function was to suck the water from the air. It worked. Sort of. I still broke a sweat if I did too much–like getting dressed.
Now, I had heard going to Airborne School as an officer was pretty sweet. Relatively speaking. Sure, the black hats purportedly hated officers and would dog you relentlessly, but that was a small price to pay for a room in the BOQ and all those privileges that come with being an officer.
Not ten minutes into the first formation did the training company commander, Captain Greene, let us know he thought that was pure bullshit. He left the black hats to harass the enlisted troops and he led the officers around to the back of one of the barracks and into its basement.
The second the doors closed, he dropped us for push ups. He alternated, push ups, flutter kicks, push ups, flutter kicks. Then up, to do “side straddle hops” (because the Army can’t call these jumping jacks for some reason).
In all of this, he threaded through the group, although how, I’m not certain. We packed the place. We kicked each other doing flutter kicks, smacked each other doing side straddle hops.
We were no better, he told us, than the enlisted outside. In fact, we were worse, thinking we could skate through Airborne as officers, with special privileges. Not in his company. From the moment the training day started, we would not be allowed to leave the area. This basement dungeon was our hole away from home. If we weren’t training, we’d be in our hole.
The only thing he couldn’t do was make us sleep there (and if he could, I’m betting he would have). He put us through the paces, letting us know we were too pathetic to make it through the first week, never mind the entire course. If you didn’t get all the way down during the push ups, he’d be in your face (and I do mean, right there, close-enough-to-smell-his-breath, in your face).
And I couldn’t get all the way down.
I was crushed between two lieutenants who were no doubt line backers at one time. I thought my elbows would snap inward. At least I could do flutter kicks for days, but I was so afraid he’d single me out as a weak female.
He didn’t. To him, we were all legs (not airborne), unworthy, scum. It was equal opportunity abuse.
This went on for maybe an hour. I don’t know. When you’re in situations like this, five minutes can seem like days, and an hour, when it’s done, can seem like fifteen minutes. When we all finally staggered from the hole, the rest of the company had been dismissed. The compound was empty.
The next formation was at four thirty in the morning for physical training. I had less than twelve hours figure out the logistics of the hole (like how I would eat), spit polish my now scuffed boots, and contemplate my sanity.
To be continued…