Infantrymen have a pride and arrogance that most Americans don’t understand and don’t like. Even soldiers who aren’t infantrymen don’t understand. The pride doesn’t exist because we have a job that’s physically impressive. It certainly doesn’t exist because it takes a higher level of intelligence to perform our duties. It’s sad and I hate to admit it, but any college student or high school grad can physically do what we do. It’s not THAT demanding and doesn’t take a physical anomaly. Nobody will ever be able to compare us to professional athletes or fitness models. And it doesn’t take a very high IQ to read off serial numbers, pack bags according to a packing list, or know that incoming bullets have the right of way.
The pride of the infantryman comes not from knowing that he’s doing a job that others can’t, but that he’s doing a job that others simply won’t. Many infantrymen haven’t seen a lot of combat. While that may sound ideal to the civilian or non-infantry soldier, it pains the grunt. We signed up to spit in the face of danger. To walk the line between life and death and live to do it again – or not. To come to terms with our own mortality and let others try to take our life instead of yours. We have raised our hands and said, “Take me, America. I am willing to kill for you. I am willing to sacrifice my limbs for you. I will come back to America scarred and disfigured for you. I will be the first to die for you.” [Most of you will hate me anyway.]
That’s why the infantryman carries himself with pride and arrogance. He’s aware that America has lost respect for him. To many he’s a bloodthirsty animal. To others he’s too uneducated and stupid to get a regular job or go to college. Only he knows the truth. While there are few in America who claim to have respect for him, the infantryman returns from war with less fanfare than a first down in a high school football game. Yes, people hang up their “Support Our Troops” ribbons and on occasion thank us for our service. But in their eyes the infantryman can detect pity and shame; not respect. Consider this: How excited would you be to meet the average infantryman? Now compare that with how excited you’d be to meet a famous actor or professional sports player and you will find that you, too, are guilty of placing the wrong people on a pedestal. You wouldn’t be able to tell me how many soldiers died in the war last month, but you’d damn sure be able to tell me if one of the actors from Twilight died.
Yet the infantryman doesn’t complain about that. He continues to do his job; to volunteer his life for you, all while being paid less in four years than Tom Brady makes in one game.
It’s a job most Americans don’t understand, don’t envy, and don’t respect. That is why we have pride for the infantry.
On 04 JAN 02, I left the Tampa, FL Military Entrance & Processing Station for Fort Benning, GA in a 15-pack van with 11 other future soldiers. We were headed for the 30th AG Reception Station before being pushed on to the Infantry Training Brigade (ITB). Georgia had received an ice storm on the 3rd and we ended up having to spend another night in the hotel in Tampa before making the drive. It took about 10 hours to make the drive and we arrived after midnight.
Upon arrival, we could see four men in uniform, wearing BDUs and brown Smokey the Bear hats. Under the arc sodium lights outside the building, all we could see is their jaw lines. It was quiet and cold. We got our bags out of the van and once we turned around, the shark attack began. In a tone loud enough to wake the dead in another state and with words that would make your mother blush, we were rushed inside to dump all of our belongings on a table. Our personal effects were searched for contraband. The next thing that we were instructed to do was to shave our [expletive x4] faces. We got our first hair cut shortly thereafter. Fuzzy cue ball is not my favorite coif for cold weather.
30th AG is where you get your Army identity. It’s where your pay check, medical benefits, insurance, and training starts. It was a whirlwind. Let’s skip forward a week. We marched to our basic training company, C Co 2-19th Infantry, “Rock of Chickamaugua”. Our duffle bags road on a truck. Drill Sergeants can be evil bastards. This was where we first experienced unrealistic time hacks to accomplish a task and then swiftly and severely punished when we failed to meet it. The duffle bags were thrown into a haphazard pile behind the trucks. Now, you have less than a minute to find two with your name on them. It’s like trying to find a pair of needles in a stack of needles while the timer on a bomb counts down. You get it now?
I am not going to recount all of basic training. Either you’ve been there and done that or you haven’t. If you haven’t gone yet, I don’t want to ruin the fun. I will make a short list of things that I will never forget:
- 1. The Obstacle Course- You and your Battle Buddy charging through the mud and water, exhausted, but feeling completely alive.
- 2. Eagle Tower- Repelling from the top of a tall ass tower. It was pretty awesome and rather terrifying at the same time.
- 3. THE BAYONET- A 25 mile foot march, broken up with squad/platoon attacks missions along the way (one of them involving climbing a clay cliff face to attack a dug in position). It ended with use climbing up Honor Hill, the pathway going up and the top of the hill lit with torches. The hand you a pint of grog before pinning your crossed rifles on the chest.
- 4. The Steak Breakfast the next morning.
- 5. Graduation Day- Standing on that field with your fellow baby grunts, ready to make your way to Airborne School or to your first Duty Station. You can feel the change in you. You stand taller, you are mentally and physically stronger. It was a proud day.
I am going to start writing about my journey in an effort to help someone prepare for what they are about to face. Things have changed in the last 12 years, but a lot of things haven’t. I hope you learn from these lessons, DR. If you’re willing…
To be continued…