Meanwhile, back at 30th AG Battalion, I was still waiting for my slot down range…
17 November 97
Ft. Benning processing station, 30th AG Battalion
News has changed. I'm not going down range on Tuesday, I'm going on Friday. Officially, my MOS is now 11 Mike, which is mechanized infantry. We will be training on the Bradley fighting vehicles, which is a tank that holds nine people. It has a cannon and it shoots missiles, and has a machine gun mounted on it. I'm not particularly excited about this, but I will do it, as I know God has everything under control.
I am glad however, that I'm in the group of guys I am with because we are becoming good friends. There's a Korean/Bolivian immigrant in our group named Kim The Gook. That's how his name appears on the roster. Actually, his name is Tae Gook Kim, but his recruiter messed up his name and it will probably be impossible to fix. Then there is Josh McMurrey, who is on dental hold for root canal, but was miraculously removed so we can ship out on Friday. Guy LeMay, is another miracle, because he failed his PT test and they are shipping him on Friday also. These three guys are the only ones here I care to spend time with. Also, I talked them into going with me to church last Sunday. Then they all got interested in the Bible and I had to steal a Gideon Bible from the chapel so they could read one. Every time they have a free moment, they open the Bible and start reading! That is why I think we're shipping together, because God wants it that way. These are some major heathens and I'm praying for them all the time, now y'all can too.
Here's the bad news: 11 Mike MOS is three weeks longer than everyone else. Now I have 16 weeks instead of 13. I guess that no one wants us to drive a $23 million tank without lessons. Anyway...
I hope this letter reaches you before you go to Albuquerque. If so, make Cindy take you to Papa Felipe's, it's really good. Tell everyone I said hello and hurry up and get a job, because it isn't fair than I'm the only one in the family that's making money! I love you and I'll see you in a few days; I am ready to come home today!
17 November 97,
30th AG Battalion, Ft. Benning,
Hello Baby Doll,
I was just thinking about you and decided to set down to write you, even though I wrote you earlier. Today, a made an appointment with the chaplain. I really like him, he is a very sincere Baptist preacher. He asked why I wanted to see him and I really didn't know why, except that the Lord told me to go see him. I had been wondering about the best way to integrate Army and religion, so we talked about that and we talked about you. He tells stories about when he was in the field and the things he did to stay close to his wife when away. He was really impressed that I was ordained, and he mentioned how refreshing it was for him not to have to deal with the bad problem or to try to fix someone's life. He looks exactly like Rick Moranis, except serious and sincere. I will miss having him around. Then he made me salute him and I left. Then on my way to formation with my 11 Mike friends, we went too close to Alpha Co. formation and the drill sergeant smoked us. BAD! We counted more than 100 push-ups and jumping jacks, not to mention the "hold your legs six inches off the floor," which we did forever. In all, I was hurting bad. I am almost completely over the cold I had, save some occasional coughs. I feel fine now. Well, I will pick this up later. Goodnight, I love you!
18 November 97, 0650 hours,
Good Morning! I surely do miss you. They are shipping people out of here left and right. Groups are going out every day now, but we will be one of the last to go. Groups that came in here after us have shipped out due to their MOS. 11 Bravo's are all gone, so are 11 Charlie's (mortars). 11 Mike's have to stay until Friday, oh well... I’m really looking forward to coming home. We should stay in Dallas that night and eat out, go see some stuff and then go home. I think we're released on Dec. 21st or 22nd, I'm not sure. But, I will be home in about four weeks, so start counting down! Well Sweetie, I will talk to later.
I love you and I miss you a lot.
When boot camp finally came, it was a different story. I started counting down the days to when I would see Sarah. Originally, it was 13 weeks, then 15 weeks. Then we lost three weeks at the reception station, creating a total of 18 weeks. I was entering training week five before I had an opportunity to talk to Sarah on the phone. Our First Sergeant gave us five minutes to talk, our only opportunity for two more weeks. This was life down range, and I just had to get used to it. I was now part of the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry, Charley Company--to be specific.
Thanksgiving came, and I ate in the mess hall. The food we ate is another four paragraphs of misery that I will spare you, but suffice it to say, I had a lousy Thanksgiving. We were totally cut off from the world; I had no idea how the Dallas Cowboys were doing, or if the Gulf War had restarted. (We were having problems again in Iraq.) The only bright spot in my life was the idea that at Christmas I was going to go home for two weeks!
I had lost about 15 pounds, and was dearly looking forward to eating some real food. The Army rescheduled our graduation date because the holidays interrupted our schedule. Our new date to graduate from basic training and AIT became March 5, 1998. That was a long stretch from 13 weeks starting October 17, 1997. Oh well, I had a plan and a purpose. I can do anything as long as God is with me. I just didn’t realize how hard things were going to become…
Christmas came and I went home to recover from the four actual weeks of basic training I had endured. Sarah cried when she saw me wearing my dress uniform, and I cried because I was so happy to be home. We had a great Christmas, the only thing hanging over our heads was that I was about to return to Georgia, and wouldn’t see Sarah again until February 1, 1998, the day scheduled for family visitations. I returned to Ft. Benning with a renewed fire to see this trial through to the end.
One thing I was painfully aware of was that I was no longer a teenager. In fact, it had been 10 years since I had done any organized sports. My body was rejecting the physical punishment I was enduring. Never the less, I lowered my head and marched forward. I started out in the lower 10% of my platoon physically, but I quickly rose to the top 10%. I was feeling good, despite the pain in my muscles, back, shoulder, head, hands, feet, and legs. When we would do our Physical Fitness Test, my scores would grow stronger weekly. It became evident to my Drill Sergeants that I was putting extra effort into my performance, and it was paying off. I knew that they respected me, which helped tremendously.
The two weeks I had off for Christmas allowed my body a badly needed rest, and I was recharged and moving forward upon my return. In the second week of January, things started to change for me. When we would run three or five miles in the morning, my feet would swell so badly that I could hardly walk, much less put on my boots. I ignored the pain and proceeded to continue my training.
On the last weekend of January, we arose early, 02:00 AM, to be specific, and went on a 10-mile road march. We carry a lot of weight in our packs and gear, not to mention our weapons. It was a dark night, and it was cold. Snowflakes were falling, and it was getting colder. In fact, I found out that it was one of the coldest weekends we had endured. The temperature was dropping into the 20’s and it was COLD! There was no moonlight to guide us; I could only see the guy’s helmet in front of me. I was marching along thinking of how cold I was when the course of my life drastically changed, and things would never be the same again. I had one of those moments I would live over and over again, but there was no way I could change it….