[December 15, 2021] August 1974 was hot and humid in the Deep South. I know because I was in U.S. Army Basic Training at Fort Polk, LA. The state of Louisiana is known for its heat, humidity, dangerous snakes, pine trees, cotton, and great country folks. I learned a lot, much about myself and the Army. There were also many unexpected lessons.
I was not fond of Basic Training because it was hard; people yelling at me, waking up way too early in the morning and not getting enough sleep, exhausting physical training (and getting shin splints), nasty attitudes from the Drill Sergeants, and the bugs, snakes, and other critters that had free rein over my body. I learned that it was a tough life, something I did expect but underestimated.
Traditionally you learn a lot being in the Army. Being part of something bigger than yourself (protecting the country) attracts many to the military. I also learned about teamwork, adaptability, resourcefulness, persistence, extreme discipline, that details matter, values like loyalty and integrity, motivation, focus, organizational skills, hygiene, taking responsibility, and producing results. Nothing should be a surprise. To me, however, I was surprised.
I also learned a few unexpected lessons:
- Keep your mouth shut. Don’t speak unless spoken to by a Drill Sergeant or Officer.
- Nobody cares what you think, and they don’t want to hear about your feelings.
- Never, ever, ever complain. Such talk is whining, and you will be reprimanded for it.
- There are lots of jerks, morons, and incompetents in the Army. Deal with it.
- Cover your ass. Something will go wrong, and you don’t want to be punished for it.
- You are entitled to nothing. Remember that you are a maggot
- Take nothing for granted. Assume nothing. Be prepared, always!
- Practice may not make perfect, but you will practice ad nauseam.
- Don’t stand out in the crowd, or you will be “volunteered” to do something unpleasant.
- You can’t rely on technology because, at some point, it will fail you.
- Don’t think you can take a shortcut because you will get caught and punished.
- Good enough is not always good enough.
These unexpected lessons made me a humble person as much as the predictable lessons. Not that I was pompous or conceited, but I did overvalue my abilities and intelligence. Those of us who had any tiny bit of arrogance got it driven out of us the first week of Basic Training.
And, if you don’t like the Army or what your job is while there, it is expected that you will just suck it up and move on. Or you could just get the heck out.
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