From Jeans to Army Greens

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We sat on our giant green duffel bags as we patiently waited for our new drill sergeants to come pick us up. We waited with anticipation as the hot summer sun beat down on our backs. When the buses finally arrived my heart sank to my stomach. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I had enlisted in the United States Army Reserves and I was on my way to Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

    The bus driver yelled at us and told us to duck our heads and to not look up.’Til this day, I still don’t know why they made us do that. Some say it was so we don’t know where we’re going and we don’t try to escape. But was basic training that bad that people have actually tried to escape in the past? I learned the answer to that question the second I arrived.

As soon as I got off that bus, all the new soldiers and I were shark attacked by what seemed to be 40 drill sergeants. I ran in the same direction as everyone else even though I lowkey wanted to run back home. We ran around the entire company until we no longer had the energy to keep running. Some people even passed out from exhaustion. But as we continued to run, the drill sergeants mockingly watched us, enjoying every second of our suffering. This was the start to a very long, stressful summer.

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After running for what seemed like forever, we were given one minute to call our parents to tell them we had safely made it to basic training and that we would see them for family day. As I attempted to call my house, I heard people around me talking to their parents and trying to sneak that last goodbye. The phone continued to ring but no one answered. That was the moment that everything hit me at once. I began to feel homesick and I was trying to fight back the tears so no one would see. For the first time in my life, I was going to be away from home and what made everything worse was that I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.

Fun fact, I was one of only 60 females in a group of 300 soon-to-be soldiers. Another fun fact, I was the shortest person of those 300. That gave the drill sergeants a free pass to single me out every day and to make me do the most work because, to them, I was the “weakest link.”

As weeks went by, I was only able to have contact with my parents through letters. At the end of the day, drill sergeants would hand mail out to everyone. My drill sergeant in particular wanted to be extra annoying and would only give us our letters if we did push-ups for them. The rules were simple, no push-ups, no mail, so I got really good at push-ups real fast.

Getting letters from my parents were the only thing that kept me going. I would crawl into my bunk and hide underneath the covers with my flashlight as I read the 5-10 page long letters each of my parents and sisters would send me. In each letter I explained how hard training was and how I was trying my best, but the drill sergeants made my life impossible. Even though it hurt them to hear that I was going through a lot of emotional and physical pain being there, they never lost hope in me. It was because of my parents that I pushed myself beyond my limits in order to graduate. I needed to prove to them that I was able to endure one of the hardest training camps in the country and I wanted to be a part of the few who were able to pass it. Not only did I need to prove to them that I could graduate, I needed to prove it to myself and to everyone back home that doubted me and told me that women don’t belong in the military.

In order to graduate, we needed to pass a ten mile ruck march with approximately 70 lbs on our backs. At that time, I only weighed a little over 100 lbs and I was beginning to doubt my ability to even finish the ruck march. As I laid on the ground the night before the march, I got a single letter from my mom. In the letter, she wrote how proud she was of me and how she couldn’t wait to see me next week. She had been cleaning the day before she wrote the letter and explained how the song, “Let it Be” by The Beatles reminded me of her. So my mom took the time to write down the lyrics to be my “words of wisdom.” The next morning, I marched 10 miles in the scorching sun with my mother’s letter in my hand.

 

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Graduation day finally arrived and I couldn’t wait to see my family. When the ceremony was over, we were told we were not allowed to move from formation until our families found us, so I patiently waited for my family to come find me. Families all around me were reunited once more and I was still standing there waiting for my parents. I began to get anxious and started to doubt if my parents actually came to my graduation ceremony. My thoughts went back to how they never even answered my phone call when I first got to Basic Training. I had waited so long for this moment and I thought they didn’t even come to see me graduate. I continued looking around for them as I stood in formation, it began to downpour which made it harder for me to search for them. I was beginning to lose all hope, tears started to fall down my face and my face felt hot. I wanted to run away because I was a part of the few who were still waiting while everyone else was already with their families. I thought about finding my drill sergeant and asking to leave the ceremony but in that very moment as I looked up I saw my dad standing in front of me with tears in his eyes and the biggest smile on his face. I ran into my father’s arms and cried as he held me. Whatever military bearing I had developed over the last ten week were suddenly forgotten. I haven’t seen my parents for so long it almost felt unreal. All the struggles I went through while I was away was suddenly worth it when I saw how proud my parents looked when I graduated.

Even though there were times that I did regret joining because of how brutal the training was I had an amazing experience and it was those hardships that turned me into the person I am today.

        

About The Author

Hi, my name is Gabriela, or Gabby for short. I am currently a sophomore at Adelphi University. I am also a psychology major and plan on pursuing a career in clinical psychology. I am 20 years old and live in Staten Island. I have been working as a Starbucks Barista for approximatley 2 years. I also enjoy doing yoga and watching movies.