About 9 months ago, I embarked upon a journey that only some others I know have been on. Undertaking a physical and mental challenge that few can overcome; traveling a road traveled by just 1% of the population. We had moved to our new home only a couple of days ago and I was set to leave the next day. Looking back at it now feels surreal but in the moment I had so many emotions racing through my head – the anxiety, nervousness, and thoughts of inadequacy were overpowering. Armed with nuggets of wisdom from my husband, I set out on this solo experience that no one except I could help me win.
After what seemed like hours of in-processing at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), I was put on a van to Fort Jackson, South Carolina where around 35,000 potential Soldiers attend Basic Combat Training (BCT) every year. The longest 10 weeks of my life had commenced. I turned in my phone and said goodbye to my civilian belongings at reception. It was just going to be Drill Sergeants, training, getting smoked, PT, chow (meal time), and getting smoked some more, from now. During this time I wrote letters, a lot of them. I remember being continuously exhausted, but I still tried to write and sketch as often as I could. The sketches in this blog were all done during BCT and enclosed within my letters to my husband.
The days were long. Infact those 10 weeks seemed to be one long stretch of time until it finally came to an end. Most of us got through it by looking forward to the next chow time (probably the only time Drill Sergeants didn’t scuff us up). Being in the bay with 60 other females from all walks of life was a culture shock in itself. There were fights, drama, power struggles, you name it. My ability to filter conversations and shut out unwanted people kept me going through all of this in addition to my focus. I was there not because I had nowhere else to go, nothing better to do. I made a choice to be there, and so I took it one day at a time. Eventually, I found myself “surviving and thriving” as the Drill Sergeants like to put it.
Over the next few weeks I learnt Army Drill & Ceremony, navigated through obstacle courses, repelled down a 40 ft wall, did land navigation, spent the longest 5 minutes in the (tear) gas chamber, qualified on my rifle and rucked over 40 miles with a 45 pound ruck on my back during the Forge. And yes, we trained in masks, all day all night. Each time I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
During my time in training, one of the biggest things I learnt was, to accept. To accept the very real risk of failure and serious injury, not having things go my way, and my physical limitations. I am a terrible loser, which sometimes makes me risk averse. On the contrary, every minute of training was risking something. I also actively avoid conflict, which hurts my negotiation skills but I had to negotiate outside of my comfort zone while living with other Soldiers who came from all walks of life. Often times, my imposter syndrome would try to get the better of me. I constantly had an inner dialogue to convince myself that I was capable, and that I could finish the task at hand, and deservedly be called a Soldier. Mind over matter, as they say.
One of the most important pieces of wisdom from my husband came in a letter just in time.
You are a Warrior in transition. Doubt will enter your head. Crush it when it does. It is normal to have doubt, to fail at a task. Don’t let it discourage you. Let the enemy feel doubt, let the enemy be discouraged. A Warrior feels these things, but overcomes them; does not let them cripple the actions the Warrior must take. The actions of a single Warrior can turn the tide.
And just like that, it was graduation day and I wasn’t a trainee any more. I was a Soldier. But my journey was far from over. My next stop was Fort Sam Houston, Texas where I would train to become a Combat Medic for the next 16 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Combat Medic school is one of the most mentally and physically intense schools as can be gathered by the importance of the job. Rucking several miles everyday with 30 pounds of gear in the simmering Texas heat became second nature. Looking back at BCT, the Forge seemed like child’s play. The medical training itself was extremely demanding, especially under pressure, but more on that some other time.
I am glad to have finished what I started and can’t wait for the next adventure. But for now, I’m content knowing that the most difficult decision I will have to make today is what to make for dinner!