Sunday, March 10, 2019

Basic Training

March 10th is a memorable anniversary for me. It was 34 years ago today when I started Basic Training. Weeks before I enlisted in the Army National Guard. Dissatisfaction with my life prompted a visit to the local recruiting office. I found out my college background made me eligible for increased pay and other bonuses. Since the Army would also cover my housing and meals during my active duty time, I could save up most of my paychecks for a planned move to Minneapolis.

I was flown from Fargo, North Dakota to Columbia, South Carolina, and then driven to nearby Fort Jackson. For the first three days I went through processing, which included getting my head shaved, receiving vaccinations, and issued army clothing. Initially, the sergeants weren’t too hard on us. I remember one in particular who was quite funny. When a couple of soldiers didn’t line up properly in formation, the sergeant compared them to Sesame Street characters.

The atmosphere drastically changed when my group of recruits was transported to a section of barracks called Tank Hill. That’s where the real training began. The drill sergeants constantly yelled at us and dropped us for pushups. I was warned in advance by my National Guard unit that drill sergeants would play a lot of mind games with us. It taught me to be mentally alert.

Boot camp wasn’t exactly like that displayed in movies such as “An Officer and a Gentleman” or “Stripes.” We couldn’t leave Fort Jackson at all even on weekends. Trainees were mostly confined to their company area except when marching to PT (Physical Training) and various classes. On Sunday mornings we were allowed to go to church, call home on a pay phone, and read the newspaper. Otherwise, we had little time to ourselves. On weeknights we might have an hour or two to write letters and shine our boots before lights out.

Another restriction we had was our diet. Sweets were forbidden except for breath mints. At the time my mother had a job selling candy and mistakenly sent me a box. My drill sergeant chewed me out thinking I was responsible for the unauthorized shipment and threw away the candy.

As a pop music fan, one restriction that impacted me was the prohibition of personal radios. On the Sunday before graduation, our drill sergeant was gone but left his office open. We turned on his radio and heard a portion of “American Top 40.” It was strange for me not recognizing some of the songs played.

A bigger concern I had was meeting the requirement of doing 30 push-ups within two minutes. Around the halfway point of basic training, I wasn’t close to reaching that mark. So I practiced doing push-ups during my spare moments. I dreaded the possibility of repeating Basic Training. For the final PT test, I did 36 push-ups.

Basic training was harder than expected but I don’t regret going through it. It taught me much-needed discipline and gave me a greater sense of self confidence I didn’t have before. In addition to being in better physical shape, I accomplished new things like navigating obstacle courses and shooting a rifle.

Until we’re promoted to heaven, every Christian should always remember we’re in a spiritual war. To prevent Satan from taking advantage of us, we need to keep the armor of God on (Ephesians 6:10-18) and avoid worldliness. 2 Timothy 2:4 says, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”

Due to recent changes such as the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, I’d be more leery about joining the U.S. Army today. Nevertheless, I go out of my way to thank current military personnel and fellow veterans for their service to our country. Then I give them gospel tracts saying I’m in the Army of the Lord. That’s one way of staying on the offensive spiritually: obeying the Great Commission.

“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” - 2 Timothy 2:3

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