top of page

2. Late To Formation: Advanced Individual Training

Chapter VII

“As the nation goes, so goes it’s military.”

Jan 2007

Golf Company, 232 Medical Battalion (Reception)

Fort Sam Houston, Texas

Reception was like a vacation compared to Basic Combat Training, because the drill sergeants didn’t really care what we did, as long as we did nothing. Their only job in reception was to make sure we didn't start any fires or kill each other. Everything was real laid back. The female barracks was the building next door, which was different. Up to that point, the military for me was a male only institution, so seeing women in uniform took a second to get used to. It turned out the military was 18% female at the time, we just hadn't seen any.

Much of the fighting force was a reflection of the nation. This was explained to me by a staff sergeant in reception. “As the nation goes, so goes it’s military,” he told me. For example, in 2007, being gay in the Army was very controversial. You could get kicked out for being gay. Many of our marching cadences would openly mock gay people, and the word faggot was in heavy rotation in our vocabularies. At the time of this writing, fifteen years later in 2022, I have friends that are Senior Non-Commissioned Officers on active duty that organize pride celebrations for their companies and being gay has been completely normalized.

In 2009, I worked with an openly gay medic in Iraq. It was still illegal then, but he was touched by God himself and could raise the dead, he was so good at his job. The grunts he took care of adored him for saving their lives.

When I was an E5 in the National Guard around 2015, we had soldiers that were openly gay, and they smarter than any three people in the room combined. Throughout all of that, I figured the dead gay soldier in Iraq was just as dead as the dead straight soldier. If they could pass a PT test, shoot the enemy, apply a tourniquet on me and drag my fat ass to a nine-line medevac pick up site, God Bless. Welcome to the team. At the time, it was the end of President Obama’s second term. They were starting to flirt with incorporating trans people into the military. It reminded me of what that staff sergeant in Golf Company told me about how, “You can chart the trajectory of our nation and its fighting force by what party is in power. As the political makeup changes, whatever social norms they want to update start with the military.”

I passed this education onto the soldiers in my unit in 2015. Privates would ask me about what i thought on the trans-soldier question. I had seen a version of this play out and thought about all the gay soldiers i knew up to that point. My answer was, “If they can shoot a rifle, pass a PT test, and know how to call in a nine line, that’s all that matters. I might not be best friends with them, because there’s so much about being trans I don't understand. But if they can meet the standards, they’re welcome on my team any day.”

Chapter VIII

"Foxtrot Company"

After reception company, we were sent to Foxtrot Company, 232 Medical Battalion. Several soldiers from my basic training platoon were there, including the mob leader and my battle buddy John. Along with them came my sense of confidence. I had done something with my life. I wasn’t a failure anymore. I could be a success, and the drill sergeants reenforced that idea. We stood in formation, and they told us how only the best of the best end up in Foxtrot Company, and that included me. I hadn't been apart of anything that was more than OK up to that point. What a world to consider me amongst such professionals.

The best of the best woke up at 0430. PT formation was 0500. Push-ups and sit ups started our mornings. On good days, I avoided the fire ants. After PT, we’d shower, change and go run through the chow hall for breakfast. Then it was class time. The course was split up into two sections. The first section being the EMT side, where they ran you through an eight-week crash course designed to make you pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians exam. The civilian version of the course is typically between six months and a year. The Army version had a 50% failure rate at the time. It was all the fun and stress and drill sergeants of basic combat training, with an extra added bonus of a crash course in modern emergency medicine. So, you had to be on the ball. Because they made one thing inherently clear; On the job, if you failed, people died.

The first topic was CPR, and they covered it in a very quick week. It was my first exposure to it, especially at that pace. I failed the first try and passed on the retake, just barely. That set a bad pattern for me throughout the rest of the course. That was like flying a plane with one engine. Once you passed a test, you had to dump out all the information you learned to pass the next test. But if you’re constantly on the retake, you’re having to remember two entirely different modules of information. I could only do it for so long.

Around 1130, we’d break for lunch. We would all file out of the classrooms and down into formation, then march to the Dining Facility, called Slagel DFAC in honor of a combat medic who served in three wars. We'd have quick lunch there. I remember just sitting there being exhausted. I'm sure I stuck my head up somehow because I was sitting at this table, which I'm almost positive wasn't a drill Sergeant table, and one of them said sits next to me and asks, “Who the fuck said you could sit next to me?”

I looked up from my blurry meal and replied, “Drill Sergeant, I think you sat next to me?”

My contradiction caught the attention of his comrades, and they joined our discussion. One drill sergeant lady sat next on my left and asked, “Are you contradicting my battle buddy? Get away from me, you cant sit next to me!” Then she kept sliding down closer to me and telling me to stop sitting next to her. I kept sliding my tray to the right of the table, until one of them sat on the right of me, boxing me in. I took my tray and left after that.

Lunch ran from 1130 to 1300. That sounds like a nice leisurely meal, but each training company held hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, so it took a minute to get the whole company through. Class would continue on until dinner chow at 1700, and then the drill sergeants would keep us busy until 2100 hours. Sometimes it was pushups. Sometimes they told us war stories, and one of them is forever burned into my head.

The Senior Drill Sergeant described a patient in a combat zone as a “live action training aid.” He was on a road mission with a junior medic, and there was an ambush. Once the enemy was killed, they came up on a soldier that was so badly blown up that he wasn’t coming home. The Senior Drill Sergeant told us, “This was a perfect training opportunity. We just stayed there and worked on this guy for over an hour. I had my junior medic trying everything, because you didn’t often get this opportunity in the real world where it didn’t matter, because the dude was gonna die!” Looking back from over a decade on the job, I can see where he was detaching himself from the patient. If you don’t see them as people, the ghosts are quieter. It protects you from your emotions when the worst happens, and you fail, and people die. I never had that bad of a day on the job. I was luckier than most.

Around 2100, they’d let us go back to the barracks to conduct barracks maintenance, call your parents, study for the weekly exams. It was that last one I should have focused on, but I didn’t understand that until it was too late. By the time the third test rolled around, which was about week four, I was deep into the grindstone of studying. I was taking these little yellow caffeine pills that the PX sold, which probably aren't legal anymore. It didn’t make up for the three hours of sleep I was getting.

So, by the time the fourth test rolled around, I ran out of gas. I failed the test twice, and was recycled back a week to Alpha Company, where I was given two more chances to fail. By that point, I was just going through the motions. After failing the fourth test a total of four times, they decided being a medic wasn’t for me. I was transferred to a holdover status, where myself and several other dropouts waited around for our next step. I wasn’t part of the best of the best because I couldn’t keep up. I failed. Again. I was in danger of my new life going off track. I couldn’t let that happen. They gave me three options for a new job.

  1. Supply Clerk

  2. Cook

  3. Parachute Rigger

I picked the Supply Clerk. I was sent away to Virgina, but the shame of failure stuck with me. The match was struck, the flame afoot. I remember leaving the airport and thinking I'll be back. I don't know how, and I don't know when or why. But I will be back. I will finish this. But until then I had to go to Unit Supply School in Fort Lee, Virginia.

9 views0 comments