by John Curran

rsz_woods_smallerI went in active first week of September. It was gonna be September October for Basic and I was at Fort Jackson S.C.. It was 1976. Basic, I knew, was gonna be a trip in itself, but that made it even more interesting was the fact that, for I believe the first time, the Army was gonna experiment with running lady soldiers through basic right alongside the men. It was the first wave of new changes coming in after the closing out of the Vietnam era. Yeah, our battalion consisted of five companies, two of which were entirely female. Wow.

OK. Basic itself, like I say, even besides the girlies, was just chock full of fun filled activities, as it always had been. You know, basic training. I mean, we’ve all seen a few movies. Sometimes they even get it right, mostly.

And so it was like that. Structured in a way it had been no doubt for ages. You’re gonna get pushed, mentally, physically. You’re gonna learn about and shoot weapons. You’re gonna interact with a lot of different peoples, some ya ain’t gonna like. You’re gonna have to follow orders, throughout, not as bad as it sounds, that. Easy really, long as you don’t make it hard. All of that, and you meet the standard, walk the walk a little bit, and you get through it. Just about everybody does. There’s always a few that don’t though. Always a few washouts, headed back to the block. The poor unfortunates who couldn’t even get started. I myself was almost one of them.

I was a little older than most of the rest of my fellow recruits. At 23 I was even like an old man. I’d just finished college. What was I doing there? That’s another story there. Suffice to say, already I was sort of a freak in the situation. Older. And not maybe in the type of shape I mighta’ thought I was in.

I had trouble with a coupla’ things, one of them being the damn monkey bars. Ya had to hang, go down to the far end, turn, come all the way back, at least once without falling off, to qualify. And qualify was a must ‘cause this little item was one part of the PT test, which you had to pass in it’s entirety or you didn’t pass Basic. But that wasn’t until the very end. Every day though during the eight weeks, at some point , no matter what else might be going on, the drill sergeant would assemble us at the Bars, as it was called, for everybody to take a quick up and back, or at least to try. Some of these guys could go up and back probably all day if they had to. Regular monkeys. Others, like me, couldn’t even do it once, try as much as we could. Always not quite making it, those last few bars, having to drop.

The fatties, the weaklings, and freaks like me. And the old drill sergeant would see all, and he’d know, ‘cause he’s seen plenty. Not all of us were gonna make it, and Sarge was starting to figure, just which ones that was gonna be. He might even let you know to your face, in front of everybody, what he thought of your performance, what your prospects probably were gonna be, after you’ve just dropped, for the Nth time.

Yeah, so, as we neared the end, this was starting to get on my mind, a little bit. Coming into the last weeks and it’s wrapping up. One thing still though, the final PT test. So anyway, over on the other side, was this chick I’d been eyeballing since early on. Contact was minimal, but you’d see them out there, everyday, the girls. The female recruits. Hot damn. And you know what that was. This one was a beauty. A raven haired thing, she hung out with the black girls. You know, always there’s all kinds of cliques. I’d see her along the way, the six eight weeks. They kept us separated pretty good but there’s always ways. Sometimes you’d at least get to say Hi, how ya doing.

It was at the end. The final test. Me and the boys. I flunked the bars. Again. Me and Fattie and the rest of the weaklings and Sarge, he let us know. “Yeah, that’s what I figured” he actually said that. That skunk. He was a meanie. He really was.

But the Army wasn’t such a meanie ‘cause you know what, they were gonna actually let me and Fattie and the other assorted weaklings have another shot at it tomorrow with the girls. Can you believe it? It was true. Some things ya don’t just make up. Yessir Buddy, believe it me and Fattie and various assorted weaklings were out there early next morning ,our little troop, a la especial. I guess the rest of the huskies were just sleeping in, while off we marched, the little rear guard behind two companies of women, heading out for their final PT test, as a fine early morning misty kind of rain was blowing in. And on the march the girls began to sing that great Gordon Lightfoot song ‘In the Early Morning Rain’ and boy it was just so appropriate, and moving.

So, I didn’t have too much time left, and not too many more chances. In fact I now had exactly one more chance. This was it. The kind Army, those good fellas, were gonna let me try one more time at the girls PT TEST. I mean, even the girls were expected to do this now, all of it to include the bars. And me, Fattie and various other weaklings, well kind Army was gonna sort it out now, one last shot. And dammit, this time I got on them bars and I made it. I was on my way to Hawaii.

And the very last thing, the last event was the mile run. It was the usual oval track. We had to do it within a certain time. It was easy. You could practically walk it. Practically but not quite. It was still a mile. And so there we were, me and Fattie and a coupla’ weaklings and about four or five girls ready to do our mile. And wouldn’t ya know it one of the girls was Her, the one. I was right up next to her at last. Her name was Rivera. I guess I’d read her nametag. And this other chick, some blond white chick turns to me and says something like “If I collapse I guess I can get you to carry me the rest of the way” as if I’m some hunk just breezing through all this shit like it’s nothing. But that wasn’t it at all so I says back to her “Look baby I’m doing good just getting my own freaky butt through this noise” And just then after I said that Rivera turns to me with this beautiful smile and kind of a little laugh, like saying ‘Dude that was pretty funny’ . And I felt like wow, you hot damn thing.

And the next day was the graduation ceremony. All of us who’d made it through, which was most of us, including yours truly, were out there on the parade ground, spit shined and standing tall. And all the awards were being handed out and all that. And when they got to the Top prize for the top rifle shooter the one for the men was some kid from another company. Our guy hadn’t made it. And this kid comes out there in front of everybody, the expert of experts. And then they called the top prize for the women. It was Rivera, and didn’t she look, like a warrior that day.

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