Rocking Women Army Rangers

This week, we had the historic first: Two women survived Ranger training.  I’ve obviously never been to Ranger training–nor would I have wanted to–but I knew people who went through it.  Not for the faint hearted.

Of course, it comes with an awesome action photo.

In this file photo, soldiers test their physical stamina during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga., April 21, 2015. Soldiers attend the course to learn additional leadership, and technical and tactical skills in a physically and mentally demanding, combat simulated environment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paul Sale
In this file photo, soldiers test their physical stamina during the Ranger Course on Fort Benning, Ga., April 21, 2015. Soldiers attend the course to learn additional leadership, and technical and tactical skills in a physically and mentally demanding, combat simulated environment. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paul Sale

My basic training was in New Jersey, starting about May (I was actually there in April, but we didn’t have enough women for a whole class).  It was typical New Jersey weather–hot and humid.  Lots of mosquitoes.  The BDUs–similar to what you see in the photo except for the camo pattern–would get soaked through with sweat.  The uniform is fine when it’s dry, but when it’s wet, it’s like wearing cardboard.

We were out on the range one day changing these big targets and soaked through with sweat.  Just so hot out.  Then it started to pour all of sudden, and we were out there, hands raised to the sky, because the rain felt so good!

Time, Military Style

The Desert Storm veterans have been discussing military time. Some still use it 25 years later. My father uses it off and on, though he was never in the military.

Military time is 24 hour time. That is, once you hit 1:00 in the afternoon, military time continues the numbers, so 1:00 becomes 1300. It’s pronounced thirteen hundred hours.

There are probably two reasons behind it:

  1. It’s easy to mix up the times. In most cases in civilian life, context is kind of obvious. If you have a doctor appointment at 10:00, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s probably in the morning. But during Desert Storm, the airwar started at 0300, so 3:00 wouldn’t have had any context.
  2. The 24 hour time further moves the soldier into the military culture and forces her to think differently than the civilian world.

When I first entered Basic Training at Fort Dix (I enlisted about now, 25 years ago), the drill sergeants immediately got us onto the 24 hour time.

It was hard for me because I was always have to add the time up in my head to translate it into 24 hour time. I had sort of landmarks, like 1600, which is 4:00 p.m. That was because I watched the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which had an episode called “The Sky’s on Fire.” In it, the submarine crew has to fire a missile at the Van Allen Radiation Belt to keep a fire from burning up the world. Guess what time they had to fire the missile?

Then there’s 2000 hours (twenty-hundred), which I’ve always associated with 10:00 p.m. because of all the zeroes I guess, but 10:00 p.m. is actually 2200 hours.

What no soldier ever wanted to hear was the phrase “Oh-dark-thirty” coming out of a first sergeant’s mouth. The first sergeant is kind of a personnel manager, but he also serves as a parent to the younger soldiers. “Oh-dark-thirty” tended to me something like, “I’d better not be coming at oh-dark-thirty to bail your ass out of jail.”

The time never really took for me in a way that stuck. It probably was because I never really wrote it down a lot, which would have etched it more solidly. But I always knew I wasn’t going to stay in the military forever, and a lot of times I was trying to get away from it when I was not on duty.

The result:

  1. On duty, I thought civilian time, mapped it in my head, and used the military time aloud. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds. We started work at 6:00 a.m. and ended worked at 5:00 p.m. Most of the harder times were after that, and I always knew that getting off work was at 1700!There are priorities.:)
  2. Off duty, I reverted to civilian time.

And when I got out, it was easy to go back to civilian time.

But times have changed. You can now go online and use a time converter!

When accidents happen in the army

One of the things that a soldier constantly hears is about safety.  If you go to the firing range, you hear a safety briefing.  If you are driving a truck, you get a safety briefing.  Obviously, this is important because we’re dealing with some very dangerous equipment like rifles and trucks with 6 foot tall wheels.

During truck driver training (called Advanced Individual Training for Motor Transport Operators), this older dark-skinned man was giving us a lecture on some aspect of training.  Of course, because it was training, the army was doing it’s best to keep us exhausted, so we were all struggling not to doze off in the classroom.  Suddenly he got really upset at us, and his voice trembled in his anger.

Then he told us a story about an accident he’d seen.  He was retired military, and he had been on a convoy, following behind another truck.  The truck was a deuce and half truck, which you’ve seen in war films.  It’s the truck with a large, canvas cover draped over the back and soldiers inside.

As he watched, the truck drifted off the road and went down the embankment.  All the soldiers were killed, and he’d seen people he’d known die.

Most people don’t think much about safety.  “It won’t happen to me,” or “We work in an office.  What could happen here?”   They can happen anywhere to anyone, and sometimes they can be quite strange, like this one at an Oklahoma military base.  Someone at SciFy channel will probably now create a film about a deadly foam tornado that goes through a major city…


Scariest thing that happened to me in the army

A to Z Challenge Badge
A to Z Challenge Participant

I’ve had a few really scary things happen to me, one which was intentional on the army’s part, and the others a function of the environment.  So this is going to be the first of three posts on those scary things.

As the last part of basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, we had to do something called Paragon Trail.  It was a live fire exercise, as in real bullets and real grenades.  An Air Force colonel who did the same training noted:

The training was designed to simulate combat with live machine gun fire 40 feet above your head, with flares lighting up the night sky.

I would not have said that was 40 feet.  It felt a lot closer!  But it was dangerous, and things could happen.  A male soldier from another cycle had been hit by shrapnel from one of the explosions.  We could get hurt!

And I nearly did.

I think the drill sergeants planned for it to be a new moon that night.  It was so dark out, in a way that you only get out in the middle of isolation.  We were a crowd of some 90 women, and yet, it seemed like each of us was alone in that field.  The night’s blackness was solid, impenetrable.

Our task was to cross Paragon Trail in full gear — helmet, equipment belt, gas mask, and rifle.  As part of it, we had to go under an obstacle of concertina wire.  This is a razor wire.  If you’ve ever driven by a prison, that’s what you see at the top of the walls.  It’s meant to stop human beings.  Humans can get over regular barbed wire.

Danger everywhere!

Then it was my turn to go and I ran, faster than I’ve run in all my life.  Flat feet didn’t stop me here.  The rifle banged and klunked against my legs. I heard the staccato of the machine gun bullets above and the booms of the grenades all around.

My brain screamed, “I’m going to get shot!  I’m going to die!”

Fear seized me, propelling me forward, faster and faster.  Everything shut down except that one goal: The end of the field.  I didn’t breathe, I didn’t think — I just reacted.

The concertina?  I dropped to the ground, rolled over, put my rifle across my stomach, and slid underneath.  The tracer rounds streaked above me as I scraped along the ground.  At last I was free of the concertina.

By then, though,  I was sweating so much that it just poured down my face in a river.  Think Robert Hayes from Airplane when he’s trying to land.  I think I was worse.  It got onto my glasses, and I could not see anything.  So I took them off, but the sweat poured into my eyes, stinging them.  Between the dark and the sweat, I couldn’t see much.

But I still ran because I had to keep moving.  I had to get to safety!

Then suddenly a shape jumps out at me, screaming, and drags me in another direction.  It’s the drill sergeant, and I’d scared him (you can fill in your own colorful phrase here).  I’d gotten to the end of the course and had almost run into the concertina wire!

Reading about action is fun.  Being in it … well, not so much.

Next up will be “Tent fire in desert storm” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

hauling soldiers in a Cattle Car (video)

A to Z Challenge Badge
A to Z Challenge Participant

If we couldn’t march somewhere in Basic Training because it was too far, we used a cattle car. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Here’s a video, though we did not moo:

The drill sergeants put 87 women on the one we used in Basic Training.  One time we were in the green rain ponchos (if you’ve seen Private Benjamin, those are it), and it was a sea of blackness inside the cattle car with all of us jammed together.

We also used the cattle car on my first duty station at Fort Lewis, but they never took the cattle cars off post.  They’re illegal!

Next up will be “Drill and ceremonies, or all that marching,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

The first day of Basic training (Video)

A to Z Challenge Badge
A to Z Challenge Participant

First, Army Basic Training is not called Boot Camp. I think it’s a term that was originally used, but the Army moved away from it.  From what I understand, the Marine Corps still call it that.  To the Army, it’s Basic Training and is the soldier’s introduction to the military.

My basic training was at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  We were an entire class of women.  Most were 18 years old or so, and there were a few of us like me who were older.  Because I had college, I came in as a Private First Class instead of a Private (which largely means more pay, but you still are treated the same way).

When I first arrived, I ended up at Reception Station for two weeks while they got enough women to fill our Basic Training company.  That was about 90 women, so thirty per platoon.

Nothing can really prepare you for Basic Training. I can write all the details here about what it is was like, and it’d still be like being thrown into icy water in utter blackness. It is an experience beyond imagination. This is a video I ran across for Day Zero of Basic Training — are thrown into that water.

If you can only watch a few minutes of it, I won’t be offended. It was as bad as it looks, and worse, and very frightening. I had trouble watching all of it because I know what these guys are going through.

Next up will be “hauling soldiers in a Cattle Car,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.

5 military things about me

Linda Adams in desert camo uniform against a backdrop of other soldiers

1.  I was in the Army Reserve, the Army, and the Army National Guard.

Those are three different services.  I started out with the Reserve because it helped me make the decision and decided to enlist in the regular Army after Basic Training.  The National Guard was a big mistake, and I was glad to be finished with it.

2. I was the least likely soldier to be in the military.

I have “Adams Feet,” or flat feet.  The whole family on my father’s side has them.  In my case, I have high arches and they drop.  It makes me a terrible runner, and I can’t march well either.  They debated about me, then decided to let me in.  The debate happened again during Basic Training, and then again at my first duty station.  No one ever told me I had flat feet!

3. I went to war.

It was Desert Storm, when the thought of women deploying was strange and new and different.  The photo above was taken when President Bush visited us for Thanksgiving.

4. I was enlisted.

With the way everyone talks about the military in movies and film, you would think that everyone is an officer.  They make up only a small percentage of the military.  Enlisted are the bulk of the service.  Because I had a degree from a community college, I came in as a Private First Class (still a private) and left the military as a Specialist.  I’m afraid I didn’t aspire much to come up in the ranks!

5. My Basic Training was at Fort Dix, NJ.

I went during the summer.  Hot, really humid.  Imagine a heavy cotton jacket soaked with sweat, and that was what it was like for us.  Most alarming though were the signs posted on the words warning us about ticks.  Yikes!

More military stuff to see: