Gather around people, I have a story for you all. I have a true story where the thoughts of people have been suppressed in order to be better for the common good. This is a story of me going to basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
So where to begin.
I shall begin on the streets in Elkhart…
Driving. Where was I going, what was I doing? I had a good job for a teenager; I’d been at Radio Sack and was the top salesman that year. Take into account I had just graduated high school, I had more promotional beepers and cell phones than I needed or even wanted. I was living with one of my best friends Justin, and I was driving home from work. We lived on the South Side of Elkhart and I worked on the North Side. I was feeling useless… I was feeling without a purpose. I mean you can only sell so many televisions, beepers, and cell phones. And on top of that my employer had been a Marine and would talk up the military like there was no tomorrow.
Driving. Driving. Not even driving my own car. It was my estranged biological mother’s car. The feel of no purpose was getting to me. I was the top salesman at Radio Shack and I couldn’t even afford my own car because I had no credit – I was 18 after all. I had no one that would sign for me, the economy wasn’t exactly prudent to put faith in a teenager with no bill experience.
Still driving (bad traffic) …
I was feeling slightly dismal… I had had a SEAL Challenge Contract earlier that year from the Navy, but since I had a pin in my elbow that was turned down. So I continued working at Radio Shack and didn’t even think about the military. Until I was driving. Driving my mother’s old Ford Escort (hatchback). Driving after work to my apartment with my already successfully employed friend Justin. Finally going back to the apartment, defeated, but not out. There was the recruiting building that I had spent countless amounts of time getting ready for the Navy.
Without thinking I turned into the recruiting building, and parked. I didn’t walk in right away; I ran. I ran up the flight of stairs taking two and three at a time. Barged into the Army’s recruitment office. There were three recruiters in there. They were all bs’ing, waiting for the next sap to come in ready for adventure. I walked right in and I told them my story. The recruiter looked at me and stated, “Son, you are going to be able to join the Army!”
They asked me a bunch of questions, looking back on it, it made sense to run. But I was so filled with the Spirit. That there was no stopping me. The recruiter that I had was just short of awesome. He never lied to me. He didn’t need to. I knew all the questions answers. I wasn’t dumb. I knew that the Army was going to be hard. I knew it was going to be a different change of pace then what I was used to. The United States Army was going to be my new home.
Ring… Ring… Ring…
“Hello.” I said groggily…
“This is your 6 A.M. wake up call.” A robotic voice states at the other end of the phone.
I quickly move from my bed to the shower, to wash off all the Preparation H that I had on my chest. The night before I had spread the Preparation H on my waist chest and covered myself with saran wrap to help lose an inch or two off of my waist. (I wish I would have known about this trick when I was in high school during wrestling.) It turns out that this is incredibly unhealthy if done under the wrong conditions. But alas, this is what it was to become a soldier, under the Clinton Administration. I headed down to the lobby of the hotel; where I met up with about 200 other candidates for the military service. Breakfast was quickly being eaten up without me indulging. Didn’t want to mess with the Prep H regimen that I had done the night before. I was ready for lunch!
Boarding the bus was intimidating. All the people that were joining the military were like me; aimless, didn’t know where we were going or if what we were doing was the right thing, but eventually we got to MEPS (military entry processing station), and knew we were doing the right thing for us. The common question among the candidates was this: “What branch are you going in?” or “What job are you going to have?” The only thing that I could ever answer was Army because I didn’t know the job that was waiting for me on the other side of the bus ride! I knew that I was going to be in the Army. I knew that God had a purpose for me to get to the military, and get the discipline that I knew I firmly needed. Yet, I had no idea what I was in store for. The Army was an awakening!
“Step-up to the line.” The cute female nurse said, referring for me to step up to the line in front of the urinals. It had already been rumored that I would have to pee in front of a woman. Never thought that this would be true, but when I did step up. The flow didn’t come exactly as I thought it would. Never having to have had to pee in front of anyone before; especially when a woman is looking at my penis watching the urine come out. To say the least, it was awkward, moving forward in the line the other men would joke about it. That was the longest line I ever stood in and move forward at the quickest rate. I think the other men wanted to show off their manliness; and the women that was watching our flow didn’t seem to care less. I guess it is true what they say – “you’ve seen one… you’ve seen them all.”
Of course guys were instantly disqualified for the military by failing the drug test; which still to this day I don’t understand why someone who wanted to go into the military would feel the need to use drugs and not be allowed into the service. Permanent stain on their flawless record. The “go to war, or go to jail” mentality had been put to rest years before. When I got in there were only volunteers. No forced entry from judges.
Moving forward down the line was my first step into the “hurry up and wait.” This was the worst memory of MEPS. The doctors. The doctors would make you wait for hours. They would make you wait because there were only so many of them, and so many more of us. The longer you waited the longer you got upset and the more scared you got.
The doctors make you move and bend in ways you never thought that you would have to do for a physical. Oh, and you can’t forget the turn your head and cough. Thank God that was a male doctor. The doctor I had was about 90! I was afraid that he was going to keel over right in front of me. When I went through you got these cards; they were different colored cards: red, yellow, and green. If you got a red card you were out, you were not physically fit to join the military. If you had a yellow card; you needed to be seen by another physician before moving on to the career counselors. Finally, green, obviously this is you can go to the career counselors.
I of course got a yellow card. Yay me!
I got to go sit in the line for the 90-year-old doctor. They wanted to talk to me about my medical waiver for my pin in my elbow. He asked me how I got the injury and if it affected me. He then asked me to do some push-ups. I did them to his satisfaction and he gave me a green card to go talk to the counselor.
As I am waiting in line to talk to the career counselor; I have met many people that I would end up going to basic training with. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the Army. I just knew I wanted to jump out of airplanes and be adventurous. I was talking to the people that I was in line with, we were all waiting for our turn, and they all already knew because their family had been in the military. I only had two family members that were in that I was somewhat close to, and they never talked about their service. One was drafted in Vietnam (thank you Uncle Bob), and the other joined the Marines in Vietnam (Thank you Uncle John). Neither of them had talked to me about their service, until after I had gone to the service myself. So I knew nothing. I finally went up to the counselor and I told them that I wanted to be Airborne. I had no idea what I wanted to be otherwise. I knew that I loved the movie Rambo, starring Sylvester Stallone, but I had no correlation between that and being in the actual Army. I had no leanings to what I wanted to do, none. I just knew that I needed to get out of my hometown, and that I needed discipline, and that God was leading me into a place that I knew absolutely nothing about. Finally; after about an hour of waiting I was called up. She was a really nice black woman that helped me. She was a civilian and was easy to talk to. Before she could say anything I said,
“I want to be Airborne! I don’t know anything about any jobs, I just want Airborne, and a bonus for signing. My recruiter told me to say that I needed to get a bonus.”
“Okay…” She responded coolly! I knew that I had the world in my pocket at that point.
She pulled up a video on her computer and showed me Infantryman training. I was instantly hooked. She could smell the eagerness to get in and didn’t really care what I did. I saw that video and was like this is me. Oh, and I got to be Airborne while doing it! Cha-ching!! She asked me some more questions and I signed my name about 500 times (not an exaggeration). Then came the blowback: I had to see the doctor again to give me an Airborne physical. Will this day ever end? To be fair my recruiter did tell me that it would be a long day.
Waiting again for the doctor, before I could swear into the DEP (Delayed Entry Program). This time I had to wait by myself. Got to see the doctor again. At least he was nice.
Sitting in the office, I had to wait, and then I had to do some test that were reminiscent of a sobriety test. Then he looked in my ears. Wait. No. He stared at my ears. Then he asked me about the scarring on my ears and if I had had tubes in my ears. I had. But he said if I had had them in my ear that I would not be able to be Airborne. So that prompted me to immediately do as my recruiter had told me to do if I thought that I was in danger of not getting what I wanted: lie.
“Nope, never had any tubes in my ears.” He bought it – or he didn’t care, but either way he said that I was acceptable for the Army standards! And then I moved on to my first swearing of my Army career.
“I, Kenneth Lee Holmes, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
And with that I was in the Army. Two weeks later I shipped to basic training.