The mud was so thick that it clung to my boots making it hard to march. We were not going far or fast, but my inexperience and short legs were struggling to keep up. I was not going to make, I thought. And then, I fell hard, face down in the mud. Another trainee reached out to help me up, but the drill sergeant screamed at them. “Don’t help her!” Then, he looked at me with such contempt and yelled, “Well, get up! Now!” I stumbled to me feet and managed a few more steps. I don’t know if I was really that weak, if I was flustered and overwhelmed or the mud was literally pulling me down, but I fell two more times in the span of 40 feet. Each time was hard, dramatic and utterly embarrassing. Mud was on my uniform, my face, my weapon. By the third time, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t; I wouldn’t give him that satisfaction. The drill sergeant got down near me on my third fall, screaming in my ear, “You deserve an academy award!” At that moment, I decided this drill sergeant was going to be my enemy…and my best teacher.
The weeks after that horrible road march drug on and one. This screaming mentor was in my face all of the time. “Are you really this weak?” “What’s so funny smiley? Maybe you should do so pushups and see if that makes you laugh!” “Why are you here!” “Are…you….kidding…me?” “MOVE! You are holding up the entire company!”
He screamed, ranted and raved at my pathetic efforts. He glared into my face. It was intense, but I had a point of view others didn’t have. I went to basic training at 29. So I had a few more years of experience on me, and after the initial shock of the yelling, I realized that was just it. He was yelling to yell, yelling to create stress. The younger “kids” at basic took it a lot more personal. I eventually got the perspective that they were just words and put myself in his shoes. Then, everything was kind of humorous. I could see how he made up jump up and down, run in circles, and would yell at us for little things. It had to be funny on his side of the fence. We were a hot mess of smelly confused “kids” running around in a panic.
Everything he did had a purpose though. He taught us to pay attention to small details. We learned to look out for each other and work as a team. His “punishments” helped build our strength and patience. He showed us an example of behavior and how to carry ourselves with pride.
One day, we were all sitting around cleaning our weapons and he was talking to us about ethics and the heart of a Soldier. He said something that really hit me and I knew he was talking to me personally. “No matter how good someone is on the inside, they may not be made out to be a Soldier though. And that is a shame, for a Soldier’s true power is inside them. But, their body has to be able to support the fight.” I looked up at him. He was looking at me. I looked away quickly, thinking, “Is he trying to say I won’t make it?”
After that, I went out of my way to prove him wrong. I tried so hard. I held back tears of frustration. I laughed at how ridiculous we acted at times. I really absorbed the lessons he gave. I understood the reasoning behind the details. Everything had a purpose and built on each other. The ultimate goal was to make us stronger, resilient and prepared – to make us Soldiers.
I succeeded and graduated, and he continued to yell at me even on graduation day, but somewhere during that day he gave me the greatest reward. “I didn’t think you would make it. You proved me wrong. I am really proud,” and then he patted me on the back and walked away.
I never saw him again after that, which is a real shame. For if I did, I would tell him that he made me want to be a good Soldier, inside and out. He made me better. I still may not be the fastest, strongest or most agile Soldier, but I am still in the fight and holding my head high, and it is all because of him.
So wherever you are Drill Sergeant “B,” thank you for showing me how to be a Soldier and know that I give you much respect and will never try to tarnish the ideals you taught us.