This post was guest blogged by Roy Wood aka esofthub of My SysAd Blog and FreeAdLists. HMTK asked me to guest blog and share some of my military experiences with you. Let me preface this post by saying that I always thought I had the potential to make great strides in my life, but I was just surprised by how much of the confidence and determination I lacked would be gained from having been a soldier for the United States Army. I would like to dedicate this post to all those who have and will serve in the U.S. Army, Hooah!
One Friday night, in mid August 1994, my best friend and I were shooting pool and having a few brews at the local Pinky's billiards hall in Tempe, AZ. After a few more cold ones, we started talking about doing something we had always wanted to do, serve our country and "Be all you can be." That motto played in my head at least a thousand times. It was finally time for us to step up to the plate and follow through on something we had such deep convictions about. A few days later, we visited the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Phoenix, AZ. We were both going to continue the family tradition of military service, so we were determined to do our families proud.
While at MEPS, we both signed up for military occupational specialties that included cash bonuses, GI Bill, and college loan repayment incentives. Having just completed college, I was strapped with debt and needed financial relief. I also decided to pick up the $110 per month Airborne option. I was headed for Ft. Leonardwood, MO, aka "Lost in the Woods," and he was headed for Ft. Jackson, SC. We were off in separate directions for better or worse.
My initiation into the military was quite painful. Specifically, the immunizations portion of the "assembly line" at Ft. Leonardwood's reception battalion. I still recall the "peanut butter shot" in the buttocks. It practically brought me to my knees and nearly brought other men to tears. I remember thinking to myself, "I haven't seen combat yet but I feel as though I have just been shot in the ass!"
Once I arrived at basic training, my stress level really flew through the roof. I couldn't believe how much the drill sergeants expected us to do even though we were so sleep deprived. What also struck me were the sleeping conditions, steel bunks and itchy wool blankets. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like I had come from a wealthy family and was used to sleeping on fine Egyptian cotton sheets or anything. I guess I was more surprised at how "basic" basic training really was. My initial thoughts were, "What the heck have I done? I think I screwed up royally!" Fortunately, as the training progressed, the camaraderie between me and my "battle buddies" was taking shape and my perspective on life and responsibility was changing for the better. I started realizing that life in the Army depended on working as a unit â€“ a team concept. I finally had a strong sense of belonging and purpose.
Surprisingly, about a year later, I saw my best friend again while attending Advanced Individual Training (AIT), the Army's version of a vocational school. We compared notes and decided that joining the Army was a good move. We were both working in analytical fields and loving the new challenges.
Once AIT finished, I was headed off to Ft. Benning's airborne school. I was back in a training environment and Sergeant Airborne was in my face. I thought jumping out of airplanes was a machismo thing to do -- television has a tendency to do that. Well it turned out to be much more dangerous and difficult than I had expected. The first thing I learned was the 5 points of contact for landing: 1) the balls of your feet, 2) the calf muscle, 3) the thigh muscle, 4) the buttocks, and 5) the pushup muscle. If you didn't land properly then you would sometimes inadvertently use the 6th point of contact â€“ your head â€“ not recommended. My first jump was both exciting and terrifying. Once the parachute deployed, it was "knees to the breeze." I earned my Airborne wings and was headed to my first permanent duty station, Ft. Drum, NY, home of the 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).
The first thing I noticed about Ft. Drum was how remote it was, all trees, snow and deer. Being from Yuma, AZ, it took a week or two for me to acclimate. Five months into my first permanent assignment, I boarded for sergeant and almost "maxed" the board. I was selected to attend Professional Leadership Development Course (PLDC) and was the distinguished honor graduate; that was a very proud moment for me and my family. I looked at the remaining years on my military contract with great optimism. When I got back from PLDC, I was selected to attend Air Assault training, which I gladly accepted. Air Assault training is a gentlemen's course, much more demanding mentally than physically. This course was ALL about attention to detail and the cadre meant business. If you received 40 demerits, you were gone â€“ no ifs, ands, or buts about it. On the very first day, I got 5 demerits. Why? The cadre asked us to raise our hands. My wristwatch was exposed from my Battle Dress Uniform (BDU) sleeve and we had been told to remove jewelry and wristwatches. Obviously, I missed that important detail. That was the first and last time I didn't know what the heck was going on. I didn't want to go back to my unit as a failure (aka "bolo"). I still remember going through the dry classroom lectures, hands-on and timed practicals, repelling from a 40-foot wooden wall and finally repelling from the real thing, a Blackhawk. It was an awesome way to finish Air Assault training.
After Air Assault, I returned to my unit only to find that they were deployed to the field. I packed my things and joined them. I was pleasantly surprised when my supervisor told me that the monthly promotion points were out and I had been selected as a sergeant. I had only been in the Army for 23 months and things seemed to be progressing quite smoothly. I had serious thoughts about applying for Officer Candidate School (OCS). My company's executive officer (XO) was encouraging me to get it done soonest, and my battalion commander thought very highly of me. I knew his endorsement would be easy to obtain, so I thought great; I'm submitting an OCS packet.
Less than a month later, I got a bad case of reality shock. I had come down for orders, a one year unaccompanied tour, to Korea. I had heard some unfavorable things about Korea. Needless to say, I was not happy about it and neither was my family. I seriously contemplated signing a declination but I knew that would be a career killer and I did take an oath to serve. The best thing to do was head for Korea.
I arrived in Osan Air Base, South Korea via government air. We were bused to Yongsan Garrison for in-processing. I remember thinking, wow, Seoul, Korea, is a sprawling metropolis. It didn't seem as bad as everyone said. In fact, it looked quite promising. A day later, I arrived at Camp Humphreys, which was my final destination. I had just gone through specialized training for this assignment and hoped to learn a lot. The mission was unique. It was a new system and I was part of a team which would help define its future.
The manning was supposed to be around 40 soldiers, but we only had 8 who were qualified to do the job. Remember when I said "Be all you can be." Well, I learned to be all that I could be and a few more people to boot. The 8 of us had no choice but to do the work of 40! As the year progressed, we got more soldiers qualified and I was very optimistic that the workload would lessen. I soon found myself bogged down with additional duties such as squad leader, E5/E6 barracks sergeant, arms room sergeant, safety/energy monitor, Basic Rifle Marksmanship instructor, radar instructor, flight mission supervisor, and a number of other duties. But even with the heavy workload, the Korea experience was my most gratifying experience while in the military.
My final duty station was Ft. Bragg, NC, which is co-located with Pope AFB. By the way, the Air Force puts the "Air" in Army Airborne. I was now a member of the heralded 82nd Airborne Division, the "All American" division. I was going to be a real paratrooper and wearing the division patch really gave me a sense of pride, a "can do" attitude. When I got there, the first thing given to me were "the keys to the drop zone," which were hanging from a tent peg. I was told to guard them with my life. Obviously, I got a little suspicious. Something sounded fishy and my new fellow paratroopers seemed to be laughing under their breaths. Okay, I can take a joke and things were going to be fine. Life at Bragg was basically the field and jumping. I remember jumps being mostly conducted at nighttime or very early in the morning. I recall prepping for my first C-141 (a jet) jump at the 82nd. I didn't tighten my thigh straps very well, and I paid dearly for it. I exited the bird with a purpose and was immediately ripped from the body of the plane. That wasn't the only thing being ripped. My groin area had pain I had never experienced before in my life. I think I could have broken glass with my squeal. I hit the ground and was barely able to walk off the drop zone. I was in terrible pain for a few days afterwards but it was a lesson learned. From then on, I never neglected to tighten those dang straps!
After honorably fulfilling my four year military contract, we grew tired of the unbelievable operational tempo and the family and I decided it was enough. I left the service and was offered a great opportunity as a civilian. I have to credit the Army for giving me the skills, confidence, and determination to take on a new career. Nine years later, I have earned a second technical degree, founded FreeAdLists.com and "My SysAd Blog," and I am currently the technical lead for a major corporation. I have to give credit where credit is due for these accomplishments -- My Family and the Army. Hooah!