Monday, October 12, 2009

My first Medic Call

So what shall I tell you next about my BCT experience?

Shall I tell you about how I got blisters on the back of my heels that got so bad you could actually see the tendons? Shall I tell you about the day we did Victory Tower and DS Comic dubbed me an Oompa-Loompa for the day? OOOHH . . . I know: the day I got my first call as a Medic! (aka: the day from hell!!) Yup, I actually got called in to be a Medic before I even got trained as one. It's a long story actually but I'll try and keep it manageable . . .

It started at about mid-afternoon. DS Bipolar came storming out of her office, screaming (as usual!) "Where d'hell my clipboard at? Who d'hell stole my damn clipboard!" Yup, this crazy woman started from the assumption that her clipboard couldn't have been misplaced. It was obvious that one of us had stolen the cheap piece of pressed cardboard in order to sell it on the black market and ensure the future financial stability of our families. When no one came forward to admit to the theft, she decided that a prolonged smoke session was in order. We spent the next two hours pushing. Finally, soaked and exhausted, she let us stop. "Y'all got till tomorrow morning! If I don't get my clipboard back by then, we'll do this all damn day!" We figured that was inevitable, so we were sorta resigned to another day of misery, ya' know? We had no idea the night was going to get FAR worse than we could imagine. DS Bipolar pointed out that she was on duty all night and that she wouldn't put up with "non of our bullcrap!" while she was in charge. In particular, she pointed out that we were REQUIRED to sleep under our blankets at night (most of us slept on top so we didn't have to remake the bed each day) and that she'd be coming through to check and she'd better not find anybody on top of their covers. Well, you can just imagine what happened, can't ya? One of my battles was laying on the bed, writing a letter (after lights out, using a flashlight) and fell asleep . . .ON TOP of the blankets! Well, DS Bipolar came into the bay at about 2300 and lost her friggin' mind. She flipped on the lights, screaming for all of us to: "Get d'hell up!" (that's pronounced; DEE-HELL, BTW.) She put us in the front-leaning-rest and screamed at us for five minutes while we pushed. No big thing so far, right? This is typical BCT treatment and one of my battles had earned us the smoke session, so no biggie. That was about to change though.

Into the bay came DS Smiley (he was actually a pleasant, cheerful guy!), the senior DS for the entire Company. He was chuckling at us as he wandered around the room, then he came to a sudden halt directly across from where I was pushing, a look of shock on his face. "Hey, DS Bipolar, is there someone still laying in that bunk?" Everybody looked and yup . . . there was someone still curled up under their blankets, hiding. DS Bipolar went through the ceiling, cursing and spitting as she closed on the bunk. (It was one of the few times I ever heard her use language harder than damn, hell, or bullcrap.)

We were busy pushing so it was hard to see anything so when she pulled back the blankets and asked the Private: "What d'hell are you doing under the covers with dat sock on your hand?", well . . . we all bust out laughing. Hey, we're guys, as far as we were concerned there was only one possible reason to have a sock on your hand in bed! Even DS Smiley was laughing but that died quickly when he got closer to the bunk. The Private wasn't spanking the monkey: he'd actually tied a sock around his wrist to try and hide the fact that he'd been attempting to slash his wrists when DS Bipolar came in (he'd broken open one a disposable razor and was sawing at his wrist with one of the tiny blades.) Well, the DS's went into action, holding him down, taking away the blade and using DS Bipolar's cell phone to call the MP's and 911 to get the base's EMT's out there. This took about 45 minutes, during which we were kept pushing by DS Bipolar. Once the MP's had taken PFC Crazy out of the bay (DS Smiley went with them) she turned on us and started screaming about how we'd embarrassed her in front of her superior. She was pissed because none of us had known what Crazy was doing and she started smoking us worse that we'd EVER been smoked! This went on for about another 1/2 hour when all of a sudden, there was this unbelievably loud CRACK! sound from behind me. Private Natti's (not his name, but he was from Cincinnati) hand had slipped on the puddle of sweat he was pushing in and his head had smacked into the concrete floor.

"What d'hell was that? Dat you Natti? Get yo' ass up here! Don't gimme none of that; 'I hurt myself' bullcrap neither! Get up front here and push until I tell you to stop!" Natti staggered and weaved his way up in front of her and just sort of stood there, looking confused. "What d'hell? Are you coo-coo for cocoa puffs or somethin'? I said PUSH, you!" Natti nodded and got into position. He got out three push ups before he went into convulsions. He bit off a huge chunk of his tongue and was spraying blood everywhere. DS Bipolar had no clue how to handle it (did I mention she was incompetent?) She started yelling: "We need a medic! Who's a medic? Coppinger, get yo' ass up here!"

Really? Me? I'm going to TRAIN to be a medic, lady . . . I ain't one yet! What was the alternative though? The kid was convulsing and bleeding like crazy. I ran forward with another recruit who had some physical therapy training and we did what we could. I told DS Bipolar (who stood there staring at us!) to call 911 again and we took our best guess at what to do for the kid. I stabilized his neck and we rolled him to one side so he wouldn't choke on his own blood. Beyond that, we let him convulse, just trying to keep him from hitting anything that would injure him. I kept close to his head, talking to him and telling him that we were there and help was on the way . . . I had no idea what else to do for him. (Now that I've gotten a bit more training . . . I actually did what most EMT's would do. Funny how much of it is just common sense!) By the time the EMT's showed up, I had blood all over my clothes and was sitting in a three foot wide puddle of it. Natti was beginning to come around; I'd gotten him to tell me where he was and what his name was, but he was still pretty confused. The EMT's loaded him up on a stretcher and took him out. When I looked up, DS Smiley was standing in the door, looking at the scene with a classic "WTF?" expression on his face.

In a normal world, I'd get a "good job" or something of the sort for helping out but this being the Army, DS Bipolar decided that screaming at me for the bloody mess on her floor was the proper course of action. I stood there wondering -for neither the first nor the last time- what the fuck I'd been thinking when I joined the Army??? At that moment, DS Bipolar noticed the two soldiers behind me who had reached their limit and were crying. Well, THAT was just what she wanted to see! She went off on another screaming tirade: "What d'hell you gonna do when you buddy get blown to hell in war? You gonna stand there and cry?" She dropped us all again and we resumed pushing as she told us all we were worthless, useless, cowards. One of the crying kids gave up and just curled into a fetal position on the floor, sobbing. She went after him like a shark smelling blood but that's when DS Smiley (who was NOT smiling!) charged into the room.

"Enough! that's enough of this shit, DS! Put these soldiers back in their beds. NOW! I want this place cleaned up and you down in my office immediately!"

DS Bipolar was furious, but he was her superior. She stormed out of the room and told me to finish cleaning up the blood. Once she was out, DS Smiley told me to stop and called out two other soldiers to get mops and clean it up. "Go clean yourself off, soldier. You did enough here tonight." He smiled and nodded at me and for one moment I had the answer as to: WTF I'd joined the Army for. We never caught any more crap over the clipboard (which she found in her office the next day) sleeping on top of the blankets (DS Bipolar was never allowed into our bay when she had night duty ever again) or about Natti's going down (he returned two days later with a "clean" bill of health. The Dr. said it was "muscle spasms". Bullshit!) The only result of the night was that we had to have two of us sit suicide watch by PFC Crazy's bed all night for the next two weeks until they sent him off to the mental hospital. In fact, the only time that night was ever mentioned again (by cadre) was the night before we graduated BCT, by DS Smiley. He was the duty DS that night and he sat in the bay talking with us for a good two hours. He had a LOT to say about that night, DS Bipolar's behavior, and his general opinion of her as a DS and a person . . . none of which were flattering.

So there you have it, folks: my very first call as a medic! My second would come about two weeks later, still untrained, & still in BCT . . . but that's another story.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

My Ethical Dilemma Story

Recycled: To put or pass through a cycle again, as for further treatment.

It's a simple word. In fact, most folks think of recycling as a positive thing. We recycle to make the world a better place, right?

Yeeeeeaaaaa . . . not so much with the Army.

Getting "recycled" is the ultimate nightmare for any BCT soldier. It means you've screwed up so badly that you're bounced from your training company and sent back to start BCT all over again with an entirely new company of knuckle-draggers. Just think of the joy of completing nine out of your ten weeks of BCT and being told you have to go back and start all over again! (No shit: this happened to a battle of mine because he got into a fight with another trainee.) The most common way to get recycled is to fail at BRM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship) at about 4-5 weeks in. This is where I almost bought it . . .

Here's the thing: we all have a "dominant" eye that we get most of our visual information from. In most folks, this is the same side as your dominant hand (i.e. right hand/right eye). I, of course, am one of those aberrant freaks who is right handed and left eye dominant. They told us how to check for this the first day of BRM training and as soon as I noticed I went to DS Bipolar (not yet knowing she was as incompetent as she was crazy!) and asked her what to do. Her answer? "That Bull-crap don't matter! If you right handed, just shoot right hand and you'll adjust!" Well, this being my first time firing any type of real weapons (aside from a shotgun once) and she being my highly trained, professional, Drill Sergeant . . . I did what she said. I spent the next two weeks zeroing my weapon, learning to cluster my shots, apply the fundamentals of marksmanship (steady aim, good site picture, control breathing & trigger squeeze) all with my right hand. I was doing really well too . . . while we were using stationary targets. The real problem came on the first day of qualifications, when they began throwing random pop-up targets at us. I couldn't hit a damn thing! One of the other Sgt's. - we'll call him DS Muscles came up behind me, asking what my problem was. "I don't know, Drill Sgt. by the time I find the target, then line up the shot the targets are going down." He had me fire another clip while he watched . . . "Why the hell are you jerking that weapon to the left before you fire?" I explained that it was to re-center the site post on the target after I closed my left eye and that's when it hit him.

"Are you left eye dominant?"
"Yes, Drill Sgt."
"Then what the fuck are you doing shooting right handed? Switch that weapon to your left!"
"But Drill Sgt. Bipolar said . . ."
"That crazy bitch? Never listen to a thing she tells you! She spent the last 13 years as a fucking recruiter!"

So, I went back to position and tried shooting left handed. It was uncomfortable as hell, and I didn't get anywhere close to qualifying, but it was a definite improvement. (I think I went from hitting 3/40 to about 16/40) Better, but not good enough. I had only the next day to qualify. If I didn't hit at least 23/40 before they ran out of ammo on day two, my ass was recycling. Well, you can imagine that I was flipping out. Spend another five weeks at BCT (at least!)? Be away from my family for another month and a half? Lose my scheduled AIT spot and my chance of becoming a Combat Medic? Oh yea . . . "flipping out" is an understatement on the level of crazy I was approaching.

Luckily, I had some great battle buddies in the Army. I had two friends who worked with me in the bay through most of that night (no rounds to fire obviously, but they lay on either side o me, coaching on my fundamentals as I dry fired.) They both noticed that my body armor & helmet were WAAYYY too big on me and that was just making things harder. One of them actually swapped his armor with me for the next day because he'd already qualified. Even after all that, I still knew I wasn't ready to qualify the next morning. Another battle of mine was the talk of the company because he'd hit 39/40 on his first round of qualifications. I went to him and asked for any help he could give me, because up until that day he hadn't been shooting all that well. I asked what he'd done to improve so quickly. He took me into the latrine and made sure we were alone before telling me his secret:

"Dude, just pull the plating out of your armor! Leave it in the bottom of your locker for the day. Nobody can tell it's out unless they punch your chest and it makes shooting like 1000% easier!"

And there it was . . . my ethical dilemma.

You are required to qualify with those plates IN, because that's what you'll be wearing when you deploy. I knew he was right though, if I pulled them out I'd qualify easily. It wouldn't be that big a deal because I'd continue training left handed and I'd get good enough to qualify in a week or so anyway. Thing was though, I had to qualify TODAY! If I didn't, I'd be screwing up my entire life, hell my entire FAMILY'S life because of some random time frame the DS's had decided on. The logic was simple: pull the plates, pass the test, then gain the shooting ability in another few days. Simple, right?

Yeeeeaaa . . . again with the not so much.

I knew it was cheating, no matter how much logic I applied to the problem. Yes, I had a lot to lose and justifications out the ass, but I still knew it was wrong. In real life, I'm the kind of guy who would never consider such a thing. I don't lie, I don't steal, and I don't cheat. Ever. The fear of recycling though -and what it would mean to my family- was weighing real heavy on me. When everyone else went to bed, I sat up the entire night with my IBA (Interceptor Body Armor) sitting in my lap, trying to decide what to do. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I pulled the armor out, then put it back in at least half a dozen times. As goofy as it sounds, this was -without doubt- the worst night of my BCT experience. (and there were some others that were insanely bad, as you'll soon hear!)

In the end, it was The Boy who saved me from having to hate myself. Yup, from nearly 1,000 miles away, without saying a word, or even knowing anything about what I was going through, my son saved my ass. It was only minutes before we had to wake up for the day that it hit me. The Boy would ask me how I did on my marksmanship test at some point. He'd ask, and I'd be faced with either telling him I'd cheated, or flat out lying to him. That settled it right there. I would NOT do either of those things . . . I could look him in the eye and tell him I'd failed, but I could never lie to him or let him know I was a cheat. I got up for the day and put that IBA on with all the plates firmly in place. If I was getting recycled, fine, but it would be AFTER I gave it my best -honest- shot (literally!)

I'd like to say I went out and destroyed that range but this ain't a Hollywood movie. I sucked. I shot horribly . . . all day. Finally, DS Muscles knelt beside me, talking me through each shot, guiding me on my fundamentals and giving advice on where to target at what distance. After about 4,000+ rounds and a good two hours of that man's time . . . I hit 25/40. Enough to qualify as a Marksman (barely!)

It was one of the proudest moments of my life.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

BCT: The Joy Begins

So, I left off with my wonderful intro to Reception Battalion at Ft. Jackson, S.C. (Relaxin' Jackson as the uninformed call it. I had a chance to compare my training with folks from other BCT sites later on and trust me: it's the same crap wherever you go. Ain't no "relaxin" involved!) My usual luck held true and I was placed into a Reception platoon run by a female DS from the deep south who will forevermore be known to you all as: DS Bipolar. This DS was the nightmare DS of reception. All the other platoons empathized with our plight under her crazy tutelage ("Dude, I'm glad I ain't in your platoon!") DS Bipolar treated us pretty much as you'd expect a DS to, right from the moment we arrived. The other DS's were a bit easier during Reception (they saved the crazy for when we got to our training company.) not DS Bipolar. All that kept us sane was the belief that it was only for a week or so. Once we got to BCT proper, we'd be assigned new platoons & new DS's. There was one DS there that everybody loved, he was cool as hell and unbelievably funny. We'll call him DS Comic. I won't bore you with too many details about Reception: it was long, miserable, and we all would have sold our souls to get out of there and down range to BCT (yup, even now I'd make that deal!) The entire time we were there, they kept telling us that 25% wouldn't ship, we'd be held over in Reception for another month because we were too heavy or didn't do well enough on our initial PT test. Well, I was borderline on both categories so you can imagine I was quite nervous. When the morning FINALLY came to ship, they started calling off names of which trainee was going to which DS. If your name wasn't called, you stayed back. Well, after 1/2 hour of names, here were few of us left standing there and I was certain I'd been held over. When the DS calling roll stopped and looked up I almost burst into tears; hell we all almost did. We cheered like madmen when he said "The rest of you belong to DS Comic!"

Yes! Yesyesyes! We got the best DS there, luck was on my side for once . . . or so I thought. DS Comic was there and he walked up smiling "Think you got lucky, huh? You'll learn different." One of the guys called out "C'mon, DS Comic, you can't be that bad!" That made the DS laugh out loud. "Me? Hell, I'm a pain in the ass but I'm not what you have to worry about. I'm the ASSISTANT Drill. The boss is who you have to worry about!"

And that's when she walked out. Yup, you guessed it: DS Bipolar. My lucky old ass had the crazy woman for my entire run of BCT. I can't even begin to tell you how miserable she made us. Not even because she was a DS (there were plenty of those around) but cuz she had her own personal brand of crazy that she worked hard to share about with everybody! Hell, even the other DS's called her "That crazy bitch" . . . and NOT in a nice way. Just the night before, I'd watched her smoke a buddy of mine until he literally wasn't capable of lifting his arms up at all. We had to undress him for bed. I resolved right there to stay out of her way and never give her any reason to get pissed at me. That resolution lasted until the very next morning when I became the very first soldier in the platoon to receive her "personal" attention.

Sigh. :-(

They woke us up at 0330 for PT and marched us to a field that was surrounded by a running track. The four platoons in the company each lined up on one side of the field, facing the center where the DS's were. It was all good (exhausting, yes, but good.) until they told us to fall out onto the track and run for a mile. Problem was, I didn't know anybody in my platoon yet, so when we got back from the run I accidentally formed up next to the guy I THOUGHT I'd been standing beside earlier. Well, stupid me didn't notice that I'd lined up with the entirely wrong platoon. I was there for about two minutes before I started to notice things didn't look the same . . . buildings on the wrong side, parking lot on my right instead of my left, etc. it finally hit me and I started to move quietly out of rank, trying to sneak back to my platoon without anyone noticing. I made two whole steps before I heard DS Bipolar scream in that charming tone of hers: "Coppinger! Where d'hell is Coppinger at?"


"Here, Drill Sergeant!" There was no hiding now.

"Oh, Hell no! You did not mess up my formation! Get yo' fat, stupid, white ass over here! I oughta kick you square in the back of you stupid ass head!"

Actually, it was one of the nicest things I ever heard her say. She proceeded to have me low crawl around the perimeter of the field for the rest of the PT session. This was much fun, particularly because it was a cold, misty, morning and the mud just added that extra bit of OOMPH to the suck. So much for staying off her radar, huh? :-)

I did a better job of it after that, but it didn't really matter. DS Bipolar was a firm believer in mass punishment, even after it was supposed to end when we hit White Phase. Hell, she was still doing it the very day we left . . .

Well, that was my next step in the BCT journey. Next, I'll tell you all about how I almost got recycled because of DS Bipolar's incompetence and my own screwed up anatomy!