Countdowns become a familiar thing as I near the end of orders.
We were facing the last couple of weeks of AIT, which were greeted with both glee and somewhat warmer weather. We had a few agenda items that needed to be completed prior to graduation. The third and final written test was slated for the 11th week, a five day FTX, and graduation practice.
Life at the barracks was relatively stable. Moving from “new boots”, to more senior troops (old boots?) was a pleasure. The newer troops were restricted to the barracks, where my group had more privileges. One such privilege was going to town in our “civies (civilian attire)” to Richmond. This was an exciting experience as I was able to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings for the first time.
Over the weekend we were met with some surprise. We were woken up at 0100 to our Company 1SG. I’ve never seen the man in such a rage. The entire Company was put on lockdown due to AIT scandal. One of the platoon cadres, an E6, was caught sleeping with recruits. The cadre was met with swift UCMJ and a reduction in rank to E3. The soldiers whom he was sleeping with were exited from the military.
Do not have sex in TRADOC. Do not have sex with your subordinates. Do not have sex with lower enlisted. Careers are ruined over these activities, which I would see too many times throughout my enlisted career.
Other troops would be met with various disciplinary actions. Some were busted for smoking weed or drinking alcohol, which resulted in Article 15’s and separation from service.
The Army really is too easy. Just do what your told.
The following Monday we prepped for our five day FTX. We bussed our way to the all too familiar CIF to receive the gear necessary for the exercise. Armed with rifle, body armor, and wet weather gear, we set out to complete our field exercise.
Similar to the exercises at Basic Training, this was an opportunity to practice both our soldier skills as well as our MOS. We were lead by a 2nd Lieutenant from Quartermaster BOLC, whom guided us through various exercises. All officers must complete a BOLC in their respective branches as an opportunity to train them in practical leadership exercises.
We set up our tents, put together our cots, then formed up outside for a briefing. We were to assault a target, led by our 2LT. I was assigned as a squad leader, which comes with its leadership responsibilities. I had felt prepared given the leadership position I held during Basic Training.
We marched to the target, attempted to assault the target, then all hell broke lose as we were split up, rendering our 2LT unable to effectively communicate pertinent orders.
Later that night we marched back, had chow, then hit our cots. The remaining day of the FTX consisted of setting up a FARP using an HTARS fueling system, shooting, convoy ops, and other soldier tasks. Upon completion we bussed back, cleaned our weapons to return to the CIF. We then rested for the day with our eyes set on the final week of classroom work at Ft. Lee.
The final exam was comprehensive, testing all items throughout AIT. With study, hands-on familiarity, and a good nights rest my cohort all passed the exam. I scored well, but not well enough to be the “honor grad”. Honor grad was reserved for the top two test scorers in the classroom, where I finished third. It was hard to feel disappointment because with that exam completion, we had wrapped up AIT.
We spent the next two days prepping for graduation, which wasn’t nearly as exciting nor meaningful as our graduation at Fort Knox. I didn’t invite family out, because I would be leaving immediately after graduation to fly back home. Our graduation was simple, we were to sit through the entire provocation, aside from moments of standing for the Soldier’s Creed and sing the Army Song.
The following morning we filed into the auditorium as a group of eager Soldiers ready to make their debuts with their units. Looking around the auditorium I noticed a spattering of families supporting their troops, most of these lived close to the area. For the most part, AIT graduation is typically a formality as most troops elected not to invited their families. Graduation conceded in roughly 30 minutes, which was met with a host of cheers. We had finally completed all the necessary training required to perform our job in the Army. We immediately donned our berets and filed out of the auditorium and into the buses.
There was no delay in our departure from Ft. Lee as we immediately returned to our barracks to gather our belongings. All recruits were given pre-purchased tickets en route to their respective units. I, being guardsman, would return home to Utah. We were briskly filed onto the all too familiar white bus for the last time. I proudly walked into Richmond International Airport. I said goodbye to some of the friends I made for the last time, then boarded the aircraft to Salt Lake City.
I can’t help but reflect on this journey. It was an experience of absolutes. Absolute emotions, thoughts, and actions. There’s a reason why Veterans tend to connect with each other easily. Words, pop culture, and second hand experience, doesn’t do justice to actually experiencing the grooming of soldier. It was bizarre, intense, worth it.
And an honor.