White Phase came quick, but Blue Phase came quicker. Not a moment too soon.
I recall talking in the Barracks and having joy when we shifted over to Blue Phase. The end finally felt like it was near. Blue phase is meant to be the most challenging phase, but with the training, confidence, and the mindset to take on new challenges, we felt well equipped to manage whatever tasks were thrown our way. During Blue Phase, troops are required to put all their training to the test. We were faced with various combat scenarios, be it in convoy, on a patrol, or defending a position.
One of the more exciting moments was watching new recruits roll into Fort Knox and experience their own “shark attack”. This was a group of Cat-Scouts, being that we were the very last traditional basic training group comprised of various MOS’s at Fort Knox. I’ll be honest, it was much better watching another group of Soldiers on their first day of basic training, versus experiencing it. Additionally, it was a stark reminder of the time that had passed.
We started our first week with a 15 kilometer ruck march with a 100 lb ruck and full battle-rattle (rifle, body armor, kevlar). My endurance had significantly increased, and handled the rucckmarch with ease. In fact, it was an opportunity to explore some of the surroundings that Fort Knox offered.
We also had our “for record” APFT. My results were much better this time around. I had managed to score a 260/300, 10 points shy of the PT badge. My biggest improvement being the 2-mile run. In my initial diagnostic test in September, I ran the 2-mile in 18 minutes, this final test resulted in a 13:00 minute two mile. I also pushed out roughy 60 pushups and 65 sit-ups. From this point forward, I was determined to continue my PT and consistently score about 290 – 300.
During blue phase, we finally receive our “dress-blues”, which we would wear in our upcoming graduation in 3 weeks. We were the first cycle of recruits to receive the dress-blues, a much different uniform than the dress greens (which I preferred). The blues do look classy, but too closely resembled the Marine’s Dress garb, but I suppose I shouldn’t criticize as they were free.
The two big events for blue phase are accomplishing the 3 day FTX, consisting of warfare functions, and completing the 20k ruck march. We bussed out to our FTX site, which resembled a FOB (forward operating base) that one may occupy while in a deployed environment. Prior to waltzing in, we were “ambushed” by our drill sergeants who, made mostly of rangers and special forces, handled us with ease. Wet, tired, and sore, we made it to our tents that we would inhabit for the following three days. Fort Knox in November greeted us with wind and snow, which made for exciting training as we added a frigid factor to our activities. We were responsible for all FOB operations, including gate guard, patrol, and tower security. These positions had to be manned at all hours with vigilance, as were briefed that we may be “attacked” at any hours in the day. We were.
The first night we were ambushed three times. Sleep is for the weak I suppose. So was a decent body temperature. The following day we trained in “urban ops”, were we navigated through a town that may resemble an area in Afghanistan. I, being a squad leader, had to lead our troops through these scenarios. We did alright, aside from me “dying” in the first 5 minutes, so that was special.
That afternoon we performed convoy operations and I, again, was killed for taking too much responsibility and not “leading” enough. We returned to our FOB and had to perform various soldier tasks, such as setting up the SINGARS (radio), perform first aid, assembly various military weaponry, etc. That night, again, we were attacked. The following day we cleaned up the FOB and had a moment where the drill sergeants took of their round and browns, and hung out with the troops. We had the opportunity to ask them questions and get to know them on a human level. I recall listening to our drill sergeant roast their recruits, and I laughed my ass off. This may be due to mine being laugh deprived, or their roasting being so savage that I couldn’t control my laughter.
That day we were asked to “vote” for the platoons best solider. I voted for PVT Anderson, who was always willing to assist his battle buddies. We would hear the results at the conclusion of our final ruck march.
That night we were tasked to perform our 20k ruck march. This was to be our last training task, and upon completion, we would be considered “Soldiers” (Army Theme Song plays in the back ground). To add to dramatic flair, it began pouring with rain. This was good and bad, as rucking with over 100 pounds of gear heats the body, but during the stops you would feel the brisk November cold. The ruck was grueling. Fort Knox is famous for their three hills known as: Misery, Agony, and Heartbreak. Navy Seals come out to train on these hills as they’re guaranteed to challenge their physique. Rucking these kills killed my drive, especially on “heartbreak” where I swear I could reach out directly in front of me and touch pavement.
Time is a blur while training, which is natural when stress levels are high. I’d reckon 4-5 hours later we completed our final ruck march with a pavilion being our finish point. Tired, cold, and blistered, we limped our way into the pavilion to hear from the company commander. Captain (something) congratulated us for completing our final task and led us in the “donning of the beret”, which looked more like chef hats. Unfortunately, not all soldiers were allowed to don the beret as some hadn’t completed all the basic training tasks and would be “recycled” to the next group of soldiers in basic training. It made it difficult to enjoy the moment knowing that some of your battle buddies would be left behind, but such is the nature of the military, which is comprised of unwavering standards.
The Commander then read the list of soldiers that were voted “best” by their platoon. I was surprised and honored to hear that I had been voted by my peers as the platoon’s “best” soldier. I was called to the front of the company where Drill Sergeant Sempek preceded to tell me that I’m still goofy as hell. This vote came with a promotion from PV1 to PV2. For those who don’t know, PV1 comes with no rank, leaving the uniform with a fuzzy patch that pathetically sicks out. The rank of PV2 looks a lot like mosquito wings, but man did I appreciate those wings.
We then watched “Blackhawk Down”, which was the first bit of media we had viewed in 10 weeks. I fell asleep immediately as fatigue finally reared it’s ugly head.
The following day we began the week long out process from Basic Training and preparation for graduation. Spirits were at high as we were about done, however some “myself included” became complacent, causing the platoon to be smoked. “Complacency kills, Privates” the Drill Sergeants would yell as we performed push ups.
We turned in our “TA-50 (field gear)”, our weapons, and cleaned the barracks to prep for the next cycle of Cav Scouts. We began our 3 day prep for graduation. The Army takes pride in the appearance of it’s Soldiers. In keeping with pride, we practiced for three days how to march into a stadium and stand. Exciting. We also used this time to prepare our “dress blues”. For those who haven’t donned the Army’s formal wear, all items must be placed meticulously. I couldn’t tell you how many times my jacket was called “fucked up” and try again. All items must be in an exact position, which is for good reason. If you’re feeling spry, a simple youtube search of “stolen valor” will result in plenty of civilians attempting to wear the military uniform, but looking ate up. The appearance of the Soldier is meant to reflect the professionalism and disciplined learned in Basic Training.
On Wednesday, November 24th, we woke up for Graduation. I had been greatly looking forward to this day to finally see my loved ones and have them witness my goofy shaved head in person.
We marched to the back end of the gymnasium where the graduation would commence. Fashioned in Dress Blues, it began to rain. I recall shivering with temperature and anticipation. We marched in, where I gazed with my eyes towards the audience while maintaining my military composure (one is not to move their head unless in the proper position). No luck locating my loved ones, but that’s due to my atrocious vision (there was NO way I was going to wear awful Basic Training Goggles to graduation).
Graduation lasted roughly 30 minutes, where the Commander and First Sergeant commented on military history, the training we had engaged in, etc. When graduation commenced, our Drill Sergeants released us to our families.
I was ecstatic to finally see my loved ones. We saw some of the sites that Fort Knox has to offer, including it’s famous gold reserve. We went out to a local Waffle House where I engaged in three plates of food. My family was quick to comment on my ridiculous appetite and metabolism. We spent more time laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying each others company. I returned later that night.
The following day was Thanksgiving which gave us another day with our families (normally recruits get one day with their families). This was the morning I was officially promoted with the proper ceremony. I was thrilled to show off my brand new mosquito wings of a rank.
This morning my family and I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 (I am a massive Harry Potter fan). We then got lunch, enjoyed each other’s company some more, then I was dropped off for the next cycle of training. I hugged my loved ones one last time and said goodbye as I was now being prepped to attend Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Lee.
Basic training is an experience I, and many every other soldiers will never forget. There isn’t an experience quite like it in the civilian world. I mean, where else can you get the privilege of being called goofy looking and incapable of finding a wife on a daily basis? I am grateful for my experience at Basic Training. I believe that the journey instilled a sense of discipline that I leveraged throughout my military, educational, and occupational career.