Red phase places heightened emphasis on assimilation into the Army. Though it may be perceived as the hardest of the three phases, in actuality, it’s the least physically intensive. Given the stark adjustment into basic training, recruits often experience “growing pains” the most in Red Phase. Overtime, all humans reach homeostasis and naturally adjust, especially mentally. This is necessary because Red Phase feels a lot like failure. Over and over again.
The following morning was a Sunday, which is intended to be a “down day” as there isn’t any assigned training events. This does NOT mean that they let off the gas pedal in terms of being smoked. We were greeted with pushups, V-ups, or flutter kicks for someone sleeping in the “improper sleep position”, Drill Sergeants are clever in making up rules on the spot for an excuse to smoke their trainees.
On Sunday there are three tasks that are to be completed. First: all recruits are given the opportunity to practice their religion. Second: the Barracks will be deep cleaned. Third: recruits will receive meals. Aside from that, Sundays don’t offer much. For those attending Basic Training: always attend a religious service, as it gives you a break from the Barracks or more importantly, Drill Sergeants. At the time I practiced the LDS religion, which was a two hour service (I now practice agnosticism).
The following day we began our Red Phase Objectives. Again, memory may fail to serve in attempt to recall events that occurred nine years ago. During the first week we received an initial APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test), which consisted of a 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups, and a 2 mile run. I failed the test, miserably. We received a host of mandatory briefs in the form of powerpoint. Additionally, we were given our weapons (not guns), which became a new appendage. The first week also focused heavily on D&C (Drill and Ceremony). I learned to sincerely enjoy D&C, especially accompanied with Army Cadence. I’ve always enjoyed the military’s display of discipline. We also navigated various obstacle courses emphasizing the practice of teamwork. Recruits also rappelled down a wall. These events likely would have been enjoyable, however with Drill Sergeants continuing to yell, curse, and smoke their recruits at every opportunity takes the fun out of most events. Unless, of course, someone enjoys being yelled at?
The second week we were introduced to Land Navigation and NBC ops (Nuclear Biological and Chemical operations). Most trainings in the military operate through a crawl, walk, and run phase. Regarding Land Nav’ and NBC, the same can be said. Crawl phase is typically done in powerpoint fashion, I recall looking at some of the items in land nav’ and NBC and immediately feeling overwhelmed. The walk phase was done at the training site. Run (you guessed it), was the actual implementation of the training. In land nav’, recruits were put into buddy teams and instructed to locate 3/5 points.
At Fort Knox, the points were shrouded in trees, taking away simply locating the points off the road. One would have to walk through the growth to find them. Locating the points on a map was easy, but navigating the map with little to no terrain features made it easy to lose track of your location. Here, shooting an azimuth would center yourself, but again, with little to shoot off of it was easy to become lost. I was buddied up with a high speed private who was savvy at map reading, without his help I would’ve struggled immensely. We completed our test, and those whom failed had the opportunity to try again after lunch chow.
We hung around and cleaned our weapons (a waiting ritual) until nightfall, where we would perform the same land navigation event, but this time without the benefit of natural light. We were instructed to perform covert ops, where we could only view our maps with a red light under the concealment of our jackets. Guess how many points I found?
Run phase of NBC wasn’t anymore pleasant.
I did my preliminary research on what to expect at Basic Training and, more often than not, found myself fixated on what occurs in the Gas Chamber. I wasn’t thrilled for this event, if you are, you may have an issue.
As we wrapped up PT for the morning and prepped to head to breakfast chow, the Drill Sergeants were smiling to themselves. “don’t eat too much, Privates”, one Drill Sergeant snickered. I headed their advice. A couple slices of bread and some fruit later, we mounted the bus and departed to the gas chamber.
We pulled up and I felt the looming anxiety come to head as the building came into view. We were briefed on the next event and what was expected of us.
Recruits were to enter the gas chamber, remove their masks to become exposed to CS, also know as teargas, then replace the mask and clear the gas from the mask. After doing so, recruits perform physical exercises to expand their lunges and open their pores to further expose to CS. Then remove the mask and take in the CS until the Drill Sergeant allows them to leave the chamber.
This was the worst.
Rewinding a bit, I was the second group of soldiers to enter the chamber. As I waited outside the door, I witness one recruit bolt out the back door coughing in agony. The Drill Sergeant grabbed him by his jacket and threw him back in the building to continue the exposure.
“Holy *bleep*” I thought to myself. Looking at the other silent recruits, they likely thought the same.
We entered the room and I noticed a small steel canister spewing out CS like a fog machine. We were told to remove our masks and take breath of the CS. Hesitantly I removed my mask and was immediately hit with the worst physical experience to date. It is hard to put the experience of CS into words, but it’s as if every sense of the body is burning, and it burns more that your exposed to it. Coughing in anguish, I internally begged for the command to put our masks back on. An excruciating and sluggish 10 seconds later, I replaced my mask and cleared the CS from mask and returned to normal breathing. Shaking from the experience, I learned to take in the CS in small breaths, as opposed to holding my breath and being forced to inhale copious amount of CS in one deep inhale.
We were instructed to perform pushups and jumping jacks. I did so at a lessoned pace so as to keep my heart-rate and breath down. The Instructors then commanded us to remove our masks and say the pledge of allegiance. The 31 word pledge felt like a novel as I struggled to spout the oath with the exposure to CS. My eyes, throat, and lungs burned beyond comprehension. The Drill Sergeant then pushed us outside where I waved my appendages and attempted to open my ears to clear the CS off the body. I vomited in the dirt (don’t worry, I had to clean it up), but eventually the CS did clear.
I recall sitting on the bleachers watching the other recruits go through their rounds of CS and smiling to myself. I was so humbled by the troops who were exposed to various gasses in war. As painful and awful as CS is, it won’t actually kill the person exposed to it. Gasses used in other wars did kill, and the manner in which they did kill was far from humane. These tactics have since been banned in the Geneva Convention.
Humbled and proud, we marched back to our barracks thinking the worst was over. It wasn’t. We were locked in a room and smoked for messing up during march. As we did our pushups, the CS from our clothing filled the room, and again we were choking on the gas. I looked up in push up position at the Drill Sergeant, who stood with arms crossed and his gas mask on.
Red phase wrapped up with other team building exercises and first aid. We continued with D&C. I was given the opportunity to represent the company in a D&C competition, which I took great pride in. We did a couple more obstacle courses, performed a 4 mile ruck march, received further briefings, and before we knew it, Red Phase had concluded.