Les Patterson’s Monday Morning Boost: Celebrating my 18th birthday at Basic Training

The early morning bus ride 30 years ago was relatively short. It took longer to pack us in like sardines than it took to drive between the processing station and the Delta Company training area. We were freshly minted privates-to-be with buzzed haircuts, brand new uniforms, a duffle bag full of gear, and a yellow shot card verifying we were fully inoculated against all manner of diseases, most of which I had never heard of.

It was June 7, 1984. It was Day 1 of Army Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It was my 18th birthday.

The pale army-green bus slowly pulled into my new summer home. Six two-story wooden buildings stood in a straight line along one side. Down the other side were two smaller cinder block buildings (latrines), the battery (company) headquarters, a supply house, and a round sandpit we would all come to hate with a passion.

As the bus doors sprang open, a drill sergeant, his round-brown snug tight to his misshapen head, bounded up the steps. With over abundant enthusiasm, his voice rang with gusto as he shouted at us: “You have 30 seconds to get off this bus and 20 of them are gone!”

I had graduated from Richfield High School just over a week earlier. I spent the following week with my dad working road construction. He was helping rebuild the I-80 freeway south of the Great Salt Lake after massive flooding had wiped it out. We had a great week together before I flew out for boot camp.

Now I had a drill sergeant screaming in my face. Such was my 18th birthday. No “Happy Birthday,” no cake and ice cream, no presents to unwrap.

We scrambled off the bus. One private made the mistake of throwing some of his gear out the window. We silently stood at attention, eyes fixed forward, as the poor kid was berated by the drill sergeant for his negligent treatment of precious army gear. But chewing him out wasn’t enough, so the drill sergeant had the rest us do pushups, our first of many sets that day, while the disciplined private was forced to watch us take his punishment. Some may call it group punishment. I learned it was the Army’s way of building esprit de corps and instilling the Warrior Ethos –

• I will always place the mission first
• I will never accept defeat
• I will never quit
• I will never leave a fallen comrade

We did everything as a group – Physical Training (PT), singing cadences while marching, grass drills, hand to hand combat in the sand pit, rifle and bayonet drills, squad maneuvers – all to build esprit de corps. And it worked… by the end of the summer, we were a platoon of lean mean fighting machines! What a way to turn 18!

Have a great Monday!

Les Patterson

p.s. Take 15 minutes today (or a little longer if you like) to enjoy a look at Army Basic Training at Fort Sill.

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