Hey! These Sweat Suits Aren't Camouflaged!

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EDITOR'S NOTE: TIME Daily writer Frank Pellegrini, at a ripe 27 years, has taken a leave of absence to join the Army Reserve. He is currently undergoing basic training boot camp and then will spend several months in an Army journalism school. Given the difficulty the armed forces are experiencing in recruiting qualified young people these days, we think his experiences and impressions are worth sharing. Here is the third missive; others will be posted as they arrive.

On Friday night I dreamed I was in jail. The fire guard, a few men plucked from our ranks to walk the floors in two-hour shifts, comes through every 15 minutes or so. Every time I surfaced from sleep to this darting flashlight or that, I couldn't figure out whether I was enlisted or incarcerated.

We sleep 24 in a half-filled barracks, in too-short steel bunk beds. (We make them once, painstakingly, according to specifications, and sleep on top of the covers so as never to have to do it again. It's an old trick.) The night is filled with snores and somnolent murmuring ("Jennifer. Bring me the iced tea.") When you snap awake in the middle of the night, it's really hard to tell where you've landed.

It's been four days now, and the 59 of us — that's Bravo Company, 13th Platoon — are still in the sweat suits we were issued the night we arrived. Like the shorts and t-shirts that we both sleep in and wear underneath, the sweat suit is thin, gray and disappointingly cheap-looking. We all feel like unemployed folks. This impression is confirmed by the fact that despite the "PT" affixed to said threads, we have not done a lick of physical training — not a single calisthenic — since we got here.

In fact, the three-to-five-day lag time between the group's arrival and the time it is issued BTUs (Basic Training Uniforms) creates something of a hierarchy around the Reception Battalion. Newbies start in civilian hair, civilian shoes and those ill-fitting sweats; as one more-veteran private put it to us, "Everybody loves the new guy." (Love supposedly equals yelling and push-ups.) Over the past few days we have shed the shoes, the hair, the wide-eyed look; now we want the camouflage, both literally and figuratively.

To get your fatigues and boots is to pass from geekdom to old-timer status, blending in with all the other purgatory cats, the ones stuck in this halfway house here, waiting to "ship out" to Basic Training, reportedly about a mile down the road. It is a place we only imagine, wistfully.

More dispatches to come

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