Finally, these combat boots got to do a little walking. After a 12-day eternity of mostly forming up, falling out and standing, standing, standing around, we were herded out through the barn doors of our everyday and shown some semblance of that most precious commodity here, space.
Two days earlier, "Victory Tower" had been the sum of our outside existence the 10-minute thrills of rappelling, rope bridges and cargo netting suffocated almost completely by eight hours of long lines and inaction. (Try "Renaissance Man," filmed here, if you can stand it.) On Wednesday we got to be in the Army we got to go on a road march. All rigged up with helmets, rucksacks and LCES (a suspenders-and-a-half getup for canteens and ammo), we hit Fort Jackson's well-worn trails and saw South Carolina's scrubby pine-and-sand version of nature.
Twin snakes of soldiers in the morning mist, each spaced five meters behind the one in front. We'd halt and scramble to the ground in pairs behind our packs, scanning the woods for the enemy (or some flying geese). It was rugged enough to feel a little real, and best of all, it was roomy out there.
It hardly needs saying that boot camp is hardly a place for the thoughtful, but here solitude is almost mathematically impossible to find. Go to the latrine at three in the morning and you find two soldiers, up on the guard shift, polishing their boots in the shower and murmuring in Spanish. Go anywhere I mean anywhere without a "battle buddy" and you're at the mercy of any drill sergeant who happens by; technically you can be considered AWOL for walking past the barracks alone. Inside, there is someone everywhere; outside, the PX across the street is unattainable without a whole platoon of your fellow soldiers and a drill sergeant or two to help them in line.
Of course, it makes sense loneliness is the enemy for most here, and this place can be hard on what they call the "mental housing," especially for the de-feminized females whose boyfriends have stopped writing. But for those far beyond high school and thus for the most part far beyond needing clamor to keep one's mind off this place's occasional rigors it's the clamor that threatens to corner you.
On Wednesday, for 1.9 miles each way we're to work our way up to 10 there was nothing but the crunch of thoughts inside of our Kevlar helmets. Almost refreshing enough to carry me through 18 hours of KP the following day.
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