No $500 Toilet Seats at This Old Boot Camp

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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 undergoing basic training boot camp and then will spend time in an Army journalism school. Given the difficulty the armed forces are experiencing in recruiting young people these days, we think his experiences and impressions are worth sharing. Here is the thirteenth missive; others will be posted as they arrive.

The trainee's Army is like a poor, proud family — all patched-up hand-me-downs and secondhand roses. Nearly everything we touch — our tent, our gas mask, our sleeping bag and our M-16 A2 semiautomatic — is merely gear, to be returned in the same worn, perforated, dinged-up condition it was issued us.

We will leave it all behind for the next cycle, just as cycle after cycle used it and used it and used it and left it for us. Military waste may be legend, but it does not exist here; the trainee's Army is a thrifty place. The grenades we throw do not explode — just one, and it is one to savor — and the mops we clean with invariably look dirtier than the floor.

This family subsists on that with which the realArmy, the fighting one, can no longer reliably kill. That's all right — there are lessons in it.

First, that we need not fear our training. It has been braved and completed by thousands stronger and thousands weaker than ourselves, using only that which we see before us. It will not kill us unless we are miraculously stupid, and will make us stronger unless we are essentially lazy.

Second, that familiarity is the enemy of conspiracy theory. We trust, for example, that there are no snipers in the woods at the rifle range because they are simply not affordable.

Third, that each of us is an opportunity. Though "individual" may be a dirty word here, as well as the words "U.S. Army," it is our names that are embroidered above the pockets of our uniform jackets. In fact, the uniforms are about the only new thing here, and they are ours to keep for life (if we reimburse the Army for them, of course) and ours to wear out all by ourselves.

And for all that time, they'll only look as good as the soldier wearing them.

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