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My Evolving Story
Nineteen hundred and ninety seven was the year that I enlisted in the military at the age of 17. My father, having previously commented that I needed to find means other than my family's pocketbook to finance college, hinted to me using a full page article advertising the local Army National Guard detachment. Initially, I didn't consider myself "military material:" I was in decent physical shape, though I hadn't taken part in any organized sports for about a year by this time; mentally, I was maturing into the leader-scientist-manager that for which I had been grooming myself. In many things, however, I was greatly unaware. Politically, worldly, and in extremely high-stress situations. I had long considered myself adaptable, but my ability to do so would be tested months later.
Nineteen hundred and ninety seven was the year that I graduated high school: The youngest person graduating in my high school class at 17, it had an equally exhilarating and expected feeling about it. I never had any doubt that I would not graduate high school, in fact longing for what came after the fact. Though my senior year in high school was good, I had started to develop a taste of wanderlust in my mouth waiting to see what was the next feat I could conquer.
The evening of 4 August 1997 found me at the usual Expressway Inn in Fargo, ND that serviced the local Military Entrance Processing Station, MEPS, where I would be the next morning en route to Fort Leonard Wood, MO via Minneapolis and St. Louis, MO.
My greater reflections on basic combat training can be had another time, save for some overview of the experience below.
Basic combat training is a several week ordeal where the inductee finds themselves faced with learning the traits of a soldier entering the Army (the Army, because I can speak about it with authority). In most cases, they are young and faced with a totally alien environment with requirements and responsibilities of them that likely surpass that which they have seen before. Because, seriously, how many kids younger than the age of 18 have had their hands on an M-16, fully automatic machine gun, or something that lobs rockets out its front side? The Army designates 5 entry-level occupational specialties as "combat-oriented" and therefore sends these lucky few through their initial entrance training of basic combat training and advanced individual training in one fell swoop: This phenomenon is known as One-Station Unit Training, or OSUT.
The worst thing about the military, as with any other part of life, is overcoming fear of the unknown. I can't emphasize that enough: When the younger Roosevelt said "There is nothing to fear but fear itself," he hit the proverbial nail on the head: Fear is often an irrational thing whereas a rational component is given an emotional valuation of a degree that is most often unwarranted. My long times of doing the remedial tasks in basic training that every recruit has offered me a lot of time to think about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness and the American dream. Several of these reflections would come to serve me well in the future, as they still do.
Yes, that picture to the left is of me during basic training in 1997. It's not exactly my best side, the only redeeming value (in my opinion) is the significance of the picture and the uniform.
By the end of 1997 I found myself back home, preparing for my first semester at university.
The above is a video made by members of G Company, 35th Engineer Battalion in 2005. I trained with A Company, 35th Engineer Battalion several in 1997. While not the same unit, it is very much the same training.
All content Copyright © 2007, Matthew A. Hetland, unless otherwise stated or implied