Most people think Army Basic Training starts the moment a bus arrives at an Army post, and a Drill Sergeant yells at all the “low-life privates” to get off the bus, heads are shaved, then you’re in the Army now.
The reality is that isn’t even the beginning! That’s just in-processing. The next four days for me were spent filling out paperwork, getting measured for uniforms, immunizations, and paying for my first Army-regulation haircut. Yeah, those aren’t free.
Finally, Day Zero!
Day Zero is what we referred to as the start of a training class. I was packed into a cattle truck like a sardine, bogged down with duffle bags full of my gear and what personal belongings I could keep. My arms were burning at the shoulders thinking, “When do I get to put this stuff down?” HA!
We came to a stop, the doors opened, and a pack of Drill Sergeants yelled at us, “Get off my cattle truck! Get off my cattle truck! Run, don’t walk! That way, Private! Get off my cattle truck!” This was the welcome party. Training would start the next day, but the pain would start now.
Separated into four platoons of 64 men, we were introduced to our Senior Drill Sergeant for B Battery, 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery Regiment. The other instructors were introduced for each platoon, then we were acquainted with the “assist/insist teaching method” where Drill Sergeants would initially assist us in learning new skills, then insist we do it over and over until we got it right. After doing less than 40 push ups in the dry, summer heat of Oklahoma, I made the mistake of thinking we were done for the day. Nope!
Drill Sergeant Pinkley filed my platoon upstairs to give us a “tour” of our barracks. It was immediately clear that this was code for It’s-too-hot-to-do-fitness-training-outside-so-we’ll-do-it-in-air-conditioning-instead. Push ups, sit ups, flutter kicks, overhead arm-claps, and front-back-go! Drill Sergeant Abreau came in to share with us his favorite game of “Get Down! Get Up! Get Down! Get Up! Get Down! Get Up!” Two Reservist Drill Sergeants also chimed in. This was our real orientation before training started the next day. I was more soaked with sweat indoors with the air-conditioning than outside in the heat!
Best Motivational Speech Ever
My arms felt like two limp, wet noodles, and I joined the many people who mistakenly groaned when Drill Sergeant Pinkley took the lead again for more calisthenics. That’s when I heard the most inspiring motivational speech ever [Insert sarcasm here.]
“Welcome to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the toughest basic training school in the U.S. Army! Every year, someone dies from heat stroke. We are already in June, and no one has died yet! So, I am going to P.T. you until someone eff-ing dies!”
To my horror, every head turned to look at me right at that moment.
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9 1/2 Weeks Later…
Looking back, Basic Training wasn’t so hard. It was actually pretty easy compared to some of the stuff that came later in my Army career. I served as Platoon Guide (a student leadership position over the entire platoon), missed the Distinguished Honor Graduate position by just a few points, and was nicknamed by my classmates as “The Mighty, Mighty Dugan” for my tenacity, loyalty, and perseverance.
A weird thing started happening around Week 8 though. On occasion, a classmate would walk up to me to congratulate me, shake my hand, and even admit they didn’t expect me to make it this far. It was when someone came up to me and actually said, “I lost money on you,” when I started asking what the heck was going on.
On Day Zero, someone started a betting pool on who would be the “one guy” who died from heat stroke. I was the person identified as most likely to die. The stakes were even higher if you could predict WHEN I would die from heat stroke. There were even lesser pools on when I would wash out, fail my physical fitness test, shoot myself in the foot, etc. Many people placed their money on me failing the final physical fitness test. No one had counted on my buddies Dyar and Grimes running with me to make sure I passed that test. Dyar ran with me the whole way. Grimes came back for me after running his test, noticed we were running too slowly, then picked up the pace for us. I had barely finished that race.
Failure Was Never an Option
Had I known about the betting pool, it would have been easy for my mind to feed those doubts into reality for myself. Fortunately for me, I never knew about those doubts until people saw that I was succeeding. That was when people either shared their support for me, or their disappointment that I was not living up to their lower expectations of me.
The truth is that I succeeded and thrived in basic training because failure was never an option for me. I placed myself in situations where it was worse to go back than to push forward. Having Drill Sergeants “assisting” me aggressively even had me believe that it was worse to never try an obstacle than to take that obstacle full-on.
In my life today, I still firmly believe that inaction is the deadliest thing to your dream. Inaction is fueled by people telling you the odds are stacked against you, but it is ultimately fueled by you actually believing the doubts of your naysayers.
Make your own odds for success, and eventually you’ll find that you shattered the odds people stacked against you.
When was a time you achieved an accomplishment despite having doubters and naysayers betting against you? Comment below.
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