Last Sunday, we gave Ethan one last hug, told him again that we are very proud of him, and watched him drive away with Sergeant Vernon as the first step on his journey to basic combat training at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina. The circumstances surrounding his leaving for the army were definitely lacking pomp; it was as casual a sendoff as if he were hopping in the car with a buddy to head off for a long weekend.
While the goodbye wasn’t anything special, we all knew that what lay ahead of him in the next 10 weeks will be like nothing he as ever experienced before.
Of course, we wondered if we would hear from him. But right there on page eight of the “Guide for Future Soldiers and Their Families” handbook are the FAQs and the first one is: “Will my Soldier be able to call home from Basic Combat Training?” The answer is a qualified “yes;” he would be able to let us know when he arrived.
As a side note, reading on in the handbook FAQs, I was surprised to see that the third question is: “Will the drill sergeants hit my Soldier?” I imagine Ethan going through a lot of situations during BCT, most of them pretty unpleasant, but being hit? That was something, perhaps naively, that I had never considered happening to him.
The handbook assured me that the drill sergeants will not be hitting him. Okay, good, no need to worry about him getting slapped upside the head. However, Steve reminded me that there isn’t any rule about calling them pond scum and fecal matter. It wouldn’t be basic training if they didn’t.
Back to his first week…my cell phone rang on Wednesday and the caller ID showed that it was Ethan. The first words out of his mouth were “There’s some weirdness going on here.” My mind scrambled to think what the “weirdness” might be. Is his paperwork not in order and is there a possibility he might be sent back toCalifornia? Is it “Men in “Black” kind of weirdness? IsFt.Jacksonactually run by aliens? What degree of “weirdness” are we talking about here?
It turned out not to be a big deal. The ominous sound in his voice had to do a lot more with a lack of sleep – he had been awake for 48 hours traveling from California to South Carolina– and the shock he was experiencing from his sudden lack of hair than any real issue. He was worried that the army staff person he needed to talk to about his student loans was hard to track down and that this part of his army contract might not be valid. He was able to call us for about 30 seconds before lights out the next night and tell us he got it worked out.
He still had access to his phone because was in Reception Battalion, a kind of processing stage before BCT actually begins. So as he said, this was the last time they would be nice to them because once BCT starts, he should forget that cell phones and the internet were ever invented.
Steve got a call from Ethan on Friday to let him know that the rumor was they would be waking them up at 2am the next morning to start the real deal. Ethan didn’t quite say these words but his feeling was obvious by the tone of his voice: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
I thought that was the last time he would be able to call and the next communication we would get from him would be a letter – a very short letter if he actually has to use a pen and paper and doesn’t have access to a keyboard.
So I was very surprised when I got a call from Ethan this afternoon. “I’m calling to let you know I have arrived safely at my basic combat training unit. I have to go now. Bye.” I could hear yelling in the background. I couldn’t quite tell but did I hear somebody say “maggot?” Let the adventure begin.