As I was planning our Thanksgiving dinner early last week, the thought crossed my mind that the soldiers in basic training might be allowed to call home on the holiday. So when the phone rang at about noon, just as I was lifting the turkey out of the brine, I wasn’t totally surprised when Steve answered it and shouted to us to come quickly because Ethan was on the phone.
The last time he called, Ethan was only allowed a 10 minute call so we didn’t want to waste any time. After a couple of stressful false starts, “I disconnected him!” – I never really did master how to put our landline phone on speaker – we huddled around the phone to get caught up. He said he could talk for 40 minutes this time. In basic training, that’s a luxurious amount of time considering that recruits only get 10 minutes to shovel down a full meal.
Of course, our first question was to ask him what they had done for Thanksgiving; in typical non-PC basic training lingo, Ethan said he had just eaten himself “retarded.” He reeled off a list of what he had eaten that sounded like the all-you-can-eat buffet on a Carnival cruise ship including about six desserts, all of which he would have turned his nose up at when he was living at home and I was doing the cooking. Things have changed; he warned me that I had better make multiple trips to Costco before he comes home for Christmas leave because now he eats everything that’s put in front of him except the silverware.
The copious amounts of food at their Thanksgiving feast tasted especially good to him and his fellow recruits because they had just come off of four days of eating MREs as part of Victory Forge, a 72-hour culminating event (that’s what the army calls it) of basic training at Ft. Jackson. Victory Forge is a tactical exercise conducted as if in a combat zone in the woods of South Carolina. It is a rite of passage, signifying the transition from a civilian to a soldier. The battalion commander – who according to Ethan is a pretty scary guy; he kicked in the door to rescue Jessica Lynch… led the nine mile march back to the base. Even though there are still two more weeks of BCT, if you make it through Victory Forge, short of a psychotic break, you are good to graduate.
So Ethan had reason to be thankful as he enjoyed his 4000 calories of ham, turkey, roast beef, salad, mashed potatoes, red velvet cake, pumpkin pie and pound cake; he had proven to himself that he has the physical, emotional and mental endurance to could go through the refining fire of Victory Forge and come out a soldier.