Basic Training 1969
by Tom “Buddha” Jones
We arrived at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, and were split up into 4 platoons, alphabetically by last names.
We were told that we were in Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 1st Brigade.
The senior drill sergeant gave us a speech while we were sitting in the hot sun. He said that he loved each and every one of us, and that each man had to give his best no matter what it is that we were doing.
The spirit of Charlie Company is “TO WIN!” We had to shout that five times in response to his question, “What is the spirit of Charlie Company?”
At first he called us a bunch of queers until we shouted at the top of our lungs. Each platoon was assigned a drill sergeant and we were instructed to address him as Drill Sergeant, not as sir, which is reserved only for officers.
Our drill sergeant is a plump, fortyish, black man named Sgt. Hobby. He showed us how to make our bunks and fix our foot lockers.
We were issued all our equipment except for our rifle.
Our dog tags have our names, social security numbers, blood types, and religious preference.
We also have keys to our foot and wall lockers. A sign at the receiving station read “You are the best dressed soldier in the world.” Our duffel bags are heavy.
The senior drill sergeant said that to be the best company in the world we have to have 100% participation in everything that Charlie Company does.
He then called for us to volunteer to give blood for a blood drive. Those men who wished to give blood were to fall out of formation. A few men did.
The drill sergeant then called for all men with type O blood to fall out. If you didn’t want to give blood you had to come in front of him individually. One guy refused and we never saw him again. The rest of us were transported to give blood.
We had another case of “100% participation” where we were asked to buy Savings Bonds, a $25 savings bond, every three months. Those who refused had to give the drill sergeant their name.
We also received orientation speeches from the base commander and some officers. We viewed a film entitled SAEDA (Subversion and Espionage against the Department of Army).
Everything is done in “double-time”. One of the officers said, “There are only two kinds of roaches, the quick and the dead.”
Whenever we hear two shrill blast of a whistle we must line up in a formation outside. The drill sergeant said the he wants to hear the barracks door slam only once and every man had better be outside.
We received two haircuts. The first took everything off. The second one cut only the sides and back. Both haircuts were 80 cents. We were told to get a haircut once a week.
Clothes washing- washer 25 cents, dryer 10 cents.
We were provided with a mailing address but informed that not to receive any packages- no candy, cookies, cake, anything. We were told if there was an emergency our loved ones could contact us through the Red Cross. We received a $25 advance on our pay last week. We had a lot of material to buy at the PX such as underwear (the Army only gives you four or five pair), soap, soap dishes, hangers, Brasso.
We are so hungry we eat everything. There is only seconds on milk and water. You eat in silence. Anyone who talks is caught gets assigned to 16 hours of K.P. Everyone will work K.P. We are currently being signed alphabetically
Lights go out at 2100 hours (nine p.m. civilian time). You get up at 0500 and have 30 minutes to get shave, shower, get dressed, and make your bunk. A lot of the guys are shaving and showering at night to save time.
Our uniforms are green fatigues and we use Kiwi shoe polish for our boots. We have two pair of boots and 1 pair of dress shoes to keep shined. A lot of our free time is spent polishing boots.
We are not allowed to wear sunglasses. For four weeks we are not allowed to go to the PX. We are not allowed to have cokes, beer, candy until the 4th week. We can’t make phone calls until the 2nd or 3rd weeks.
Everyone was required to take 5 minutes to write a letter home.
We’re confined to the company area until the 4th week.
One guy received a small box of candy from home through the mail and was required to eat it all in 15 seconds.
Training: We march every day. We’ve learned all the steps- forward march, right face, left face, right flank, left flank to the rear march, etc. When we march the drill instructor calls off cadence (left-right, 1-2-3-4) We have to sound off with rhymes, shouts to his signals.
When we have rifle training we get up around 3:30 and have reveille and chow at 4:30 am. From the time we eat until we leave we have to clean our barracks as they are inspected and graded in our absence. The platoon that finishes first for the week gets to eat first the next week.
We leave for the range around 6:00 am with our weapons or rifles (they are NEVER called guns) and stay there at the range all day.
We march about two or three miles to get there and usually get a ride on the trucks when returning to the barracks.
Battlesight Zero training involves adjusting your M-14s to fire accurately at any target 250 meters of less away. It consists of placing three rounds of ammunition in a small area approximately the size of a quarter at a distance of 25 meters. Each soldier was given 15 rounds of ammunition to accomplish this. We were to fire 5 groupings with three rounds in each grouping.
When your target is “zeroed” you then became a coach others who failed to get the necessary groupings. You direct the man into a prone position supported with sandbags under your non firing side. You give him the code B-R-A-S-S an acronym that stands for Breathe (take a deep breath), Relax (exhale half of your air), Aim (obtain correct sighting with front and rear sights), Slack (ease up on the slack on the trigger), and then Squeeze (squeeze the trigger).
Anyone who failed Battlesight Zero would be given two more chances to pass or be behind when we moved to the distance targets.
At the same time as rifle marksmanship we are provided a course in Target Detection, designed to improve our ability to find concealed enemies. We are told what to look for (sound, movement, reflection, and camouflage) and then tested on our powers of observation.
We are taught how to care for and maintain our rifles and to treat them as our best friends. One guy dropped his weapon and the DI made him do ten pushups over it while saying “I’m sorry I dropped you.”
We have classroom training too which focus on topics like guard duty, Geneva convention, and rifle marksmanship.
In addition to K.P. we are assigned serving details for chow, fire guard, and CQ runner.
Bayonet practice lasts for two hours in the hot sun with temperature in the 90’s. You have to execute movements like parry right, parry left, horizontal butt stroke, vertical butt stroke, on guard, short thrust, long thrust.
Sweat was rolling of all of us except the drill sergeant who barked commands into a microphone from a platform. Some of the men fell out with heat cramps.
Formations can be called at the strangest times. The D.I. said, “When I call ‘FALL OUT’ I literally mean fall out of those barracks. I want to see that door slam once-when every man is out!”
Our servings of food in the mess hall were getting less each day. For breakfast we had 3/4 cup orange juice, one strip of bacon, a spoonful of eggs, and a small doughnut. The mess hall was constantly running out of milk and we had to drink water with many of the meals. Everyone seemed to be losing weight.
K.P. duty consisted of cracking eggs, making french toast, running the dishwasher, cleaning out sinks, sweeping, mopping, making pies, emptying garbage cans, closing windows, peeling potatoes, and cleaning everything and everything.
We got paid on the firing range. We had to use our ID cards and say, “Sir, private (insert your full name) reports for pay.” After all the deductions I drew $69.00. We have a little ditty that we sing- “They say that pay in the Army is mighty fine; they give you a hundred dollars and take back ninety-nine.”
Some days we were sent to other firing ranges. We were transported ten miles to the Quick Kill range where we were taught to fire at a close enemy without aiming.
We began by firing a B-B gun at small metal targets about 10 feet away. Then we fired the B-Bs at round metal disks tossed about seven feet straight up into the air. The principle involved was looking up about three inches over the barrel of the gun and firing quickly.
We progressed to firing our M-14s at targets 15 to 45 meters away.
Three companies were on the range at the same time.
After eating dinner we commenced firing again-at night. At around 10:45 we were transported back to the barracks to get up again at 5:00 am the following day.
We had training on military drill and two hours on hand to hand combat.
The second lieutenant said that our spirit was improving, and the DI said we were beginning to sound like men when we marched.
We received training for precautions against CBR (Chemical, Biological, Radiological attack. We received protective masks which we were taught to put on in 9 seconds.
Then we marched to the “gas chambers” where we wore the masks and led into a tear gas filled room. Before we left the building we removed our masks to experience the effects of the gas. Our eyes were tearing and our hands and necks were burning.
The DI said that tear gas couldn’t kill you but it could make you wish you were dead.
We got more training in Quick Kill. This time we fired our M-14s at night using tracer rounds to adjust our firing.
We received training with metal masks and armed with B-B guns. We went on patrol in a forest where we were to be ambushed by our own men in our company. We were to react as quickly as possible.
We went through infiltration courses. We were taught the Rush, prepare to Rush, high crawl, low crawl, night walk, night crawl, and practiced them on the two infiltration courses.
Each course was approximately 70 meters long. The courses consisted of crawling with our weapons, crawling under barbed wire, and covering up when flares and ammo was fired.
We went through hand grenade training, and through the grenade assault course. We practiced three hours throwing dud grenades at bunkers, approaching the enemy in foxholes. Then we were marched in columns of ten to the grenade range where we each threw one live grenade.
The pass policy is determined by the commanding officer. He decides whether the company deserves privileges and if so they are distributed as follows: the honor platoon (the one with the most points at the end of the week for cleaning the barracks) gets 70% passes. The other platoons get to send only 40% of its men on passes. The squad leaders determine who deserves a pass with the drill sergeant having the last say.
Bivouac training consisted of marching 11 miles with only two breaks. We left early in the morning and arrived at our destination four hours later. The 2nd lieutenant had given us our operation orders after breakfast. “An enemy is approaching Ft. Polk from the northeast. We must advance to that position and defend the fort.” We were told to beware of snipers, ambushes, and attacks from the enemy.
To reduce our casualties each man we would be marching at 3 to 5 meter intervals from the man in front of him. We arrived at the bivouac area and immediately set up camp. We ate C-rations. After the meal we started training.
We marched to different ranges for Fire and Movement (covering your buddy as he advanced to the enemy and Combat Firing (firing as a squad of 10 on an approaching enemy). Part of the training was conducted with our protective masks on.
The first night we were divided into two groups- one group to attack our bivouac site with blanks, gas, and flares and the other to set up a perimeter defense around the camp.
The next day was the infiltration course which was 150 meters long consisting of barbed wire, logs to crawl over, mines to crawl around, and trenches and foxholes to enter and charge from.
We were to make two runs over the course- a day dry run with the use of the machine gun firing over our heads. That would occur during the night run.
It started to rain just as we began the course. This all took place with our packs on and our weapons by our side. We had to low crawl the entire course twice.
We were trucked back to the barracks tired and exhausted.
Later we were told that our MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) was 11B10-Small Arms Infantry. We were provided M-16s which we learned to disassemble and assemble and trained with.
We fired M16s in four different positions- standing, prone, kneeling unsupported, and kneeling supported.
Every night after we finished training we must turn our weapons in after cleaning them.
A weapons guard is assigned when the lights go out in the barracks until the lights go on in the morning.
Guard duty lasted one hour. You sit in the weapons room armed with a baseball bat in case someone tries to break in.
Our eighth week of training was mostly review in preparation for our proficiency test and G-3 testing. Everyone passed except for one man. The company average was 423, and two men achieved a perfect score of 500.
Quite a few of our cadre and officers will be going over to Vietnam in the next rotation. Our drill instructor, Sgt. Hobby, received orders to go to Fort Bragg, N.C. and Ft. Bliss, Texas, and then to Vietnam. He will be studying weaponry and will be an advisor to the South Vietnamese army for a year.
We gave him a going away present of $60.
He made a short speech on Vietnam: “You have to go. You gotta go. But you go over there with a positive attitude thinking you’ll come back. That’s the only way you’ll make it.”