Saturday, August 4, 2012

Hooah!


There are certain things that never fail to make me feel patriotic, that strike some inner chord of national pride, that make me stand a little taller as an American. Things like seeing the cannons shooting while the Boston Pops plays the “1812 Overture” on the 4th of July. Things like watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Things like seeing the statue of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Things like looking at the names on the Vietnam Wall. Things like listening to a recitation of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. But as of this week, there is nothing that sends patriotic chills up my spine and brings proud tears to my eyes like hearing 1,000 brand-new recruits reciting the Soldiers’ Creed and proudly chanting in unison the words: “I am an American soldier!”
Part of the August 2, 2012, class of graduates of Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
This past week, my stepdaughter Rosemary graduated from Army basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. I was privileged to be able to attend her graduation in person, along with our whole immediate family. My son was impressed by all the soldiers in uniform everywhere and loved the colorful smoke bombs going off at the start of the Family Day ceremony; my daughter was delighted at having hundreds of people to watch (and flirt with); my husband and I were astounded at the sheer volume of soldiers being cranked out by the Army-making machine that is Fort Jackson.
PFC Philpott at her graduation ceremony, second row, dead center.
The soon-to-be-graduates making a grand entrance onto the field for the Family Day ceremony.
For us, as well as most of the families there, this graduation ceremony was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Unless you have several children who sign up for the military, this is the one time you’ll send your child away for ten weeks with no communication other than letters and one or two brief phone calls, culminating in this ceremony that officially declares your child to be a soldier. For us parents and families, Graduation Day is a pretty big deal. But for those who work on this base, it’s not a big deal. In fact, it’s just Thursday.
That’s right. Every Thursday of every week of every year (well, probably not Thanksgiving or the occasional Christmas Day that falls on a Thursday), roughly one thousand soldiers complete boot camp and graduate from basic training. Fifty thousand young people (and boy are they young – I swear some of the graduates we saw aren’t even old enough to drive yet) every year come to Fort Jackson as nervous teenagers and, after ten weeks of intensive training under the watchful eye of a group of tough (and kind of scary) drill sergeants, leave as confident, competent soldiers.
PFC Philpott with Drill Sargent Brock. I refer to her expression as the, “YES, DRILL SARGENT!” face.
PFC Philpott with her “battle buddy,” PFC Doyal.
 Everywhere we went on base, we saw groups of uniformed soldiers-in-training (SITs) going through various exercises: marching through the woods, standing in formation, studying, practicing handling their weapons, running on the track, doing pull-ups (I have never seen so many pull-up bars in one place as on that base – they’re like sheep in the Irish countryside). It’s no wonder to me that not all of them make it. About 10% of SITs do not graduate, whether due to some injury or personal issue that forces them to drop out temporarily, or because they are simply physically or mentally unable to complete the requirements of the program. In fact, it’s a wonder to me that the dropout rate is ONLY 10%. In all honesty, I don’t think that I could have mastered the physical requirements, even when I was 18.
But this past Thursday, the 1,000 young people who did complete all those requirements stood proud and tall in front of friends and family, and loudly and proudly declared themselves to be American soldiers. Including my stepdaughter.
She is an American soldier. Hooah!
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