The women on Tank Hill


My Iranian ex-husband Reza was refusing me any news about my baby son offering the lure that maybe if he could see any evidence that I was being a good Muslimah on my own, he might tell me something… maybe even send me  a picture now then.  He also said he was joining the Iranian army in the war against Iraq in the hope that he’d become shaheed (martyred).  I politely congratulated him on that and asked if he’d have his family inform mine when he’d succeeded so that we could celebrate his death in a special family holiday every year.

His Iranian friend Javid, along with his American wife Anne, visited him in Iran sometime after that and stole the first picture of my son for me out of Reza’s photo album and mailed it home to me.  I had it copied by a professional photo lab, Reza’s face clipped out, and returned it to Anne with my thanks to return to Reza’s album before he could notice its absence.

Stolen picture

Meanwhile, living back home, welcomed but still in disgrace having married the lying Iranian, converting to his damned religion, and losing my baby son, was not easy.  My mother was loving but highly judgmental and my then-step-father Don was… well, he had his good moments, but was mostly kind of a bastard whose vicious digs on me just never ended.  When my mother finally talked me out of wearing the burdensome hijab, we all went to Disney World to celebrate it, but I still wanted to get back out on my own to find myself.  I especially wanted to get the hell away from Don.  So I joined the Army.

I had hopes of getting to meet my ex on a battlefield and firing off some shots in his direction.  I figured with Iran’s constant provoking, we were sure to be in a war with them soon.  But inexplicably, that didn’t happen.  Nor did the Army allow me anywhere near such a battlefield for fear that my son could be used against me.

When I went to Basic on Tank Hill at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, I was among the first group of women ever to train there in full battle ops.

It wasn’t as bad as the name impies though.  Not for me anyway.  The hardest things I found to get used to were being constantly yelled at in an incomprehensible accent of Southern on top of Puerto Rican, getting up early, push ups, and sit ups.  But they didn’t get me that much.  I adapted.  They say it’s all to break you down in order to build you back up, but I’d already been broken down in Iran and I’d survived it, so Basic was kind a lighthearted game to me by comparison.  In fact, I couldn’t help find some things wickedly amusing amid all the more sobering things….

Girls finding notes under rocks in strategic locations and leaving some of their own to the shared merriment of us all since male and female recruits were not supposed to be in any kind of communication at all…

…This did not prevent drill calls from getting amazingly suggestive as male and female troops passed each other on road marches, eyes carefully averted and faces carefully straight.

One girl being processed out due to ant bites she suffered when she was told to get down and do 20 push ups for having looked at guy who passed by.  The drill didn’t know she was doing push ups on an ant hill or that she was violently allergic to ant stings until she started crying and suddenly we all saw the ants all over her.

Another few were processed out due to some experimental boots we were all supposed to be wearing.  They had no toe-spread space in them but were fitted skin tight.  I was possibly the only woman in our platoon who wasn’t wearing them.  They thought I was and had measured me for them, but when I got up to guy handing out the boots, I lied and said I was two sizes bigger then I was.  So I had Hobbit feet but happy feet while most were suffering shin splits and other foot injuries as a result of the boot.  Is that bad of me?

Within the first week or two, we lost our first drill sergeant on charges of touching a female recruit inappropriately.  He’d been a particularly mean SOB and one of the girls had said shortly before that not to worry because she’d get rid of him.  I’m assuming that was how she did it.  Whether he was actually guilty or not, I don’t know, but all of the male drill sergeants were leery of us after that and it was not a weakness any of us refrained from using when the moment was right.

Once, coming in from our morning run, my carefully pinned up hair popped all of its bobby pins and fell free, streaming after me in a long gold flag as I came up on our barracks where our second drill was watching out for us.  Hair down in uniform was totally forbidden and this was not the first time it had happened.  Not that’d I’d done it on purpose! I still wasn’t used to keeping my hair pinned up and was, frankly, pretty bad at it.

The furious drill sergeant literally grabbed me by my hair and dragged me straight into his office whereupon he shoved me down on a wooden chest with one hand while grabbing a pair of scissors from his desk with the other.  His accent was so thick I could make out the words of his fiery lecture on hair but I got the gist enough to go very still, look him coldly in the eye, and bit out, “Take your hand off me and don’t you DARE cut my hair or cause it to be cut or I will say you touched me.”

He quietly put the scissors back down and let me go without another word.

Sometime later, he again invited me into his office, this time to literally begged me to please drop out.

I couldn’t believe it!  He had tears in his eyes!  But the hell with that!  I’d started this, I’d finish it by gum!  And I did!

Basic_butt-stroke Basic_First_Aid Basic_Training_group_9-11-1985_corrected

Our first time at the firing range, I was shooting at pop up targets and doing badly while our drill sergeant patrolled up and down the lines behind our foxholes to see how were doing.  He saw how I was doing and stopped, shouting something at me over all the noise.

Basic_foxhole_training

I had a hard time understanding him at the best of times but I knew he was there saying something or other so I just turned around to ask him what he’d said when he startled me into next week by abruptly hitting the dirt face first in front of me.

He shortly came to his senses and then jumped up and forcibly pointed my rifle down.

Heck, I hadn’t realized I’d pointed my loaded M16 at him with the safety off!  It wasn’t on purpose, but I’m afraid it didn’t endear me to him one bit… but I found my singing could at least make him crack a smile sometimes.

We’d been standing at parade rest waiting for him an awfully long time one day when one by one we each took a turn entertaining the others with ditties, poems, and jokes.  When my turn came, I sang The Wild Wood Flower in my best attempt at a deep southern accent: “Now this here song’s called the wild wood flower.  The song ain’t any more popular but the flower’s doing REAL good….” I knew it all by heart and so sang the whole thing through.

I looked up at the burst of applause and there’s the drill sergeant staring at me, trying to hide a grin.  Apparently, he’d missed part of my performance and regretted it (!?), because he smiled for real then and asked me to sing it again.  When I did, he laughed and clapped harder than anyone.

There was one woman in my troop who’d stabbed her rapist to death when he’d come for her a second time after the police refused to arrest him.  She was doing military time in lieu of prison time.  She was my hero for putting a rapist out of her and her fellow women’s misery when the police wouldn’t step up to the job and she could sing too.  I mean really sing.  She looked and sounded all Amazon.  As a matter of fact, she was a dead ringer for Grace Jones. 

This is Grace Jones in case you’re not familiar:

GRACE-JONES-hairstyle

Is that a no-nonsense, don’t mess with me, kind of face or what?  Crazy ass rapist to have messed with her in the first place!  Anyway, she became our favorite cadence caller.  In fact, she led us in the Queen songs We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions during drill competition to standing acclaim.  It was quite different from the cadences most people were accustomed to hearing and set a powerfully aggressive tone for us.  You should have heard us rocking the cattle van they drove us up in with our rythmic foot stomping, hand clapping, and shouted out lyrics!  LOL

One night, while marching the firing range, the male drill sergeants took turns trying to lead us in some very some very sexist cadence calls full of degrading descriptions of women and we’d all refused to sound off no matter how much they yelled at us to do so.  When we got back to the armory, they announced that we would not be allowed to turn in our weapons until we chanted out that objectionable cadence call led by our own personal Amazon queen.

It began raining and still we stubbornly held our silence until the Amazon suddenly got a neon bright grin on her face and began chanting: “The cutest drill I ever saw, was drinking bourbon through a straw…” and we all, seeing where this was headed immediately started chanting back to her.  “I put hand upon his knee.  He said Trainee, you’re teasing me.  I put my hand upon his thigh.  He said Trainee, you’re much too high…”

We heard a burst of startled laughter from Top’s office next to the armory and they all came charging out, finally acquiescing to let us turn in our M16s and go to bed.

One night – quite possibly that same one, though I’m not positive – was a very restless one for all of us.  Two girls would go out for a certain amount of time every night to walk perimeter guard decked in yellow safety vests and carrying large flashlights.  They would exchange with two other girls when their time was up and so on.  The shortest girl in our battalion was at 4’6″ even shorter than me, but she had a bigger voice than even the Amazon did.  She was a teeny tiny fragile looking thing with wildly curly red hair.  I supposed she would have looked like an easy mark to a predatory type… and he would have been sadly mistaken.  I’ll call he Pollyanna for now just because I can’t remember what her real name was.

On perimeter guard that night, Pollyanna and her buddy heard a strange sound – like a grunting and panting – coming from a bush near our barracks and the hurricane fence that separated our battalion from the guy’s battalion next door and went to see what it was.  They pointed their flashlights at the bush and the guy who’d been masturbating there lunged out at Pollyanna, who immediately screamed out in a voice to wake the dead, “DRILL SERGEANT!  DRILL SERGEANT!  DRILL SERGEANT!” and began beating him ferociously on the head with her flashlight while he attempted to grapple her to the ground.

Her buddy ran to our barracks to wake us but of course her screams had already done the trick.  In fact, I’m sure that even 3 miles away it was literally knocking people out bed.

We practically trampled Pollyanna’s buddy as we came surging out and went after the guy.  Seeing us coming, moving to surround him, he panicked and let go of Pollyanna but we began pummeling him anyway until well-bloodied he finally found an opening and ran from us, scaling the fence in record time and escaping.

THEN the drill sergeant showed up and asked us what the hell we were all doing out there making so much noise and waking him up in the middle of the night.  We all shouted at once trying to tell him but he finally couldn’t take it anymore and arms wrapped around his head finally screamed at us to just stop and get our candy asses back to bed.

So we did.

As always, I fell back to sleep immediately.  But I wasn’t dependably a lucid dreamer at that point in my life and still had a lot of nightmares.

Earlier in the evening, a girl in the barracks had shown me a picture in the magazine she was reading of a Pakistani girl who’d been the subject of an “honor” attack by her would-be suitor.  He’d thrown acid in her face and so burned it completely off.  How any sane person can consider that kind of attack “honorable” is completely beyond me!  It was a horrible sight.  So combined with the near attack tonight, the restriction surrounding Basic training, and that image in my head, I naturally had a nightmare:  We’d all been sent to clean up a warehouse.  The doors were barred on us from the outside and it was set fire to.  We couldn’t escape so helplessly watched one another burning.

My response to this horrific sight was to make an equally horrific sound.  Imagine wailing banshees, sirens, ghosts, howling wolves… on steroids.

I was in a top bunk and it was pitch dark in there so I’m pretty sure no one knew it was me when I promptly woke my own self up with all that noise and had to fight the urge to giggle at myself.

No one else was giggling.  There were a few screams, hissed swear words, a scramble of girls hopping into bed with their buddies, and some very intense discussion.  Apparently, the other girls, the southern ones in particular, had some really wild ideas about what could possibly have made that horrible sound: Satanists, KKK, evil spirits, monsters, werewolves….

I thought, ‘Holy crap! I’m in trouble if they ever figure out I did it!  They’ll think I did it on purpose and they were already over the edge of hysteria and NOT in an understanding mood tonight!!  So I pretended to have slept through it, hoping they’d all simmer down after a few minutes.

No such luck.

Pollyanna and another girl went running to the drill sergeants cabin, pounding on his door and screaming something about monsters out to get them.

Oh good lord!!!!!

Our drill sergeant was so pissed off he couldn’t even get a coherent sentence out when he came storming down to yell at us.  Well, he made lots of noise but it made even less sense than normal.  All we really understood was that we were in a LOT of trouble.

Meh.  So he told us to go back to sleep and let HIM sleep and he’d deal with us later.

Later was about three hours later when he came in banging a garbage can lid, order us all up and out in front of the barracks, whereupon he ordered us all to do push ups and jumping jacks until he got bored.  Then we got to sleep another hour before getting up at the usual time for our usual PT.  ERG!!!!

If nothing else, it can be said that we rankled our drills pretty nearly as much as they rankled us and sometimes unwittingly.

And this is where I’m going to stop because I’ve kind of forgotten where I going with this.

Some of you went through basic training too.  Tell me some of your experiences?

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About Ampbreia

I'm an ex-Pentacostal, ex-Muslim, ecclectic Agnostic with slightly Wiccan leanings. I am not affiliated with any organized religion or political platform, but I do believe in magic and all things wise and wonderful. I work as an admin in a calibration lab. I've published 2 books so far this year: Lost in Foreign Passions: Love and betrayal, passion and loss in the heart of an alien land (a memoir of my time as a Muslimah and living in Iran for a year), written under my previous married name, Debra Kamza, and Dream Lover (a paranormal romance, the tale of witch that summons her favorite character out of a Bewitched spin-off and the actor who plays him as well). I'm constantly writing stories and poems, thoughts and dreams, and quite a few opinions - many of which are not popular but oh well. Bite me. I'm interested in art, animals, the paranormal, and people. I love to dance, all sorts, but have been studying belly dance since 2006 and LOVE it! I love anime too and love dressing up and going to conventions. My writing runs the gummut of historical, science fiction, fantasy, romance, and erotica. Beware: I may not be safe reading for work. Just saying....
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16 Responses to The women on Tank Hill

  1. What a nightmare! I am so sorry!

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  2. My boot camp experiences were pretty mild compared to your adventure, but I do remember shivering in my civie shorts and tee shirt at 3am waiting for the issue hut to open at 8am — or the time we did push-ups until the guy next to me passed out– out cold. It took a corpsman 10 minutes to revive him… well, we got a rest, anyway. LOL

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    • ampbreia says:

      They do like to make trainees hurry and wait, don’t that? As to passing out, I saw that more in male trainees than female on the occasions that we COULD see them and not get in trouble. Actually, that was maybe once come to think of it. When we went to get a bunch of innoculations at this big rec center, the guys were marched in on the opposite side of the gymn from us. None of them women fainted from the shots, not even me and I’m a really big baby when it comes to shots, but at least a dozen of the stoic faced guys did. I think it was maybe a result of having harder muscles than we did and being more tense. The more your body resists a needle, the harder it goes in and the less blood circulating in your brain because its being directed to those tense muscles. That’s my theory anyway. Where did you go to boot camp?

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      • I hate needles… they used to give us shots with something that looked like a gun — you’d get about 5 shots at a time.

        And yep– I remember several guys going flat down and out during shots.

        I went to the Naval Training Center at Orlando, Florida.

        You’d think I wouldn’t have been cold, since I’m South Florida raised, but Orlando can get very cold in the early AM, especially in October !!!! Brrrrrrrrrrrrr

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      • ampbreia says:

        I think those were the same type of shots we got too. They were multiples like that. A very new technology at the time.

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      • Yes… I don’t like shots though. I have to look away when they give me one. 😀

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  3. jr cline says:

    That is an interesting basic training story. I’ve heard it from the guys side many times but never from a woman’s point of view. I never had the experience personally.

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  4. cocosangel says:

    You have had some experiences in the army. I loved reading all the story. Sorry for your baby.

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    • ampbreia says:

      Thank you. And my baby is all grown up now. I have yet to meet him in person. He grew up in Iran and is still there, but we have some online communication now at least. That’s something. We’re not close though since I didn’t raise him and really don’t know him in the way a mother is supposed to know her children.

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  5. Lori says:

    Debra I DIDN”T KNOW YOU WENT TO FORT JACKSON SC for basic SO DID I!!! yep Tank hill it was a bitch to run up. My drill sgt.s were Pennington and A drill sgt. Joyce who was a lesbian (pretty sure)……..what year did you go?

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    • ampbreia says:

      I was there in the fall of 1985. I didn’t have the same drill sergeants, but I think I know those two. Both black? Delta company I think? I was in Alpha. Mine were all Puerto Rican: not counting the one we got rid of in the first week, one was tall and handsome and sweet; the other one was short little ornery guy with a Napoleon complex. But I remember the one lady drill sergeant of Delta – that she was pretty but looked like she could be really mean – and her cherubic-face side-kick. Side-kick cherub was unfortunately the one picked to guard the door when the group I was in went through the gas chamber. First, I went through with Alpha company girls but my mask leaked even before the take off time, so they made me go in a second time with the Delta girls. When we had to take off our masks, the panic hit me for a moment and then I got it under control by going into a trance like I do when I have to get shots. The other girls went completely berserk and actually kicked the heavy wood door down to get out. The sweet cherub got trampled under the door but somehow survived. A few minute later, one of the girls who’d just gotten out, came back in for me because I was still in there, still entranced. She dragged me out anyway… but at least I didn’t have to go in again.

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  6. Lori says:

    Debra our lives are much to SIMILAR than to just be a coincidence!

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  7. Your baby was so beautiful. Might you get to see him some day?
    Thank you for sharing your story.
    I’ve not heard the stories of many women in the military…more men have shared their stories with me.
    HUGS!!!

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  8. Paul Toellen says:

    I also went to Ft. Jackson, Tank Hill. I went through the “male cycle”, and we never even saw any females!. I was in Delta 3-1, 2nd Plt. I entered Basic on Nov. 21 1985. I was also in good shape coming in, being a high school wrestler. My Dad was a bit abusive, so Drill Sgt’s were not as bad as he was. The hardest part of Basic for me was being saddled with a “buddy” that was a screw up, and having to do push ups for laughing. Someone would do something dumb, the Drill would start yelling at him and I’d snicker. They’d jump on me next. No big deal, I just did more push ups than most others…. My Drills were Carl Preston (SFC) and Donald Ennis (SSG). Ennis was cool, Preston was a jerk. None of the other Drills even liked him! I loved Victory Tower and going to the range. The worst part was getting all the orange mud out of your boots and shining them every night!

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