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.
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!
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.
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:
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?