I landed in Georgia late on a week night. I had one small carry-on. A few changes of clothes and some toiletries. The bare minimum.
There was no one waiting when I arrived. No one to point me in whatever direction I was supposed to head. I bought a cup of coffee and wandered the terminal until I saw a large group of military kids, inconspicuous as a car accident. Fresh haircuts and duffel bags.
“You fellas waiting on the bus to Benning?” I asked.
A few of them nodded. Most were playing with their phones, or chatting nervously among themselves. I dropped into a seat off to the side next to a guy closer to my own age. We exchanged casual conversation and watched as the group grew. He was prior-service also. Corpsman.
An NCO arrived and lined everyone up along two walls. He gave a few simple instructions and marched us all outside in file. Several tour buses were waiting. It was after 10 pm and I could see droplets of moisture floating in the thick air. It was muggy and sweat began to run down the small of my back in the first minute.
It was almost 2200 by the time we stepped off from the airport. It was a 90-minute drive that I would make many times over the next year.
We passed through the Sand Hill checkpoint en route to the inprocessing station. An MP boarded. He checked the driver’s ID and turned to the rest of the bus.
“There’s no turning back now, guys. The fastest way out of here is to graduate. Just suck it the fuck up and you’ll be fine.”
The Corpsman and I looked at each other and laughed. Shook our heads.
Don’t church it up, Dirt.
They dropped us off outside of inprocessing sometime after midnight. The reception NCO was waiting with his Smokey-the-Bear cap on. There was no shouting. No drama. He looked at me and the Corpsman and immediately asked if we were prior service. We nodded.
“You guys are good. Just head on inside, we’ll get you squared away in a few minutes.”
Back in the air-conditioning, we watched as he proceeded to lay into the new kids. They played the bag game for a while. I remembered playing the bag game almost ten years before. I was too nervous to even follow simple instructions for the first twenty minutes. So was everyone.
Pick ’em up. Wrong! Put ’em down! Pick ’em up . . . !
The paperwork and bullshit took over an hour. They separated us from the riff-raff. They bused us down the road to the old 30th AG and filed us into the old “starship”, a towering block of Cold War concrete. They sat the new kids on the ground to wait. They moved me and the Corpsman to a separate barracks.
What a shithole . . .
The floor tiles were cracked, and gakked thick with no-polish floor wax. Everything was dented and chipped and broken. There were only top bunks left. I tossed my bag on one, grabbed my toiletry kit, and went to the latrine to scrape the stubble off my face.
I took off my socks and boots and climbed up on the bare mattress.
First call was at 0400. I checked my watch . . . 0200.