The second day of Basic Training consisted of running, pushups, running, singing cadence, running, push ups, uniform issue, push ups, running, head shaving, verbal abuse, push ups, running, push ups, verbal abuse, and chow. After chow, we had a time consuming and painfully elaborate class on how to spit shine combat boots. All along our travels the only person we could talk to was our battle buddies. Conversations only began after the command “BEGIN (awkward pause) CONVERSATION!” If we spoke out of turn we did push ups. Frank, my battle buddy, was from Guam. He apparently didn’t understand English because he spoke out of turn ALL DAMN DAY… none of it made sense except his reply to the Drill Sergeant command to push dirt. Ironically, his response was a faint, broken yet distinguishable, “aw fuck man” (which added push ups to our count … every time).
After spit shining 101, we headed to our bunks and got another elaborate class on how to make our beds and how to stock our issued uniforms in our foot chest. Bed making and foot chest organization, as it turns out, were subject to daily inspections. We found out the morning of day 3 as we returned from breakfast chow to overturned bunks, randomly dumped out foot chests and an awfully irritable Drill Sergeant. Push ups, verbal abuse and insults directed at our parents were the normal routine of post-chow mornings. As it turned out, Frank, my battle buddy, had 2 apples stashed in his foot chest. They were stepped on now, of course, and tasted like floor wax and boot leather. I’m sure you caught on to my description of how the apples tasted… Frank and I ate a lot of smooshed apples during our 9 week tour through basic training. He just didn’t understand enough English, apparently, to comprehend the directions that no food was to EVER leave the chow hall. He got creative, every day, on apple hiding. However, our Drill Sergeants invariably found the fruit. Fruit detection must be something Drill Sergeant’s learn in Drill Sergeant school.
I was considering having a long, serious heart to heart conversation early on in Basic Training, with “The Apple” as he was now referred to by the rest of our platoon, however, I paid enough attention to know when to remain silent. The Apple was 35 years old, the cut off age for military enlistment. He was built physically like a young Arnold Schwarzeneger, if someone left Arnold in hot water for a week. He was shorter than me. Every night I watched him practice martial arts, alone, in the corner of our barracks. The first time I saw him with no shirt on I saw what looked to be whip scars all over his back and chest. I decided early on that whatever punishment I received because of The Apple.. I would accept it as silently as I could. This was my first lesson in humility. I didn’t know what he had been through nor his reasons for joining the Army… but apparently he hadn’t enlisted due to flunking out of college on his fathers dime like I did.
Frank woke up early (or never slept) and ran before we even woke up. This dumbfounded me because as soon as we woke up… we went running. One morning, as we did “head count” lined up in formation… Frank wasn’t there. The Drill Sergeants were screaming at me.. nose to nose, “where the fuck is your battle buddy you fucking potato??” (a potato, in reference to new recruits in the Army, is someone who against all odds.. made it through the birth canal as an infant). I had no answer, so I replied loudly from the position of attention, over and over and over, “I have no answer Drill Sergeant”. That answer, I learned from experience, was the only correct answer. They gave up, lined up the platoon, sounded off.. and we went running. About a mile into our run… running in the other direction… was Frank. My battle buddy. Eating an apple.
The ensuing conversations with our Drill Sargent’s remains foggy and unrecognizable, but apparently, after our run, Frank and I were going to meet their buddy “Rudy”. Both our Drill Sergeant’s seemed excited to introduce us. I remained skeptical. The Apple, as always, remained indifferent.