By the time I got to Medic School at Ft. Sam Houston, in San Antonio Tx., I had a descent beginners education in Army etiquette. I knew ranks of officers, both warrant and commissioned. I knew the enlisted ranks from E-1 all the way through E-9. I knew the primary military bases located in the United States and began to research where I would like to be stationed. It wasn’t going to be my choice, but I was free to dream. I knew unit patches, who and how to salute, how to march, how to shoot, how to break down a rifle then put it together. I knew how to turn a safe grenade into a live grenade and how to throw it. I knew how to eat a meal in under five minutes and how to speak to soldiers who outranked me.. which was everyone. I knew how to walk, march, run, sing cadence, follow orders and clean. Fuck, I really knew how to clean. I knew how to sound off when I spoke, when to speak and when to be quiet. I watched everyone. I knew only the basics, but it was enough to confidently report for duty at my new assigned post. I had, on my person, written orders that gave me precise details on when, where and how to report.. and to whom. I was excited.
I started Basic Training cautiously optimistic about a whole new life. After Basic Training was over, I wanted as much training as I could get. The Drill Sergeants told us, during our tour of Ft. Sill, that REAL soldiers were Airborne qualified. Both of our Drill Sergeants had “jump wings” on their chests. One had a ranger tab (an arched shoulder patch identifying soldiers who passed the notorious Ranger School and that could be worn permanently on their uniforms throughout their careers). The Drill Sergeants would talk shit to each other, platoon vs platoon, however, our Drill Sergeants ended all shit talking with their wings and ranger tabs. No matter what was said to them.. they ended it with “Got these?” .. then point to their jump wings (also worn permanently on uniforms). The Army is very much a respect oriented culture. Rank was respected or there were consequences. The Drill Sergeants showed us that both through example and by screaming it at us nose to nose. We never questioned their authority. They never questioned each others authority. It was interesting to watch. They glowed of confidence. They knew what they were capable of, they relied on their experience and their experience was worn on their uniforms. If a soldier has seen combat, the unit patch they served with during combat was worn on their right shoulder. The unit patches they currently served in were worn on the left shoulder. Combat experience was shown the ultimate respect. There was only one Drill Sergeant, in our Battery of Basic Training Drill Sergeants, who had seen combat. He had jumped into Grenada with the 2nd Battalion/75th Ranger Regiment to restore the government that had been replaced by rebels. The entire conflict was fought by “Rapid Deployment” Army units, Marines, Navy Seals and Army Delta Force. He was never involved in the Drill Sergeants shit talking shenanigans. He, somehow, was exempt. He commanded their respect by his experience. It had already been earned. This whole system was simple, I understood it and it made me feel safe. If I wanted to excel I had to prove myself. Every step of the way, I would have to prove myself. I had already been living that system since I was 12 years old.
The first thing I noticed about San Antonio was how beautiful of a city it is. People could write scores of books about its beautiful River Walk, the deep rooted history, including the Alamo, and its people. We were in training and wouldn’t be spending much time in San Antonio, the city. We “might” get passes, but that wouldn’t be for four weeks. We had to earn our passes. In reality, we were in a lighter grade version of Basic Training that had “Cadre Sergeants” instead of Drill Sergeants. If you could imagine a Drill Sergeant who just woke up from a long peaceful nap… after they got laid… that would be a Cadre Sergeant. Plus, Cadre didn’t wear the “Round Hats”. Those were earned only by graduating from Drill Sergeant School. Cadre Sergeants were responsible for the continuation of military training: Physical Training or PT, Drill and Ceremony, barracks maintenance, inspections and general well being. Our medic school instructors would be experienced combat medics who weren’t attached in any way to our day to day lives… just school.
Most importantly, after eight weeks of Basic Training plus the never talked about “zero week” making it nine weeks total, combat medic school had quite a few female students… most of which had just went through basic training as well. The sexual tension was so thick that if you stood too long in one place your feet got stuck to the ground.