Medic school started on a Monday morning. We woke up by the voice of our Cadre Sergeant ordering us outside for morning PT and given five minutes to “form up” in formation. That morning we learned who he was, who our squad leaders were, and who our Platoon Sergeant was going to be. Unlike Basic Training, Medic School had soldiers of various ranks. Sometimes, when a soldiers initial enlistment was over, they could reenlist and change MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty). The Army loves acronyms. We had all types of soldiers who wanted to be medics. Men and women. Our platoon sergeant was an E-5, Sergeant, who spent six years in the reserves as a Military Policeman aka MP. We also had a lot of reservists. This seemed odd to me looking back. I was active Army or “Regular Army”. Reservist soldiers, after Medic School, would go home to their families and lives. Once a month they would report for duty, for a weekend. Every summer they would report for a week worth of duty. I was skeptical of them and wanted to find out who was a “weekend warrior” so I knew who to avoid. It seemed our Cadre Sergeant wanted to know too… he made them do push ups while Regulars stood there and watched. I liked this Cadre Sergeant.
We stretched, did calisthenics, push ups then ran a few miles. We sang cadence about Airborne Rangers, Special Forces, dying in glory… then returned to our barracks. He gave us 30 minutes to shower and return so he could show us how to get to the chow hall. I remember this first day for several reasons. The first reason was PFC. Lomar. During Basic Training we were told how to do everything. By everything… I mean … EVERYTHING. Showering in a community shower took precise instruction: have soap in a soap dish, carry shampoo bottle, bring washcloth and towel. Wear flip flops. Do not brush your teeth in the shower. Finally, while walking to and from the shower, we must wear brown GI (government issue) underwear. PFC Lomar was naked, walking to the shower. This struck all of us as out of the norm. It was awkward. Not so much that he was naked, we would all be naked soon enough in the shower. PFC Lomar had a penis that hung atleast twelve inches… flaccid. He liked to show us. If we didn’t pay attention to it, he yelled, swung it and it would thump against the wall. He did this every day, twice a day for 10 weeks.
We formed up on time thirty minutes later and we were marched to chow… singing cadence. We ate, formed up and marched back … singing cadence. I loved singing cadence. Loud, organized, rhythmic and bluesy cadence. It had become my favorite part of running and marching. The songs were deeply pro Airborne, pro American, pro Soldier and pro Killing. I was warned of being “brain washed” before I went to Basic Training. At the start of Medic School, the Army had me hook, line and sinker. There was only one cadence that made me laugh, however. Cadence about “Jody”. Jody, according to Drill Sergeants and Cadre Sergeants, was a rich, good looking civilian who was home fucking our girlfriends. I didn’t have a girlfriend back home. So I laughed. I may have been the only soldier who laughed regularly singing about Jody. In reflection, I think PFC Lomar may have laughed too.
We marched to the school where we would study how to be Combat Medics. We were shuffled in to classrooms, one by one as our names were called. Each class had two instructors. We were told class would be eight hours long, we would eat MRE’s (meals ready to eat) for lunch, and that our Cadre Sergeants would be back to march us back. We were not to leave the area until Cadre accounted for us. Under no circumstances should we wander off… or we would be court marshalled and charged with abandoning our post. I heard a faint, but familiar, throat clearing at the back of my classroom. I turned my head and saw my buddy.. The Apple. He was in my class. I couldn’t hide my smile. He started to stand up but I waved him down. He just smiled back.. and yelled “Hi Angie!!!”. Now everyone turned around. The Cadre Sergeant told him to shut the fuck up. The Apple replied with, “aw fuck man. Ok.”
We then met our instructors. Both of our instructors were combat veterans. They had unit patches on their right arms. Both had jump wings on their chests and both had the coveted C.M.B.’s (combat medical badges). CMB’s could only be earned by combat medics who served, in combat, in an infantry unit. The CMB could be worn permanently on their uniforms for the duration of their careers. They both wore extremely crisp starched uniforms and their boots were spit shined to the point of being mirrors. When they entered the room, their presence was enough to command silence. We studied them. They knew we were studying them. They told us about their experience in a readers digest sort of way. Neither spoke for more than five minutes. Neither stepped on the others words. Most importantly, they spoke to us as brothers and sisters.. not as superiors. THAT in itself grabbed my attention. They went on to tell us about our jobs. They told us that the Combat Medic has the shortest life expectancy on the battlefield, statistically, of all soldiers. Furthermore, in spite of the odds against us, that American mothers at home would EXPECT us to save their babies one day… and that it was their job to weed out the soldiers who wouldn’t make the cut. We all took an oath of enlistment to get to this point. They were straight forward in telling us that OUR oath’s covered saving American lives… directly. One instructor went on to say, “Anybody can take a life if armed correctly and trained properly. Only the Combat Medic can take a life and save a life.” I was sold. I had no more questions to be answered.
Lastly, they told us we would get 10 workbooks or “modules” covering Emergency Medical Treatment, and we would be expected to learn one module a week. We would have to know the modules from cover to cover. Each Friday we would have a test. If we failed the test we would not be eligible for a weekend pass. We would be given a second chance to pass the test again, early on the following Monday. If we failed the test a second time, we would be going to Infantry school on Tuesday. They explained it in a non threatening way. We all knew this was a fact.
I began to sweat. My hands went numb and I couldn’t swallow. I had no positive experience, that I could recall, taking tests. My father was a medic in the Air Force. I imagined him and I, one day, sitting at a bar drinking beer and talking about medic stuff. Failure wasn’t an option…