FORT SILL, Oklahoma (May 7, 2020) -- “Back up crazy!” cries the Drill Sergeant. “6 feet!”
Trainees back up, bouncing on their toes in anticipation. The training for the day is over. They’ve eaten dinner, and now it’s the most important part of the day -- Mail call.
Every day, when possible, letters, postcards, and packages from family, friends, and loved ones of the future Soldiers make their way to the trainees, giving boosts of morale and motivation that power them through the stressful rigors of Basic Combat Training.
“It’s always crazy,” said Senior Drill Sergeant (Sgt. 1st Class) Michelle Rhodes, C Battery “Crushers”, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery. “You really have to control the situation, because the trainees live for moments like mail call. They always want to run right up to you, looking for their name.”
Rhodes said now more than ever, due to the COVID-19 delaying and slowing movements from basic training to Advanced Individual Training, mail call has become a lifeline for the trainees.
“They’re still here at basic training, so they’re not going to be on their phones all day,” said Rhodes. “We give them much more time than normal, but for the most part it’s the mail that keeps them up to speed with the world. They’ll receive books to read, updates from their families … if they didn’t have these things they’d probably lose their minds.”
The battery continues to build Soldier skills while adhering to Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social distancing guidelines.
Drill sergeants teach things that wouldn’t normally be covered in a typical 10-week cycle, such as responding to improvised explosive devices, community services offered to Soldiers and their families, and vehicle preventive maintenance checks and services.
At the end of the day, after teaching all these things to the trainees, the drill sergeants are often in for surprises with the mail.
“We definitely see some wild things sent in the mail,” said Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Joseph Craddock, another drill sergeant at C/1-79th FA. “One time a trainee got a glitter bomb.”
Craddock said mail call, while a simple part of the day, is also an important moment for the platoon as a whole.
“As the cycle progresses, and the trainees advance to the later stages of basic training, mail call becomes a moment for the drill sergeant to bond with his or her platoon,” said Craddock. “Trainees have to open packages in front of us, so they can’t take contraband back to their lockers. (All items that trainees cannot have here such as guitars and PlayStations go to secure storage until trainees go to AIT) That’s common knowledge, so sometimes savvy family members will send something embarrassing, or something they know will rile us up. Many times, the platoon will share a laugh over something sent to one of their battle buddies, and the whole things boosts morale in the end.”
As long as there is basic training, there will be mail call. A simple little thing such as passing out letters can be the difference maker in a trainee becoming a Soldier.