Civilian to Soldier begins with Basic Combat Training

(Editor's note: This is the first of a 11-part series on Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood. From reception station to graduation, Melissa Buckley will follow four Soldiers with interviews and photographs each week of their 10-week transition from civilian to Soldier.)

By Melissa Buckley

GUIDON staff

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- Still wearing sneakers and jeans, the Soldiers-in-training stumbled into formation outside the St. Louis International Airport's USO. As the bus, carrying 46 Soldiers-in-training, rolled away from the terminal the hum of the engine howled over the polite conversation forming between newfound acquaintances.

Sitting in the bus, Aug. 7, was Pvt. Andrew Jobes.

"I am very excited. I'm not sure what to expect," Jobes said.

Soldiers started waking each other as the bus charged by the Fort Leonard Wood exit sign. Almost simultaneously the chatter quieted down, the glow of texting cell phones lit the seats, as the females began slicking their hair into place.
Upon pulling into reception at the 43rd Adjutant General Battalion, Staff Sgt. Amanda Black, drill sergeant, boarded the bus and sternly delivered instructions. The Soldiers hastily followed her from the bus, stepping foot onto Fort Leonard Wood to begin their ten-week journey from civilian to Soldier.

Soldiers arriving at reception are split into two groups, A Company -- typically One Station Unit Training Soldiers, and B Company -- typically Basic Combat Training Soldiers.

"B Company's mission is to process Soldiers medically and administratively for Initial Entry Training. B Company focuses primarily on Soldier that ship to BCT, but we have the agility to do both processing for BCT and OSUT units," said 1st Lt. Matthew Hina, Company B commander, 43rd Adjutant General Battalion. "Between A and B Company we have received 25,000 Soldiers this year."

Soldiers immediately began learning how to stand, how and when to speak. After initial paper work, Soldiers with cell phones were allowed to make one last call before handing the devices over.

"Tell them these things and these three things only. 'I have arrived at Fort Leonard Wood. I am safe. I will call you when I can.' That is it, do not answer their questions and hang up the phone. If you need to speak a different language other than English, keep in mind I speak three languages, so don't try to pull one over on me," Black said.

The Soldiers turned in prohibited items, changed into their new Army Improved Physical Fitness Uniforms and were sent to their barracks. This group was lucky to be in bed before midnight, some busses drop-off Soldiers well into the morning hours.

On the next morning, day one of reception, the Soldiers were eating chow by 5:30 a.m.

Pvt. Renato Rodriguez didn't sleep well his first night on post, but was perked up by his morning meal.

"I think I got a 20-minute nap. I am so use to California time. I was just thinking the drill sergeant was going to come in at any moment," Rodriguez said. "Breakfast was good. It was quick, but it tasted good. Now that's what I call fast food."

The Soldiers have to get an early start because they have a demanding schedule while at the 43rd Adjutant General Battalion.

"There are 32-stations we have to get them to within three days," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Gibson, Company B drill sergeant. "On the first day, they are usually doing some soul searching. Reality starts to smack them in the face that they are no longer home. We try to instill into them that there are deadlines that we have to make, so they need to move at a fast pace to meet medical and administrative requirements."

For the cadre at the 43rd Adjutant Battalion, it can often feel like time is working against them.

"We have a very tight schedule in order to get all the Soldiers fully processed. Any hiccups in processing, i.e. a system goes down; a Soldier arrives with color in their hair; a Soldier needs to go to sick call, and we are really pushing in order to ensure the Soldier ships on time," Hina said.

After breakfast on the first day, the Soldiers had their blood drawn, got paid and lined up for haircuts.

"When the males get their heads 'buzzed' it eliminates the last piece of the civilian world they arrived to Fort Leonard Wood with, the last piece of individualism they brought with them," Hina said. "If needed, the females are taken to the hair salon to have their hair brought in compliance with AR 670-1."

Jobes had "Justin Bieber" hair before joining the Army.

"I used to have long hair, like really long hair, but I cut it off before I came here," Jobes said.

During the remainder of their first day on post, they had their teeth and eyes checked, and blood drawn.

"All Soldiers go through a 'Medical Moment of Truth' screening on day one that gives the Soldiers one last chance to come forward and tell us anything they omitted during their Military Entrance Processing Station Physical," Hina said.

On day two, Soldiers had a hearing test, completed administrative processing and received their military ID cards.

By this time Jobes was already understanding how to act like a Soldier.

"I've learned to do what I'm told; walk with a purpose; don't slouch and don't put my bag on my shoulder. I've also learned to know where my stuff is and what I need to do with it before I need it," Jobes said.

On day three Soldiers received their immunizations, ID tags, and picked up their glasses if needed.

"For the most part by day three, you will see them begin to operate as a group, utilize the battle buddy system and the beginnings of what right looks like," Hina said. "The Soldiers learn the very basics to begin the Soldierization process: Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention training, Army Values, Army Song, Warrior Ethos, and the position of attention/parade rest."

On the morning of the fourth day on post, the Soldiers were sent to their battalions to begin training.

Gibson said he likes seeing new faces every few days, but seeing 200 to 400 new faces each week can be a double-edged sword.

"It's starting all over with a new group," Gibson said. "It feels good. I just wish I could see them all graduate. That would be fulfilling."

What the drill sergeants accomplish with the Soldiers in such as short time pleases Hina.

"The Drill Sergeants that come to the 43d Adjutant General Battalion will have already completed one or two years as a BCT or OSUT drill sergeant. I am very proud of my drill sergeants. They work long hours with lots of moving pieces, and see the same 3.5-day process every week. Their hard work and dedication keeps me motivated," Hina said.