FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - According to Army analysts, less than one percent of the public chooses to join any of the five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. That leaves the rest of the American public with little knowledge of what it takes to serve.
Thanks to a unique opportunity afforded to 41 Action News reporter Beth Vaughn by the University of Kansas School of Journalism, KSHB got a rare glimpse of Army basic training.
Vaughn was part of a six-day, full-immersion crash course on Army culture and structure. Along the way, she was privileged to see behind the scenes as young people transition from civilian to soldier.
The transition: Blink and you’ll miss it
It's 8:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in the pitch dark of Fort Leonard Wood. Lives are about to change.
A bus parks outside the receiving battalion. Then, there’s yelling.
New recruits have just arrived. They are hurried from the bus into single-file lines. These lines were the first of many this group of new Army privates will see in the coming weeks.
Park Hill High School graduate Joshua Foreman has dreamed of this moment for years.
“You see it in the movies all the time, and that's exactly what was portrayed to me. It was, ‘Ok, we've got to break you down to build you back up,’” Pvt. Foreman explained. He enlisted in May.
KSHB spoke with Foreman three days after he arrived at Fort Leonard Wood.
“The hardest thing, I got to say, is remembering to say ‘Drill Sergeant’ instead of sir," he said, as he explained the tough transition into Army living. "I've always had that problem. Respectfully, I've always called people sir,”
Behind the yelling
Drill sergeants demand respect.
“They're not there to think. They're just there to execute and as they graduate into white phase and further on into blue phase, things will calm down and they'll be thinking for themselves as a team,” Sgt. 1st Class Jason Bernardy said.
As drill sergeant, he monitors the lives of several dozen privates 24 hours a day, even during meal times. Privates get just ten minutes to finish their food.
“They have very little privileges with the exception of being able to go to church on Sundays,” Bernardy said.
This intense structure is meant to adapt the men and women to high-pressure situations, like the ones found in combat.
For instance, in the dining facilities, soldiers are told to carry every item with two hands. That meticulous repetitive training is to ensure they do the same with dangerous, explosive materials.
“I've never been the guy who does a lot of yelling and a lot of screaming and I'm still really not that person. I believe a well-placed butt chewing goes a lot further than a guy who's yelling all the time,” he explained. “As they become trained, you can break off of the yelling mode and break into the coach, teaching and mentoring mode which is my favorite part.”
Drill sergeants keep the young soldiers in line figuratively and literally.
Lines are something new privates count on. There are lines for ID cards, haircuts, medical evaluation and even for their first set of boots.
“The first time they put that uniform on, you can tell there's a little bit of pride. They start to shed that civilian lifestyle and they feel like they're part of the army," Staff Sgt. Michael Million said, describing the processing area of Fort Leonard Wood.
Early morning workouts
Sleeping in isn’t an option during basic training
New soldiers are up just after 4 a.m. every morning for physical training at 5 a.m. The workouts last for one hour.
By the end of ten weeks, the new soldiers will be able to run two miles and execute two minutes of push-ups and two minutes of sit-ups. Before graduating, the new soldiers also have to complete a live-action obstacle course. Getting through this test is seen as a right of passage.
A variety of classes and hands-on training are also used at Fort Leonard Wood to transition civilians into soldiers almost instantly.
“I'm ready to deploy -- that's what they train us for," Foreman said. "I'll do what I can for my country."
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