5:30 a.m.
Rain, low/mid 40’s
August 28, 1990, my 18th birthday
Ft. Leonard Wood, MO

Up at that hour, I wished I was getting my gear loaded in the truck to fish or hunt.

No dice.

I was doing push-ups. In a parking lot. With a rifle across the back of my hands. Our entire platoon was. Ponchos, kevlar helmets, BDU’s, boots and full canteens. Rain in puddles around our hands and boot-toes, reflecting street-lights and the steam from our breath. I don’t remember why we were doing them, other than someone did something wrong. I quietly hummed happy-birthday-to-me between push-up counts. It was going to be another kick-ass day.

I’m not being sarcastic either. I loved basic training. I still hold to this day that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Our wedding reception/pig-roast a decade later and the birth of my kids shortly after that soundly rounding out the list.

I had to get my mom’s permission when I enlisted at 17. Had to admit in front of her that I smoked pot before too. Hey, its a federal offense if I said never! and then came up hot on my first piss-test…at least that’s what the recruiter said. Mom signed and left the room. I was due to report for duty in Missouri on August 3rd, 1990. The first day of Desert Shield.

Becoming a Combat Engineer was a 13-week come-to-Jesus meeting between my small-town, undisciplined self and a half-dozen Drill Instructors hell bent on forging steel from my small-town, undisciplined self. Tank-trail road marches. Push-ups. Mud and barbed-wire low-crawls. Explosive-device identification classes. Push-ups. Field-triage first aid classes. Road marches. Rifle and grenade ranges. Push-ups. Muscle failure PT at dawn. Foxholes and midnight perimeter guard. Push-ups. Mine field-sweeping exercizes. Nuclear, Biological and Chemical training (aka the gas chamber). Road marches in gas masks. Push-ups.

The impending war in Saudi was held over our heads from day one.

You’re all going to the desert, the Drill Sergeants would bark. Every last swingin’ dick.
If you don’t pay attention, you’re gonna die.

The harder I worked, the better I performed. The better I performed the less the Drill Instructors kicked my ass, which in an odd twist of psychology, drove me to work harder.

I wasn’t the scrawny, insecure, undisciplined kid that was late to the puberty party anymore. Not another kid lost in the wild, confusing, irrelevant shuffle of freshman year at a State school back home. For the first time in my life, I was on my own path. A leader and part of something much bigger than myself. It scared the shit out of me. But it was something I could own and be proud of.

I didn’t wind up going to the desert, assigned instead to an Ordnance Unit in Germany, then returning to serve stateside. Many of my friends did though…and many more served in Panama, Rwanda, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan…are still serving.

I’ve moved on in another direction with my career and life path. But my time in the military and my cohort are never far from my thoughts. They never will be. Their sacrifice makes the freedoms I enjoy possible…freedoms I know I take for granted at times. Like the ability to write this blog. Or even something as simple and pure as spending time in the woods or on the water with my dad or my kids… for that alone I can’t express enough gratitude.

In the end, I wouldn’t have the perspective I do today without the…ahem…gift of those push-ups on my 18th birthday. I’m thankful, and proud, that I do.

Charlie - 35th, 3rd Platoon, Ft. Leonard Wood, 1990


Filed under The road, Time in service

12 responses to “BASIC

  1. Lori

    now thats a birthday you will always remember..

  2. Matt,
    Many thanks for your service. Great post.

  3. EP

    A wonderful perspective that should be shared with highchoolers. You are a wonderful example of how your time in service prepared you for your future. And…your service continues!

  4. I think we all take the little things, like the freedom to sit in a comfortable room, with a cup of decent coffee, in front a computer, reading good things like this post, for granted. Thanks for the service, and the good things, like this post.

  5. Joe

    Awsome post. Thanks for your service Matt.

  6. Jeremy

    Ahh yes. The memories of military training. I have to say that the most fun I had in military training was Tech School. But, Germany was a great time to.

  7. Diane

    Germany was a great time and still are some of my fondest memories. I also “came of age” in the army. Being a veteran is something a small percentage of Americans have the honor of being. Our grandfathers generation clamored to serve and nowadays people can’t be bothered. This is definitely a brotherhood (and sisterhood) that will never change. It’s always a conversation starter. The older officers I work with LOVE my sister and me for our signing on the dotted line and serving. Sometimes I think other people don’t get it.
    Happy Belated Veterans Day, Matt.

    • Fishingpoet

      @Diane & @Jeremy – There are few things in life that define who you are as much as serving your country. It’s something that we can most definitely be proud of. And yes…Germany will always hold great memories.

  8. A “of something much bigger than myself. It scared the shit out of me.”….beautifully written post. And thank you for your time in the service.

  9. Sounds like my first few days in Benning. Same shit different MOS, except that I never got to go to Germany. Mostly stayed in GA, deployed here and there but never for more than a few weeks.
    Used to be lI was lean and mean, now I’m fat and happy.
    This post took me back for a minute, like some times I’d trade a night at home for an unanounced road march and an extra MRE.

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