Army Recruits Quickly Abused in Training
FORT KNOX, Ky. — The recruits of Echo Company stumbled off the bus for basic training at Fort Knox to the screams of red-faced drill instructors. That much was expected. But it got worse from there.
Echo Company’s top drill instructor seized a recruit by the back of the neck and threw him to the ground. Other soldiers were poked, grabbed or cursed.
Once inside the barracks, Pvt. Jason Steenberger says, he was struck in the chest by the top D.I. and kicked “like a football.” Andrew Soper, who has since left the Army, says he was slapped and punched in the chest by another drill instructor. Pvt. Adam Roster says he was hit in the back and slammed into a wall locker.
I got off the bus at Ft. Lewis, Washington in the early morning hours of Nov 1, 1967. As I remember, I got off very quickly while being screamed at by a large man is a Smokey The Bear hat.
Welcome to the Army.
We stood on footprints that were painted on the pavement while our shortcomings were discussed, we were assured that with recruits such as we, the Army was in terrible trouble and it just might be the end of the military and the free world as we knew it. Then we were told to put our bags, (we were only allowed to bring one small bag) under a lean-to shelter on the side of the building and moved inside to fill out paperwork and take tests. When we finished we went back outside and found our bags sitting next to their contents, or what remained of them, on the ground.
It was explained to us that we were not allowed to have any firearms, knives, explosives, pornography (such as Playboy), newspapers, magazines, radios and a number of other items. We were allowed to sent things home or put them in the trash. Hardly anyone bothered to send anything home.
We were then taken to the Reception Center by a circuitous route so we wouldn’t know that we were only a block from where we started, allowed to eat and put in a barracks to sleep for a couple of hours until reveille.
We were wakened the next morning by someone beating on a trashcan lid and yelling for us to wake up and be outside in five minutes. We stumbled outside into what was one of the only two types of weather available in Washington in November. Cold and damp, or cold and raining.
For the next couple of days we inprocessed, filling out more forms and getting our GI haircuts. It wasn’t too bad, but none of us really knew what to expect, except that we were sure that it was going to get a lot worse.
The final day we were taken to the clothing issue point and issued our uniforms and gear like helmets and web belts, sleeping bag, etc. We were driven around in semitrailers with benches in them which, of course, were called “cattle trucks.” When we finished getting our issue, we were taken to a new barracks where our Basic Training was to start. That’s when things got interesting.
Here we were. Everyone in my platoon was RA. that meant that we had all enlisted voluntarily and received service numbers beginning with RA for Regular Army. Draftees got service numbers starting with US.
Anyway we had heard that RA’s got treated better than the US’s. Not exactly.
We all piled off the cattle truck and tried to stand in a straight line while being shouted at by various large men with the Smokey The Bear hats. After we got settled down the Drill Sergeant’s introduced themselves.
The way they did it set the entire tone for the next eight weeks.
The head Drill Sergeant (never call them Drill Instructors in the Army) told us, “The AArrmy says we can’t call you Motherf**kers Motherf**kers no more.” This kind of let us know where we stood as far as the rules were concerned. There were rules and then there were rules. The rules were what the Drill Sergeant said they were, he was the final authority and there was no appeal. There was no one between you and him, and there was nobody above him that was going to help you even if you got up the nerve to talk to them. At least that was the impression they were trying to make.
If Christmas falls in the middle of a training cycle, all the trainees are allowed Christmas leave. A few weeks later when we were getting ready for Christmas break, we were marched back to the company area and let into the Day Room. This was a recreation barracks with a TV, pool table and, luxury of luxuries, a candy machine. (We weren’t allowed to have candy either) We were kept there for several hours with no explanation. We had never been allowed in there before except to clean and we wondered why we were this time. No one explained why until much later.
What we didn’t know was that while we were gone, the platoon leaders, all newly commissioned second lieutenants, had got drunk and went through all the barracks tipping over bunk and wall lockers, stuffing all the mattresses in the stairwell between the first and second floor, and spraying shaving cream all over everything. This was the night before were were supposed to leave for Christmas and we really wanted to get back to the barracks and pack.
The LTs did not know the difference between creating stress for training and simple harassment. The Company Commander had found out what they had done and had us held in the day room until they had completely restored the barracks to normal. We didn’t find this out until later, so we just thought we were the ones being punished for something.
Those officers disappeared and were never seen again. I heard later that they had been Court-Martialed and since they were OCS graduates and not West Point or ROTC, they were reverted to their enlisted rank and reassigned.
So even in the old days it was not all meaningless harassment and abuse. I can only speak for myself, but I never witnessed or even heard about a Drill Sergeant hitting pushing or physically abusing a recruit in my company. The tenor of the time was much like the company in “Full Metal Jacket.” The Drill Sergeants spoke and acted like the Drill Sergeant in that movie, but there was never the abuse portrayed in the movie. I like the movie because it is a reasonably accurate depiction of Basic Training of the period. But they added some things like having weapons in the barracks and the “blanket party” for the story line.
But the entire time I was there I was sure that they could and would if they wanted to. Which is exactly what they wanted me to think.