The Augusta in Army Boots Program at Fort Gordon was amazing, though I am not sure I have ever been so intimidated in my life. I drove up in my “Mommy Car” already feeling a little uneasy (not to mention the fact that I had no coffee because I was afraid I might immediately be put in to “combat” and wet my pants). I walked up to the Bicentennial Chapel while it was still dark outside. As I approached the front door of the chapel I saw a group of soldiers waiting, but I was quickly put at ease by their friendly demeanor and welcoming handshakes.
Immediately following a delicious hot breakfast we headed outside for lessons on how to stand at ease, at attention, and how to march. I really thought I was pretty coordinated before this task. I quickly found out that pink running shoes did NOT work when turning on a dime. It didn’t take long for my soldier sponsor to praise me for a job well done and off we marched down the street while singing songs about a yellow bird on the windowsill and shooting down helicopters. It was quite a rush to be marching with true soldiers – soldiers who are serving their country and still giving up their time to give a bunch of Augusta civilians the experience of a lifetime.
Next we headed to a gym where we were given the biggest backpack I had ever seen. It included everything I would wear and sleep in for the next day and a half. We learned how to give first aid to wounded soldiers in the field, and not CPR or a band-aid. I am talking about how to properly put on a tourniquet to a soldier who has lost a limb – pretty sobering stuff.
Next came the fun part: dressing like a soldier. We went in the women’s locker room to put on the many, many layers of gear that soldiers have to wear. I am sure I weighed an extra 25 pounds after gearing up (and that is before picking up the rucksack with all my belongings). I worked up a sweat before I even left the building.
Next we went inside the gym for self-defense training. It was all very interesting since the room was filled with mostly men. Thank goodness our instructor was a woman. A woman, I might add, whose bad side I would never like to see. We learned how to protect ourselves by choking someone with the collar of their own shirt, how to grab someone like a spider with our legs and squeeze them to death, and much, much more. It did feel really good to be able to fight the guy wearing protective suit with the butt of my gun!!
Finally it was time for lunch and target practice. We ate outside and hadour pick of the MRE’s (meals ready to eat). I chose chicken with tomatoes and feta cheese; it was actually really tasty. The meal came with a powder that we mixed with water and drink from a bag, lots of dried fruit, and some M&Ms. After lunch we went to an inside computerized target range where we had to lie on our bellies and shoot. This was fun for the first 20 minutes or so, but it sure was tough to get up after being there so long. There were many impressive civilian shooters in my group. I am not sure I qualified for a single round (must have been something wrong with the equipment – wink, wink).
After shooting, off we went in our combat gear in the back of a cargo truck. We drove for what seemed like an hour to a remote spot way out on Fort Gordon. Who knew that place was so huge?!?! We drove into a compound surrounded by barbed wire and woods. We found our tent and cot, dropped our gear and quickly began learning how to walk in a group of soldiers while protecting ourselves from the inevitable enemy. This proved to be quite the workout on the old knees, thighs, elbows – well you get it- I am totally out of shape and diving into brush with an M-16 by my side proved to be great fun, but harder than I anticipated. I just kept thinking about how I was not going to be able to move the next day.
We moved across the compound to a huge mud pit with a low roof of barbed wire. We had to crawl as fast as we could face down in the mud while keeping our weapons clean and out of the mud. This was so much fun, but incredibly challenging. Let’s just say that I was proud to just finish this time.
Finally it was time for some real combat. We got back into our cargo truck and drove for a long time. We were dropped off in the middle of nowhere and told that we needed to find the village somewhere in the woods and to look for the enemy. We walked along the road for what seemed like forever, carefully checking our surroundings. Soon we heard gunshots and ran through the woods, and all I knew was that the bad guys would be wearing white or black. I was jumping into ditches, running into trees, and shooting in any direction I heard a noise. It actually felt very real. This finally ended with the good guys (us) finding the trunk full of weapons for which we had been searching.
It was getting dark as we headed back to our home base. A hot dinner, brushing of the teeth outside, and spitting in the dirt (my boys sure would be proud) and I was ready for bed. It was only 8:30 and it was freezing. My clothes were still wet and covered in red mud, but they were all I had. I tried to go to sleep, but it never happened. I am not sure if it was because I was so cold, I had no pillow, or because four tents full of snoring men and very loud coyotes in the nearby woods surrounded our tent. I finally got to sleep and woke up feeling like it was around 3 or 4 in the morning, but it was only 11 p.m. Everyone was asleep and it was very, very dark outside. Unfortunately, I needed to visit the ladies “restroom”. It was located outside of the compound near the woods. I fumbled around with the zipper on the tent and tiptoed outside with no light. As I left the compound and walked down a narrow path I heard some type of animal running through the brush right next to me. Let’s just say it was a good thing I was already headed toward the bathrooms☺.
I think I finally got to sleep around 3 am. Some extremely loud “bombs” that were being set off right by our tent awakened us at 5 a.m. I need to borrow these to get my kiddos up for school each day!
The day began early, but not quietly or gently. No resting with morning coffee. We lined up for marching and exercise – lots and lots of exercise. I will have to say that I did NOT come in last every single time this time!
What started at the crack of dawn the day before ended with the sun coming up over this magnificent place that is Fort Gordon – the home to so many brave soldiers. These soldiers endure everyday what a few lucky civilians had a chance to experience once. There is nothing more to say, but thank you! Thank you to all the women and men who serve in our United States Armed Forces.