A Charmed Life
Chapter 12: FNG
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
16 November 1987 - Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Jeff shifted the weight of the duffel bag on his shoulder while he crossed the company area from the headquarters building to his assigned barracks; he’d spent the weekend at the reception company barracks since reporting to Bragg on the eleventh. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, he thought, thinking about the difference between theory (training) and application (doing).
He’d been training for the Army since the beginning of July, now he was going to actually be in the Army, learning what that meant. After a full weekend in-processing with the prospect of one last day tomorrow, his head was spinning. Jeff just wanted out of his Class-As, into a set of BDUs, to get dinner and then to crawl into bed. Seeing the 82nd Airborne patch on his left shoulder still gave him chills. His biological grandfather died wearing that patch.
Entering the Alpha Company building, Jeff saw the First Platoon directional signs and headed that way. Other signs pointed to his squad leader’s office. In this barracks he’d be sharing a room with one other soldier, not like the huge open barracks rooms during training where he’d bunked with forty-five others.
He was grabbed by a PFC in BDUs when he passed the Third Squad Lounge.
“Hey, are you the new guy?” the PFC asked, pulling Jeff into the common area. “Come here and get in on this!” Jeff took in the scene: another PFC stood over a PFC sitting in a chair, holding a book. These two appeared to be taunting the book reader, and it brought back memories of people harassing him in junior high school. It pissed him off.
“No, I don’t think so,” was all he said before he started to turn back to the door.
“Hey, where you going, New Guy?” the second PFC confronted him. His name tape read Jaeckel. Appropriate.
Jeff gave the large man a hard look. “You want me to help you torment another soldier, one who is apparently in my platoon, when I haven’t even reported in to my squad leader yet? Get stuffed. I went through this shit in junior high school, so no thanks! I might be the new guy, and I might be right out of training, but I know what the term Bravo-Foxtrot means. I think I’m looking at two people who embody the term.” He turned on his heel and left.
Out in the hallway, Jeff took deep breaths to calm down. He looked again for the squad leader’s office, room 319. There it was, right next to his own room, 317. He dropped his duffel on his bunk; his roommate wasn’t there. He walked next door to report in.
“Sergeant, Private Knox reports,” Jeff said, standing at attention.
“At ease, Private. Have a seat,” his squad leader said.
Jeff sat nervously while the sergeant stared at him, trying to get a feel for Jeff. Finally, the sergeant spoke up.
“Welcome to Third Squad, Knox; I’m Staff Sergeant John Tyler. I’ve been looking at your jacket. This is only a copy by the way; the original is back over at headquarters. Honor grad three times in a row? An ARCOM and two AAMs before even reporting to your first unit? An average of 291 on your APFTs so far? Not bad, soldier!”
“It’s all been theory up until this point, Sergeant. I still need to experience actually being a soldier,” Jeff said. “I’ve had a run of good luck, that’s all.”
“And humble, to top it all off. You’ll do well here, I think. You reported to Lieutenant Cherrington and SFC Hantula when you arrived I imagine?”
“Yes, Sergeant. This morning, when they both got to the office.”
“Good. Why don’t you go introduce yourself to your roommate and get settled in? It’s almost chow time. We’ll talk more later. Dismissed.”
Jeff stood and went to attention, executed an about-face and stepped smartly out of the room. Jeff went next door to his room where he came face-to-face with a nightmare. The three PFCs from the lounge sat staring at him. Jeff swallowed. Oh, shit...
“So you are my new roommate?” the one who’d been the others’ target in the lounge asked. His name tape read “Takahashi.”
“Hai!“ Jeff responded automatically. Shaking his head Jeff, explained, “I beg your pardon, Private Takahashi. My karate Sensei back home was also named ‘Takahashi.’”
“Ken,” Takahashi said as he stood and held out his hand. Jeff took it. “My name is Ken. Thanks for sticking up for me back there. Carl, Frank, and I were all supposed to be getting new roommates soon, and Carl” - Ken indicated PFC Jaeckel - “thought up that little test we just put you through. We wanted to know what kind of people we’ll be sharing rooms with.”
“Nice job, by the way,” Jaeckel remarked. He rose and offered his hand. “Carl Jaeckel, good to meet you.”
“Jeff Knox,” he responded. Frank Widmar, the private who had pulled him into the lounge introduced himself. Jaeckel and Widmar took off after a few minutes of getting acquainted.
“You speak Japanese, then?” Ken asked him after the door closed.
“No, I know only a few words, the ones I needed at the dojo. I studied karate for four years. Sensei was originally from Tokyo.”
“My parents came from down by Hiroshima; they raised my sister and me to speak Japanese and English. I can teach you the language, if you’d like?”
“I think my family would be impressed if someone could teach me English...” Jeff joked.
“Don’t let this place beat the sense of humor out of you,” Ken replied, laughing. “I meant ‘I’ll teach you Japanese, if you would like?’”
“I would, thank you,” Jeff said, sincerely.
“It’s the least I can do, after you stood up for me.”
“I felt like I was back in junior high school getting bullied again. I couldn’t stand it. This was a chance to react like I didn’t when I was in junior high, so I did.”
“Whatever the reason, I appreciate it. Carl, Frank and the rest of the squad will give you a break on the FNG stuff because of how you reacted. Do you have your meal card for the dining facility yet?”
“I do. I just need to knock out some push-ups and sit-ups, get into a set of BDUs, and I’ll be ready.”
Jeff unpacked his duffel bag onto his rack, shook out his best set of BDUs, one of only two sets with the 82nd‘s patch on them so far, and inspected them for wrinkles. Finding none, he undressed down to his briefs and t-shirt, and pulled on PT shorts. He dropped to the floor to start knocking out push-ups. When he’d done a silent count, he flipped over and did sit-ups. Finished with his PT, he changed into an Army-brown t-shirt and his BDUs. He put on a five-button sweater and his BDU blouse, then pulled on his jump boots. “All set, Ken.”
“That was quick. You did how many of each?”
“One hundred of each. I’m a little behind today.”
“A little behind?” Ken was incredulous. “If that’s ‘a little behind, ‘ then how many do you usually do?”
Jeff shrugged. “I’m up to doing at least five hundred of each per day, and a five-mile run when I can. The run’s been hard to do every day since I joined up, but then it’s not like they don’t make you run in training.”
“I’m used to it now,” Jeff shrugged again. “I started working out like this the summer before high school. I did some whenever and wherever I was able during the day and, before I knew it, I was up to five hundred a day. Come on, I want to eat. I’ll get back here to put all this stuff away, and I’ll crash. I’ve got one more day of paperwork and in-processing to look forward to. What time is reveille?”
“That’s about what I’ve been used to.”
The new friends left the room and headed out.
Jeff tried again to wipe the crust out of the corner of his eye; he was filling out more paperwork in the company office early the next day. He’d slept well the night before, but a mix of an early morning, PT, breakfast and a hot shower did not equal an awake Jeff when you added in paperwork. He initialed and signed the final page and returned it to the stack.
“Congratulations, Private, you’re all done,” said Specialist Josh Tomlinson, one of the headquarters office staff. Jeff smiled as he leaned back into his chair. “You’re all done here.”
Jeff’s smile disappeared. “Oh, that was cold.”
“Well, we office staff have to get our kicks where we can,” Tomlinson laughed. “You still have to draw your equipment at supply.”
“May you die slowly from a thousand paper cuts.” Tomlinson laughed again. “And fall into a vat of peroxide before you do.”
“You all done?” Ken asked. Jeff came back to the room the following evening carrying a trash can liner with his newly-issued web gear in it.
“I hope so,” Jeff grumbled. He dropped the bag in his closet. “I thought that stuff had to be returned in better condition than this? I guess whoever had this crap missed that class in Basic. And that was the good set! You should have seen the stuff they tried to give me first!”
He’d spent the last few hours with water and a stiff-bristle brush trying to get the mud off the gear, and that was after hours filling out more in-processing paperwork. He’d ask Ken to look at the web gear another day, to see how he did cleaning it. “I might be better off buying my own.”
“Lots of guys do that. So, tell me again about this new stuff you heard about at supply? The new waterproof gear?”
“I guess it’s supposed to replace the field jackets. The specialist over at supply said the folks at Natick Labs have been working on a whole new system of waterproof jackets, liners - even pants - that are supposed to be made out of Gore-Tex.” Jeff shrugged. “I guess they’re going to be rolling it out next summer, so we’ll have it next winter.”
“Which means, in true Army fashion, it’ll get here the summer after that, it will suck, and they’ll get it right the second time - in five years.”
“I defer to your greater knowledge and experience in the matter,” Jeff joked.
“Just you wait, New Guy. You’ll see. You said you met the LT and our platoon sergeant yesterday?”
“Yeah, before I started with all the company in-processing fun.”
“SFC Hantula has been here a couple of years, so he’ll probably PCS in a couple more. The LT just got here a few months ago. He’ll be here longer; he seems like he knows what’s up. SSG Tyler got here about the same time as I did. You ready for chow?”
“As long as it doesn’t look like mud tonight,” Jeff grumbled.
“This is the Army,” Ken reminded him. “Don’t get your hopes up.”
“I think I need a shower after shaking Infante’s hand.”
Ken chuckled. “That’s a common reaction. My family wants to come visit, but I don’t want him near my little sister yet. Not until she’s sixteen at least; maybe not even when she’s twenty-six!“
“My sister’s a senior this year, and already seventeen. She’s not visiting until he’s ready to PCS! That guy’s a legend in his own mind.”
“He’ll needle you a little as the new guy...”
“I figured on catching stuff like that as the FNG,” Jeff shrugged. “I can handle him; I can even put him in his place without kicking his ass.”
“From what you’ve told me, that’ll be a new experience for you.”
Ken laughed when Jeff flipped him off.
Jeff and Ken were reading in their barracks room at the end of Jeff’s first week at Fort Bragg. Their door was open when they noticed another soldier poke his head in and survey the room.
“Hi, how are you?” Jeff offered, looking up from his history homework. He received no reply other than a curt nod before the other man disappeared. Jeff looked over at Ken.
“‘Fingers?’” Jeff replied.
“Fingers Flaherty, as in ‘sticky’ or ‘Five-finger Discount Fingers’ Flaherty.”
“Glad I don’t have much lying around.”
“It won’t matter to him; he’ll take whatever, regardless.”
“No one’s caught him at it yet, I’m guessing?”
“Nope. Make sure the door is locked tight whenever you leave the room, regardless of how long you’ll be gone.”
Jeff settled into life in the active-duty Army. By the middle of December he felt he could take the time to write longer letters to people other than his family. He no longer mailed letters for his father and sister to his Dad’s garage; now he mailed them home.
His Mom surprised him by showing up at his graduation from AIT. She’d hugged him tight and cried out her apology in the middle of the parade field at Fort Benning. She’d told him how proud of him she was for the choice he’d made, and for his performance in training. Their relationship wasn’t back to where it used to be, and might never be, but it was improving.
“Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas.”
“Hi, Jeff! Merry Christmas! How are you?”
“Okay, thanks, Mom. We’ve got a pretty light day scheduled; we’re still on Support Cycle, so we’ve got it easier than the guys in the other brigades.”
“Well, I won’t pretend I understand any of that, regardless of how many times you’ve explained it. I’m sorry you couldn’t come home for Christmas.”
“I’ve only been here a month, Mom. I’m low man on the totem pole, too. Add those together and my chances of coming home were pretty slim.”
“How are your correspondence classes going?” Jeff started his classwork in history two weeks ago.