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Column: Training of a lifetime

‘I am no longer the young boy that I was when I first started my training because I went through the toughest training in the world to be a better man.’

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Column: Training of a lifetime

"I finally became who I always dreamed of when I was a kid: a soldier who protects freedom and justice."

"I finally became who I always dreamed of when I was a kid: a soldier who protects freedom and justice."

"I finally became who I always dreamed of when I was a kid: a soldier who protects freedom and justice."

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“I’m going to join the Army,” I said to my parents as their faces filled with shock from my sudden declaration. My parents were proud of my decision, but they both had to ask the one question I was ready to answer: “Are you sure?”

I had spent long, sleepless nights thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. I had no idea my soul-searching journey would lead me to an Army recruiter. I was hesitant at first when I talked to him about my interest in the Army, but he calmed me down and told me the truth: I wasn’t expected to simply be handed a rifle and sent off to war. There are more than 300 jobs within the Army; I learned I could choose from these, and this made me feel better about my decision. When my parents asked if I was sure, I answered without any hesitation, “I’m sure.”

After signing my contract, there was no turning back. I felt anxious about leaving my family for training, but I was more excited than I was nervous. I left the airport for Fort Benning, Georgia on Friday, June 12 to begin my transformation into becoming a real soldier.

For the next five days, I spent my time in a processing facility in Georgia where I received more than 20 shots and was issued my uniform and equipment. I also got my head shaved and was issued my dog tags. This is when reality kicked in that I was no longer going to have a typical summer vacation.

On Friday, June 17 at 1300 hours (1 p.m. civilian time) I sat on a crowded bus full of people my age with two heavy green duffle bags strapped to each of our backs and chests. The bus screeched to a halt, and a man with a brown hat walked onto the bus and screamed, “GET OFF MY BUS!”

Like a group of scared rats, we struggled to get off of the bus and run all the way up a driveway as wide as two tanks with drill sergeants lined up on both sides shouting commands.

When I made it to the top of the hill I lined up with everyone else who was on the bus and stood there for three hours, holding our heavy bags over our heads. That wasn’t even the start of day one; the first 72 hours were the worst of our basic training experience.

For the next three months of basic, we were yelled at to march, exercise, eat, drink and sleep. Every morning at 0400 hours (4 a.m.) we would wake up and be expected to be ready for physical training in a matter of minutes. This was the routine for the rest of the training period, but it wasn’t difficult once we were used to the shouting.

I learned important lessons about being a soldier, including our Army values: Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. We lived, breathed and dreamed of these Army values until it became a part of our nature.

While training consisted of shooting rifles, exercising, sleeping in the woods or participating in classroom activities where we learned land navigation, we were expected to stay quiet and listen to every command obediently. I gained discipline and honor from my experience of basic, and when I graduated, I was filled with indescribable pride.

My family flew up to see me graduate from basic and I had to hold back tears when I saw them again after three months of being away. I cried myself to sleep during the first week of training because of how much I missed my family. In the mornings I would look around for my twin brother and realize he wasn’t there with me; a little part of me died each and every time.

“See what I’ve become. That is what you will say to yourself when you walk across that field a new man,” my drill sergeant said to us at the beginning of our training. At the time I didn’t understand what he meant, but I couldn’t help but smile standing on the graduation field with my family smiling at me.

When graduation was over, I ran up to my family and was met with proud eyes and smiling faces.

“Wow, you changed so much. You’re no longer my baby boy,” my mother said with tear-filled eyes.

I am no longer the young boy that I was when I first started my training because I went through the toughest training in the world to be a better man. I finally became who I always dreamed of when I was a kid: a soldier who protects freedom and justice. I wanted people to look up to me and feel safe.

I returned home with a new sense of duty and accomplishment from my learning experience with the Army. I made my family proud and, most importantly, I proved to everyone I’m cut out to be a soldier. I proved myself wrong about never being able to make it into the Army, let alone graduate.

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Column: Training of a lifetime