By the end of October, 2003, DH and I were settling into routines.
Creating an intensive AP course (Art History) from scratch was quite a challenge for me. In addition to teaching AP Art History, I was also taking an art history course at a local college. I really fell in love with art history at this point. I love the blend of formal and contextual analysis and I just get so excited helping others to look more closely at art.
Of course there was also my normal teaching load, coaching the mock trial team, and hanging out with friends and family. Every payday I met with some friends from work at a dive bar and we had the usual complaining and camaraderie. Most weekends I either went into Manhattan or spent time with family.
One of my colleagues was having a difficult year with some family health issues and I asked her what I could do. She had always been so helpful to me. Well, she asked me to organize a trip she usually plans to go to West Point to see “Les Miserables.” Somehow I managed to get 125 tenth graders on buses up to West Point, not cause too much trouble during the show, and then got them all back safely.
In the middle of October, DH and I had our first special occasion apart–my birthday. I went into Manhattan with some friends. We had Indian food (which I love but DH doesn’t… so it is a birthday tradition) and the tropical ginger drinks at Waikiki Wally’s, a fun tiki bar with live birds and a waterfall.
DH sent me a loving note for my birthday with pressed little flowers.
I wrote back, “How does a soldier at Basic Training pick flowers?”
The answer is apparently, “As discretely as possible.” He looked both ways and then pretended to pick up gum wrappers and other garbage. In addition to my bouquet, I received pictures of my soldier and flag magnets with a space for the picture. My final present arrived two weeks later, as P/X (the mini department store on post) privileges are limited. Opening the bubble envelope I found a dog tag inscribed: “I belong to a soldier.”
My presents made my day… but I felt a little sad, DH’s birthday is less than a month after mine and I would only be able to send letters.
Towards the end of Basic Training, the drill sergeants seem to be relaxing discipline somewhat. One night during the pennant race, a drill sergeant left a radio in the bay. The poor guys couldn’t get the game to come in properly but, the following morning, they became perhaps the only platoon in the history of Basic Training to listen to NPR’s morning edition.
In Basic Training, they have “mandatory fun.” On Oct. 19th, they were marched over to the “Soldier Show“, song and dance routines performed by various soldiers. The soldiers enjoyed seeing “real live women” (DH included a string of euphemisms for his compatriots’ reactions) and made various jokes regarding the audition process for male performers functioning as a way to circumvent the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
At the show they were also permitted to taste the sweet nectar of soda and the ambrosia of ice cream and Little Caesar’s Pizza for the first time since Basic Training began.
Of course, give an inch and teenagers take a mile. The younger soldiers interpreted these small privileges as a license to cut loose. One private smuggled a USA Today into the barracks. I can’t believe someone would take a risk like that for a USA Today! The Economist, maybe–but USA Today? A real case of the forbidden fruit being sweeter, I suppose.
In the last few weeks of Basic Training, the men learned the skills necessary for their field training exercises. During a one-day session, DH learned how to construct and camouflage a foxhole; self-camouflage to conceal himself just 30 feet from a group of people; and “bound.” Bounding involves advancing through and over obstacles while your partner covers you.
Also on this day, he had to “low crawl” (lying flat on the ground and pulling yourself along with one hand as you push with one leg). Many men lost their canteens and had to start the whole course over again. Although this was an exhausting day, this training is closer what DH and the others imagined when they envisioned Basic.
DH has also received bayonet training, which consists of attacking target areas framed by rubber silhouettes. Here is an anecdote from a letter:
“I low-crawled through the sand toward a wall as another private poured gallons of water on me, turning my approach into a mudpit… I kept moving forward and, despite the drill sergeants’ warnings not to get in the way of the course-goers, this idiot ran into my bayonet as I crawled. He limped away- I think I just ripped his boot and bruised his shin. The Captain yelled down from his perch a top the wall, ‘L–, are you ok?’ I shouted back, ‘Sir, yes, sir- but you should ask the other guy.’”
Basic requires that the men reach certain benchmarkbirthdayrious skills. One day before my brithday, carrying my picture for good luck, DH earned his marksmanship medal for completing the first of these requirements. After qualifying early in the day, DH was told to use his “problem-solving abilities” to coach his fellow privates.
Perhaps our friends found it surprising, but DH did exceedingly well on the PT (Physical Training) tests. Sometimes it is easy to forget how fit he is because he is so brilliant! Early on at Basic, DH reached the 97th percentile on the two-mile run and was off the charts on sit-ups. With these numbers, he effortlessly met the physical requirements.
DH also qualified as a Grenadier [do I hear Tories singing?] and came within one toss of earning Grenadier- First Class. Unfortunately, one of the more exacting drill sergeants claimed that Marc kept his head up a moment too long when he made a perfect toss.
Meanwhile, I was back at home making plans to see DH for his Graduation from Basic on November 13.