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In the Crosshairs of a Mother's Eye

By Rebecca Crawford

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Copyright 2003 Rebecca Crawford




     The lights came on in the barracks as the female drill sergeant shouted, “Let’s go soldiers!  Get dressed and report out front for row call!  You have ten minutes!”  The sergeant stomped out of the room.

     Liz’s mind snapping to an alert state, absorbing the information the drill sergeant screamed.  Liz hit the floor running for her locker, pulling on her clothes as quickly as possible.  Liz looked around at the other girls, they too were rushing around clumsily.  Liz brushed her teeth and combed her hair pulling it up into a small bun in the back for now.  When Liz emerged from the bathroom she saw Mary sitting on her bunk not dressed.  Liz walked over to her and sitting down said, “Mary, get with it!  You only have a few minutes!”

     “I can’t do this!  None of it makes any sense to me, this screaming and rushing around.  The only reason I joined was so I could do administrative work.”

     “Mary, get up and get with it!  Look around you; you’re not the only one that has to endure it.  Now, let’s go!”

     Mary’s motivation seemed to escalate with Liz pushing her along. “Okay! Okay.”

     “I’m going outside, now get your butt in gear, I’ll see you out there okay?”


     Liz left the room walking quickly to the assembly of girls outside.  The female drill sergeant was spouting orders, “You will fall into two lines! Now do it!”

     Liz and the rest of the girls began shuffling to make it happen, there were more girls then the group she had arrived with last night, she figured they were probably already here, but on a different floor.  Liz saw Mary come out and get into the back of one of the lines.

     The sergeant called off the names of all the girls, each responding, “Here, drill sergeant!” 

     One of the girls must have been staring at the sergeant, “What are you looking at soldier?  Don’t look at me!  You look straight ahead and do as I command!”  The sergeant stood shouting in the girls face.  As a matter of fact, get down and give me ten push-ups and not on your knees, I want real ones!”  The girl fell to the ground doing push-ups as best as she could. 

     “That’s all you have soldier?  You’re pitiful!  Keep your back straight.  Get those knees of the ground like I said!”

     While the girl was pushing up and down shakily, the drill sergeant turned toward the rest of the group.  “Get ready soldiers!  You’ll all be doing a lot of these while you’re here!  Now get up soldier and fall back in!”  The girl got up to her feet and fell back into line.

     The sergeant led the way taking them to the chow hall, all the while screaming orders, “Keep in step! Your left, your left, your left, right!” 

      Liz thought they truly must have looked like a bunch of idiots trying to keep in some kind of sequential step.  They reached the chow hall and were rushed through the chow line.  The drill sergeant shouting, “This isn’t a buffet back home!  Now get your food and move along!”  The food was thrown on their plates.  They no more sat down and started eating when the drill sergeant started howling at them again, “Let’s go!  Shove it in!  We don’t have all day!  Three minutes left!  Move it!”

     Liz started scoffing down her food barely tasting it.  The drill sergeant sat at the front exit area with other sergeants.  As the girls were finishing their meals and leaving the sergeants were hollering at them, “Go soldier!  Get out of here!”

     Liz got up walking with quick strides placing her tray near the dish washing area.  A male drill sergeant sitting at his table eating leisurely got up from his position approaching Liz.  “Let’s go soldier!”  Liz barely looked at him, “Don’t look at my face soldier!  You’re not worthy!  Get out of here!”

     Liz felt her cheeks redden with the embarrassment of his tongue lashing, even though deep down inside she knew it was part of the mind game.  When she was exiting out of the chow hall another drill sergeant lay in wait, “Get in your line soldier, now!”  Liz found her group filing in.  Her stomach felt upset from the meal she hardly tasted.

     The day was spent getting uniforms, boots, and gear.  Every meal was like the first one, fast.  Once everyone acquired their army necessities for training, they were sorted into platoons within their battalion.  Drill sergeants calling them out by name.  Liz was placed into the third platoon.  The entire battalion had four platoons.

     Each platoon was led to their barracks floor.  When Liz’s platoon was taken to their barracks, the drill sergeants began wailing orders again.  Each platoon had its own quarters, the laundry facility room outside would be shared by the entire battalion. 

     Liz’s arms were aching from carrying around all of her issued gear.  Once the entire platoon was inside their quarters they were ordered to take a seat on the cement floor in the center of the room.  The bunks were in cubbies all around them, two bunks to a cubby hole with four lockers. The center of the room was just open space.

     There were three male drill sergeants in command of their platoon.  Each took turns introducing themselves.  The first one was Drill Sergeant Johnston, a mean looking black man built like a tank.  Then Drill Sergeant Mannie, a well built white man with a crew cut that made him look even more intimidating, and finally there was Drill Sergeant Penna, a short Porto Rican with a thin build but looking like a very fiery tempered fanatic. 

     Drill sergeant Penna was the sergeant in charge; he did most of the talking.  “You soldiers are now our concern.  Our goal is to make you into lean, mean, fighting machines!  And by the looks of each of you, we have our hands full!  You will eat, sleep, and breathe, the U.S. Army!  If you think you’re tough we will tear you down!  Training is effective immediately!  Each of you get up, find a bunk, and neatly stow away your gear in your lockers!  You have fifteen minutes, and then report outside for your first real formation!  Now do it!”

     Liz was eyeing a top bunk at the front entrance cubby.  She ran over unpacking her gear and putting it as neatly as possible into her locker then ran outside.  She knew that this was the beginning of eight weeks of hell with little sleep in it.

     Sergeant Johnston was waiting outside for them and was placing everyone into rows, which he called squads.  He put Liz into squad three.  There were a total of four squads in their platoon.

     Once everyone was in place in formation, Sergeant Johnston walked up pulling one of the girls from first squad out in front of the platoon.  “Now you will learn proper form when reporting for formation!  You will stand at attention in your squad in the same spot you’re in now, so look around you and see who you’re standing by!”

     Sergeant Johnston demonstrated the form as to how to stand at attention using the new recruit.  “When I say, ‘At Ease,’ you will stand like this!”  He had the recruit stand feet spread apart and hands behind her back, elbows straight out.  Once he completed the display the recruit returned to her position.  “Platoon! Attention!” 

     Everyone stood straight, looking forward.  The drill sergeant said with disgust, “That is the sorriest display I have ever seen!  All of you down!  Give me twenty push-ups!”  The platoon dropped and began pushing. Some of the girls were on their knees.

     “Get off your knees soldiers!  You’re not going to be babied here!  On your feet!”   The drill sergeant got down showing them the proper form of push-ups.  “Now get back down and give me ten more!”

     The platoon returned to the ground, each doing the best they could.  Liz was in good physical shape and pushing up and down as if it were nothing.  The drill sergeant started walking quickly over to her, “Observe this soldiers!  This is how it’s done!” All of the recruits were watching Liz now.

     The platoon spent three hours outside that evening learning proper form and marching techniques.  They all spent a lot of time doing push-ups.  If one soldier did something wrong they all were given mass punishment.

     It was past dark now and the drill sergeant finally released them to the barracks.  The clock on the wall at the front of the barracks read 2300 hours. (11:00 p.m.). Sergeant Penna was there to greet them; “The night is young!  Now its time to learn the proper stowing of gear in your lockers!  Liz stood looking around the barracks, every cubby had every locker opened and the gear had been thrown out all over the floor.  “Now I will show you how each of your lockers are to be kept!” 

     Sergeant Penna went to Liz’s locker, calling her out, “Private Foyer, front and center!”  Liz rushed over, the sergeant explained how to fold and store everything, and Liz did it while he was talking.  The other recruits watched her closely.

     When Sergeant Penna had finished with Liz and her gear, he began hollering, “All of you!  Get to your lockers and do it to exact detail!  If it’s not done right, you will do it again!”

     Everyone finally finished with their gear, sergeant Penna walked around inspecting everyone.  “It seems you’re lucky tonight. No one has to repeat the process!  Well, since we have extra time on our hands, get out your boots and shoe shine kit!  Then proceed to the middle of the room and sit on the floor!  I will teach you the proper way to shine your combat boots!”

    The platoon was dragging now, with little sleep and exhaustion from the full day of events.  They got their boots and kits then sat on the floor.  The sergeant demonstrated how to shine their boots.  Each soldier got busy at the task.  

     “You will keep your boots and uniform in top condition at all times!”

     The sergeant went around looking over their work, “Alright, that’s enough tonight!  Lights out in five minutes!  Let’s go!”

     Liz glance up at the clock near her bunk, it now read 0100 hours. (1:00 a.m. in the morning).  She threw on her PT (physical training) shorts and shirt, and then got into her bunk.   Liz laid there wondering if Mary had made it through her first full day of training in her own platoon before she fell to sleep.

     Liz was rudely awakened by Drill Sergeant Mannie hitting the iron wrungs of the bunks with a metal bar.  “On your feet soldiers!  Formation for PT in fifteen minutes!  Hustle!  Hustle!”

     Liz lay there for a moment looking at the clock that now displayed 330 hrs.  ‘Here we go again’, she thought.  Outside it was dark and the air was cool.  Liz felt like she was still in a dream somewhere.  Sergeant Johnston marched them out to the PT field sounding off over and over again, “Your left, your left, your left, right!”

     The platoon stretched out at the instruction of Sergeant Johnston, everyone trying to stay in pace with one another, doing rigorous ground exercises.

     “Platoon! Attention!”  The platoon jumped up at attention.  “Right face!  Forward!  March!”

     The platoon was being led off the field and into the dark quiet street.  Sergeant Johnston got on the left side of the formation, “It’s time for your morning run!  Double time!  March!”   The platoon began jogging in step through the streets of Ft. Jackson.

     Toward the end of the two mile run, a lot of girls fell out of formation from exhaustion.  Liz was hanging in there pretty well, she looked back and saw Sergeant Johnston gathering up the stragglers, yelling and pushing them on.

     After they returned to the PT field, they were marched back to the barracks.  The entire battalion was gathered together in their respective platoons and stood at attention as the flag was raised with revere playing on the loud speakers across the base.  There was a sergeant at the front of each platoon saluting.  Liz saw Mary from a distance and was glad to know she was making it so far.

     The platoons were released by their drill sergeants so they could go and change into there BDU’s (battle dress uniforms) for chow and then begin a new day of endless training that would plague the day.

     Liz stood by her locker dressing in her uniform and boots.  She put her hair up in the bun she was becoming accustomed to wearing; no one’s hair was allowed to touch the tops of their collars.  Next to her the girl that bunked below her was dressing as well.  She wore military issued black rimmed glasses.  Liz thanked God, silently, that she didn’t have to wear the ugly things.  Word was that they were called ‘Birth control glasses’ and the name surely fit them.

     “Hi, I’m Sandra Boyd.”

     “Hi, Liz Foyer.”

     “It looks as if we’ll be bunking together from here on out, where are you from?”

     “Helena, Montana.”

     “I’m from Detroit, Michigan.”

     “I guess we’re both a long way from home.”

     “Yeah, and have eight weeks of shit to go through!”

     Liz grinned at Sandra, “No doubt!  But I just remind myself that it’s a mind game.”

     The day went from sun up to sun down, and they didn’t get into bed until 0100 hrs again.  Liz knew this was part of the break down technique, pushing everyone to their limit, as well as, testing them on their mental capacity for endurance.

     The next day was spent eating without tasting, attending classes on Army code and conduct, marching, and more marching!  That night when they came back to the barracks Sergeant Penna halted the platoon outside the barracks, “At ease, soldiers!”

      Today we will pick from amongst you, your platoon leader and a squad leader for each squad!  The squad leader will be responsible for the actions of each squad and the platoon leader will be responsible for the entire platoon!  Squad leaders will report to the platoon leader, this will show you proper chain of command! Any soldier having a problem or a complaint will report to their squad leader and so forth!”

     The platoon leader was picked first, a black girl, Private Jones, she had a strong build and showed a lot of endurance and energy.  Then the squad leaders were picked out of each squad.  When the sergeant approached Liz’s squad the drill sergeant sounded, “Private Foyer, to the front of the squad!”  Liz took one step back and ran to the right end of the squad line. The girl that was standing there fell out and took Liz’s old spot.

     Now that the sergeant had finished hand picking the leaders, all other soldiers were released to the barracks, except his new leaders.  Once the other soldiers had cleared the area Sergeant Penna turned addressing them, “You are responsible for all actions of your soldiers!  If they fall, you pick them up!  If they screw up you pay for it!  Is this understood?”

     In unison they replied, “Yes, drill sergeant!”


     Liz and the others fell out and went into the barracks. Liz thought, ‘All I wanted to do was blend in and now look at me I stick out like a sore thumb’.  Liz went to her locker and changed into her PT clothes; she was beginning to get use to them as night clothes and this way when the morning started she was at least already dressed.  Sandra startled Liz out of her own thoughts. 

     “So, now you’re a squad leader, congratulations.”

     “Thanks, but I’m sure I’ll pay for it dearly.  Now I’m just not responsible for myself, but everyone in my squad.”

     “Better you than me.”

     “I’ve always liked a challenge.  In one way I’m looking forward to it and in another I dread it.”

     “I don’t think I could have handled it.”

     Liz looked toward Sandra with a witty smile, “I’m not so sure I can, but I’ll give it a heck of a try.”

     Liz got into her bunk for the night knowing morning would come way too early.

     Before sunrise the next day began with another nightmare two mile run.  Throughout the day Liz paid for every crime against the code of conduct her squad violated.  Liz actually felt that the drill sergeants loved degrading and physically torturing her with their endless push-ups and yelling.  Liz now understood the term, ‘Shit rolls downhill’.  It made her personally strive to see that her squad learned the ropes correctly.

     The first few weeks followed the same day and night pattern, with the exception of reporting to the drill sergeants’ office to pay for the discretions of her soldiers.

      Liz became close to the girls in her squad.  She helped the ones having problems with certain procedures, listened to their complaints and gave them a shoulder to cry on when they were homesick.

      The following four weeks were spent in field training.  They learned map and compass reading, new march drills with weapons, digging fox holes, and the basics of chemical warfare tactics.   Liz started noticing the camaraderie that was forming within their entire platoon.  Everyone was learning to work as a unit.

     Liz had just been relieved from barracks guard duty; someone was always awake to keep an open eye on the sleeping soldiers.  In each shift the guard had to go around and make bed checks to be sure everyone was accounted for, and no one was trying to slip out and go absent without leave (AWOL).  The entire platoon was setup on rotational shifts.

     As Liz was standing near her bunk in the faintly lit barracks, she heard sobbing.  It was Sandra.  Liz sat on the bunk beside her, “What’s wrong?”

     Sandra rolling over to look at Liz, “I’m just ready for this all to be over with.”

     “Me, too, Sandra; you know this is just a tear down and rebuild tactic they’re putting us through.  Besides when graduation day arrives you’ll have a lot to be proud of.”

     “Yeah, you’re right; it just gets to me after awhile.”

     “It’s supposed to, so stay positive and keep your chin up.”

     “Thanks, Liz.”

       Liz pulled herself up into her bunk and laid her head on her pillow thinking of all the doubts the girls were having.  She was thankful for her spiritual strength and positive outlook.  It was hard for her at times too, but she kept it in perspective.

     The last four weeks of training were spent on long field marches and mock war situations.  They were taught basic medical aide, bayonet training, and were taken to an area to throw live grenades.  This showed them the destruction power they had.  Liz’s favorite was target shooting with her M-16 weapon.  Everyone had the opportunity to shot a 50 Cal, the light anti-tank weapon (LAW), and was trained in the placement of Claymore mines. 

     Liz was proud of how fast she could disassemble her rifle, clean it, and put it back together.  Shooting it gave her a sense of power and taught her control.  When they went on their last night operation to simulate chemical warfare, the platoons played enemy one against the other trying to sneak up to attack and over take each other.

     Sergeant Penna came around the perimeter they had established gathering some of the soldiers to make a night attack maneuver; he told Liz what they were doing and what the initiative was.  Then speaking to all the soldiers that would be involved he barked, “I have had the opportunity to watch you go from shit to high polished soldiers!  We will infiltrate first platoon and show them how true soldiers get the job done!”

     “Whoa!  Drill sergeant!”

      “Let’s go get them!  Remember don’t break silence unless the enemy becomes aware of our presence!”

     The group did all their training maneuvers.  They used hand signals, crossed dirt roads in proper format, sneaking upon first platoon like thieves in the night.  They could see by the din light of the night’s moon that the fox holes in first platoon’s perimeter were quiet with no movement.  Sergeant Penna had smoke bombs, once they were in range he threw then in different directions of the perimeter.  They broke silence and ran into the camp simulating shooting with the blanks in their weapons, they wiped them out.

     Sergeant Penna hollered out “Troops, Back to base camp!”

     Liz was exhilarated from the hype of the action, her heart was beating wildly.  They could hear the howling of the first platoons drill sergeants reprimanding their soldiers for their failure in being taken.  The night was a success, a pure victory for Liz’s platoon.

     It was now Sunday, a week away from graduation and the drill sergeants became more lenient with them as their training neared its end.  Liz sat out with a few of the other girls on the barracks balcony shining her boots, she had done a lot of push-ups to learn to shine them right.

     Liz was thinking of Robin and decided she would call her today, after she finished her shine job.  She took her boots back to her locker and headed down to the battalion break room where the phones were.  There were a lot of girls in line already for the phones, but

Liz knew the lines weren’t going to get any shorter, so she fell into line behind the others waiting.  Her turn finally arrived, she dialed Robin’s number.


     “Hey! Do you miss me?”

     “Liz!  Oh, my gosh! I thought they might have buried you or something.”

     “That’s reassuring!  You should know me better than that.  No one takes me down that easy.”

     “Well, I was expecting you to call sooner than this.”

     “If you saw the line on Sunday around here for the phone, you would have waited too.”

     “So, how do you like it?”

     “I can say, I’ve learned a lot of things around here I’ll never learn anywhere else.  I do like it, but I don’t want to repeat boot ca.m.p again.”

     “Maybe you can teach me a few tricks.”

     “Why?  So you can torture Lee with them?”

     “Ha, ha, such a jokester.”

     “How are you and Lee?”

     “Doing great!  He’s coming up again next weekend.  Do you think you’ll be able to come home after you finish there for a few days?”

     “Unfortunately no, once I leave here I go directly to my advanced infantry training (AIT) school.”

     “Listen to you!  You sound so military now.”

     “What do you expect, it’s like going to a foreign country, and sooner or later you’re going to pickup the lingo.”

     “I’m really proud of you, Liz.”

     The girls waiting in line behind Liz were beginning to get antsy for their turn on the phone.

     “Thanks, Robin.  I guess I better let you go before I get mobbed.”

     “Miss you, Liz.”

     “I miss you too; tell Lee I said hi okay?”

     Robin and Liz exchanged good byes and Liz hung up the phone stepping out of the way for the next person in line, she was glad she called Robin.  She went back upstairs to her barracks to catch the movie that was on TV.  They had not been able to watch anything for the entire time of boot camp, but since they were basically finished the drill sergeants rolled in a TV for them to watch, only on Sundays and she wasn’t about to miss out.

     Graduation day had finally arrived.  That morning the platoon was nervous and their barracks was filled with excited chatter.  They all were helping each other, getting dressed in their class A uniforms and checking to make sure they were spit and polished.  They would be parading in front of the base commander and other prominent officers at the ceremony.  All battalions, male and female would have a mass graduation ceremony together.  They had spent an entire week practicing for the event.

     All three drill sergeants stood in front of the platoon formation, inspecting the ranks to assure everyone was top notch.  After the inspection they gave out awards for best performance and leadership skills.  Sergeant Penna made a final announcement, “All of you before me today, have come a long way!   This was not easy on any of you, and our job was to make sure it wouldn’t be!  All of you have demonstrated unity and courage, we commend you on that!  Today you are officially a trained soldier of the U.S. Army!


     The platoon responded, “Whoa!  Drill sergeant!”

     The platoon proceeded to the graduation field.  Once all battalions were in their designated places they marched forward one behind the other to pass by the base commander.  When Liz’s platoon passed the base commander’s podium, Drill Sergeant

Johnston proudly led his platoon past then sounded off, “Eyes right!”  He then gave a snappy salute to the commander, once they made there pass everyone looked forward again. The platoon then returned to their position on the field, waiting for all the battalions to make their pass.  The base commander then gave his speech congratulating all the battalion soldiers.

     At the end they all threw up there hats in celebration, and would now move on to make there transition into their AIT schools.

     Liz now sat on the bus that was taking her and others to the signal school at Fort Gordon, Georgia.  When the bus past under the arches of Fort Jackson exiting the base, Liz felt a sense of accomplishment and pride.  She was looking forward to learning her new Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) which was electronics device repairer.




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