Monday, December 29, 2008

PT = Painful Torture

Sorry I went AWOL last week - hip-deep in xmas knitting. Got it finished, though! (heh, heh, AWOL)

OK, so Basic Training (BT) continues....

As a soldier, you're required to take a PT test twice a year. For those who don't know, PT stands for Physical Training. The amount of sit-ups/push-ups and the time you have to complete your 2-mile run depends on your age/gender.

As a 20 (almost 21) year old female, I had to do 18 push-ups, 53 sit-ups and 18:54 for the run (that's 18 minutes, 54 seconds). (I didn't actually remember the exact numbers, there's a chart here.) That's for a 60% on your test. If you didn't get 60% - bad news.

They tested us the day we got to BT proper and then worked our asses off until we could pass the test again at the end of BT. In that initial test, I passed the push-ups, smoked the sit-ups and failed miserably on the run. (The only way I'd survive zombies would be due to fire-power, not the ability to run away from the slow, shambling brain-eaters.) I did so many sit-ups that at the next practice test a week later, I couldn't do more then 5 - I'd brutalized my stomach muscles the first time and they weren't having it.

If you sucked at running, they put you in the front and back of the running formation. You had to wear these construction worker orange vests and at every crossroads, you had to run in the crossing street and hold up your hand (whether there were actual cars there or not). Then you had to run and catch up with the formation. It was kinda nice to get the breaks but totally sucked trying to catch up again. If you were extra unlucky, you had to carry the company colors, too (a pole with a little flag on it).

You were allowed to wear your own sneakers for PT and the PT uniform consisted of a grey T-shirt with "ARMY" on the front and some grey running shorts (also T-shirt material). Most of us just slept in the PT uniform to get that spare few seconds of sleep. I also slept with my sneakers on.

If you got in trouble, you got "smoked". That's when they try to exercise you into a coma. I was lucky, our squad only got smoked-for-real, maybe 2 or 3 times in the 8 weeks of BT. First squad had a really sadistic F'er of a head DS and they were constantly being smoked. His favorite form of torture was to have the soldiers "squat on the wall" - Stand with your back to the nearest wall. Lean your back against the wall, slide down until your legs form a 90 degree angle; now stick your arms in front of you, shoulder height, palms down; now add the weight of an M16. See how long you can hold it and know that if you stop holding it before you're told, big trouble. First squad was on the first floor of our barracks building and you'd always see them in that hall doing a wall-squat.

We'd start every day with PT. Doing push-ups and sit-ups in the dark, watching the sun come up while running. There were many ways to sneak in some extra PT during the day and the DS's knew them all. New soldiers mess up - a lot. Every mess up (whether real, perceived, or made-up) resulted in some form of painful PT. There's the stereotypical "Drop and give me 20". That's just the beginning - in fact, 20 push-ups seems like a vacation compared to the other stuff. Anyone remember the Dead Cockroach? Lay on your back on the ground, put your legs and arms straight up in the air. Doesn't sound that hard, right? Try it. And hold it for for at least 5 minutes. Helicopters (my most hated) - Lay on your back, put your hands under your butt, keeping your legs together, lift your feet about 6" off the ground, lift your head 6" off the ground - hold. Or keep your head on the ground and scissor kick those lifted legs - out, in, out, in. "Do that until I get tired, soldier."

In "today's" Army (1991), they weren't allowed to lay a hand on you. Their only alternative was to exercise you to death. They also weren't allowed to apply "company punishment". Company Punishment was when one person messed up and the whole company got punished for it. With the exception of that tool in Reception, the DS's never laid a hand on us. Company Punishment was another matter altogether.

I remember one day in particular....
You were required to have your canteen on your person and full at all times. Several times a day, we were ordered to "Drink Water!". One morning, about halfway through the cycle (8 weeks), we were forming up in the morning and the DS's did a quick inspection. ONE girl forgot her canteen. I had to hold her M16 while she ran back to her barracks room to get it. While she ran in to get it, DS was having us do up-downs (stand up, drop for push-ups - rinse, repeat. Over. and over. and over....). Every time I dropped for push-ups, those 2 rifles would slam me in the back of my head. Once while getting back up, her rifle (which was slung over mine) slid out of my hair, taking a nice chunk of it out.

Company Punishment doesn't work. It's supposed to make everyone turn on the slacker soldier and give the slacker "incentive" to shape up. All it does with women is make everyone very catty to that soldier and puts everyone in a real pissy mood.

There's only one time I remember when our squad got seriously smoked and I can't even remember what it was for. I do remember it was done in one of the barracks classrooms. We were sweating our asses off in that tiny room with the windows shut. We'd been gettin' smoked for about 15 minutes - it was hot, stuffy, and stinky and everyone was getting angrier and angrier. This is about the time Fitzgerald decided to take a dive. Fitz was one of the worst soldiers in our platoon - she was fat and whiny and never pulled her own weight. During this smoke session, she "feinted". I was standing next to her when she did it and I don't know if she thought I was going to catch her but she nearly knocked me over on her way down. DS Brown starts clapping his hands slowly and loudly, "Riggs, give that girl an Oscar! What a fine job of acting. People, we are going to keep going until Fitz gets back up. And by the way Fitz, usually when people pass out, the fall backward, not forward." He was right, it was so obviously faked - we were all doing jumping jacks, she suddenly stood still, then made a little leap into the air and fell forward. We weren't allowed to talk while getting smoked but we were all bitching at her through clenched teeth, "You better get your ass up, girl." I was next to her and I told her, "Fitz, if you don't get up right this minute and start taking this smoking like the rest of us, I am going to kick you in the head." She got up a couple of minutes later; didn't even try to act woozy or anything. After she got up, DS Brown let the rest of us go and she got smoked for another 15 minutes. Stupid girl.

(Hey Becca, email me (Ruth AT I want to ask you some things about DS Brown that I don't want to blog about yet - sorry guys)

I barely passed that last PT test. As I said, I can't run to save my life. Also, the too-tight-boots/bruised-feet thing didn't help me any during all that 8 weeks of PT. One of the coolest things I ever experienced in my little 5 years of military happened during our final PT test. They rotated each squad, while one was running the 2 miles, another was doing the push-ups test and another the sit-ups. Our CO (commanding officer) ran 8 miles. In a row. He ran the 2 mile run with each and every squad. Making it even harder on him, he was running with the slow kids (which, I imagine, is physically painful for as good a runner as he was). My squad (3rd squad), was the last to do the run. My friend Amy (not her real name, for reasons of future blogging), was an excellent runner. When she finished, she came back on the track (despite the DS's yelling at her not to) and ran with me. She and the CO ran with me pretty much the entire way (the CO was running with me and sort of switching off now and then with the other slow ones). I remember at one point saying, "I can't do this. I'm going to throw up!" The CO very gently said, "Soldier, you go ahead and throw up, but you don't stop running." 8 miles. And he didn't have to run at all. Hell, he didn't even have to be there for the PT testing. What a great guy. What a great leader. One of the best I met in my time in.

I passed. I passed about 2 seconds ahead of the don't pass time. If you don't pass that final PT test, you have to go through the 8 weeks of BT All. Over. Again. If it weren't for Amy and that CO.... I wouldn't have made it (still chokes me up).

Once I got to my first real unit (in Germany) and beyond, we only did the PT test once a year. For the most part, every unit I was in didn't do Unit PT - as long as you passed the PT test, you were on your own for training the rest of the time. Loved the hospital units! A couple of times we'd take the Pencil PT test - that's where you just write in your scores and go home. Good times!

Still tearing up over that final run support, Ruth!


sophanne said...

I thought MMondays would be interesting to hear about how stupid the army could be. Just goes to show the rule about "ass"umptions. How awesome to hear a story about a great leader.

catsmum said...

got to the last part and nearly teared up myself
shame that they aren't all like him, eh ?

Heide said...

I'm having flashbacks to Air Force Basic training. I joined at the ripe old age of 24 after graduating from college, owing lots of money and not having a job. The mind games were way worse than the physical training imo... then again, it wasn't the Army.