Basic - a life-changing experience

It was December 1964 and I had just graduated with a journalism degree from California State University in Northridge. I had a decision to make - either continue in school to earn my master's degree, or lose my student deferment and accept a new job as a reporter for a daily newspaper in Glendale, Calif. I decided on the latter.

While enjoying my new career, I returned home after work one day in September 1965 to find a letter from the president of the United States. Two months later I was picking up cigarette butts, emptying grease pits and scrubbing latrines with a toothbrush at Fort Polk, La. and Fort Hood, Texas. And this happened for two weeks before my eight-week basic training was to begin..

For the first six weeks I was motivated by pure fear. - I didn't want to be "recycled" and have to repeat the whole course from the beginning. The good news was that I felt myself getting stronger and more confident, but constantly in fear about being deployed to Vietnam. In fact, it was in the sixth week that my company and battalion got orders to conduct AIT at Fort Lewis, Wash., followed by deployment to a place called Chu Lai. My MOS? Tank driver.

You are supposed to follow orders in the military, no questions asked. But I also remembered that at the beginning of training we were briefed on the concept of a chain of command. In my case, it started with my first sergeant, a gruff, cigar-chomping overweight lifer. I asked to see the commander, and he acted shocked that a lowly private was actually requesting an audience with the main man.

Two days later I was summoned to the commander's officer where he looked at my file, saw that I was a college graduate in journalism, and said: "Private, you are right. Tank driver is not the right job for you. Let me see what I can do and I will get back to you."

In my seventh week, I sprained my ankle while on a 10-mile march in full pack and over treacherous tank trails on base. While in the Army hospital, I got a visit from a second lieutenant who had been assigned to the Fort Hood newspaper as its editor. He was announcing to me that I was to be his assistant (he admitted to knowing nothing about running a newspaper).

To make a long story short, I never went to Nam, With a new MOS, 71Q20, I was transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in the public affairs office. I met a member of the Women's Army Corps, we married in May 1967 and remain happily together today.

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