Hey guys! I am very thankful I found your podcast. I draw on the courage of Team Never Quit and gain enormous motivation from the guest’s, and fellow listener’s never quit experiences. I hope sharing my Never Quit experience can help some power through a tough situation. Thanks and please keep the podcasts coming.
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I left on a packed bus for Army basic training on the scorching hot afternoon of July 31, 1985. We were traveling from the Des Moines, IA MEPS station down to initial processing at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, affectionately known as Fort Lost in The Woods of Misery. I was 18, this was my first time away from home and I didn’t know anybody. I met a few guys on the ride down and we joked about how hot it was and our impending journey.
We arrived at 3am, and as the bus door opened we were greeted by a cadre of instructors who immediately lit into us for getting off the bus too slow. We were led from the gravel parking lot to an old, red brick, building the size of an airplane hangar and appeared to be built circa World War I. I vividly recall on the march over, the thick swarm of bugs in the humid darkness. They stuck to our faces and arms awash with sweat. We were directed into dimly lit classrooms with incandescent bulbs contained in the old explosion-proof glass and wire enclosures, similar to those always shown flashing red on a submarine from the movies. We began the arduous task of processing into training and by the time we finished the initial paperwork, the sun was coming up and the day was just beginning.
Everything was new and had to be learned for the first time. On day one, the instructors began teaching us how to stand in formation, march with cadence, perform a correct pushup, and even how to go through the chow line in the mess hall. They were already changing our simple cores to function better as a unit. The day was filled with tasks that had to be completed in preparation for basic training. The most critical assignment for the day was being issued our TA-50 gear. We marched over to a long, narrow, building and inside was an old, worn, grey counter-top extending the length of the structure. There were plywood-stenciled signs at eye level marking the stations along the counter, and at each interval we picked up a different piece of equipment or part of our uniform. There were ammo pouches, WEB gear, poncho, canteen, trenching tool etc., but what turned out to be the most memorable piece of gear were my black combat boots. I put on the OD green wool socks first and tried on the boot size I had requested. To this day I remember how cold and callous they felt as I struggled to push and pull them on. As I laced them up I could already feel the stiff leather digging into the side of my ankle. The back of the new boots, just above the heel, felt like a metal molding that was too small and was sharply pressing my foot. The E-4 specialist behind the counter hastily said they would break in and sent me down the road.
The extreme temperature and humidity continued that day and we quickly learned the meaning of wet ball conditions. We removed our BDU tops, unbloused our BDU trousers, and got into formation on the asphalt with our newly issued sea bags full of gear on our backs. Somebody at the other side of the formation was caught talking, and we were dropped for pushups. The pavement was so hot; the small rocks under our hands were literally being pushed into the surface of the asphalt as the skin on our palms burned. Unfortunately, this would not be the hardest part of my day. Late morning we marched to the medical clinic to get our vaccinations. The vaccines were poured into four hand-held glass canisters with a trigger assembly, a small holed nozzle, and were hooked up to pneumatic compressors. I have seen this exact setup used on farms to vaccinate large groups of animals. There are no needles required as the high pressure shoots the vaccine through the skin into our muscles. It sounds just like a nail gun when the trigger is squeezed. Each of the four nozzles was placed on our shoulders and we were vehemently instructed not to move or our arms would be sliced open like a knife wound. I was towards the end of the line, and guys were coming out with blood dripping down their arms. I laughed when my buddy asked if it hurt, and one guy said it was worse than a whoopin. I don’t know everything we were administered that morning, but one was the flu vaccine and it definitely worked. I got sick bigger than shit.
As the day continued we marched around base getting dog tags, haircuts, and fulfilling each requirement on the cadres list. With every step I could feel the boot leather and steal mold gashing at my sweat soaked feet. The first time we stopped to wait for a cattle car, I was able to remove my new boots and assess the damage. Both the side of my ankle and my heel had the skin torn off. The coarse, wool, socks were splotched with blood and matted into the new wounds. Before we had to move, I was able to get my feet dry, and I sprinkled some newly acquired foot powder into a fresh pair of socks.
Finishing dinner, I started feeling real lousy from the flu shot. Even though it was 95 degrees in the barracks, I had chills and was shivering so bad my teeth were chattering. Thinking back to that exact time, I don’t know which was worse, my feet or the fever. I knew if I stayed hydrated and got some sleep I could beat the shakes that night; my feet were another issue. As we finished stowing our gear and anticipating lights out, the cadre announced that nights schedule for fire watch. I drew the three to four am shift. Fire watch entails walking around the barracks with a flashlight ensuring everyone is safe and in their bunks. The required uniform was BDU trousers, t-shirt, and boots. I climbed into my rack but I don’t think I ever went to sleep. All I could think of was having to get out of bed and force my embattled feet into my new boots. As I laid there tossing and turning, my body fluctuating between hot and cold, my three am shift slowly, but all too sure arrived. As anticipated, pulling the boots on was miserable. I could feel the raw skin again rubbing unkindly against the socks and I feared I would antagonize any healing. But once I was up and moving, I figured out that if I walked on the balls of my feet I could hobble around without much pain and complete my shift.
I made it through that night and pulled on a pair of combat boots for eight more years. Now, thirty-four years later, when I’m struggling to start or finish something tough, I find myself reflecting back to that night. I’m able to self-ignite and draw a new spark when remembering the strength I showed that night to suck it up and soldier on. I have shared this experience with my three sons on many occasions. When we recognize that a family member is having a rough time or facing a challenge, we all try to provide support. During pep talks, someone usually invokes my favorite maxim which has come to mean; power through it and move forward, NEW BOOTS MAN.