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Military Blues

Written by Heather Penn

Basic Training

I had been at basic training a week and had yet to leave reception. My group was pushed back as we waited for a few more recruits to come in. Our Drill Sargeant was a likeable sort in comparison to the hell I was about to face in the weeks ahead. At chow he would send us with another Drill Sargeant who was straight southern, bow-legged swagger and all. Being from the north I had never heard a genuine southern accent and quickly realized I had no idea what this man was saying. Each day I prayed he wouldn’t pick on me as we filed single file into the chow hall. Our left arms pressed tight against the wall, eyes straight and trying our damnedest to not draw attention.  Unfortunately, that day my luck ran out. I felt him before I saw him, his looming presence a black cloud in my peripherals. There he was standing inches from the side of my face, but I didn’t dare look, for that lead to immediate punishment and a barrage of insults relating to me assuming that I was an equal or superior to him. So, I stared ahead, sweating and praying. His immense size casting a shadow over myself and those in front and behind me. I hear his mouth click open above my head and he bellows, “Jeetyet, Private! My brain flew into panic mode as I tried to think of a proper response. I stuttered, “sorry Drill Sargeant I didn’t hear you.” Still staring ahead, I saw his frame tense as he reiterated his word. “I said, JEETYET, PRIVATE! This time I had surely heard what he said but still did not know what he was referencing. I stared ahead terrified when he bellowed his request again. I hoped inside this big man lay understanding and yelled in my loudest voice (as that is how all responses must be said) “Drill Sergeant I do not know what a JEETYET is.” Instead of understanding he did something I feared more than all else, he called over his “Battle.” Drill Sergeants always refer to one another as “Battle,” short for battle buddy. They always work in pairs or groups, seemingly materializing out of thin air. This was my worst nightmare. I glanced right for just a second and saw his Battle abandon the poor private he had been torturing and jog my way. When his battle arrives, we go through the same line of questioning, again I respond with “I DO NOT KNOW WHAT A JEETYET IS.” He lowers his bulk and I feel his breath on the side of my cheek. “COME HERE PRIVATE,” he bellows. I respond with “YES DRILL SARGEANT!” following him to the center of the room and what is surely certain doom. I am now standing, staring straight ahead in the middle of the figure eight shaped room. No one dares come to my aid as they are all pressed neatly against the walls, tucked in one behind the other, a seemingly endless line of camo. They retreat further into the walls enhancing the figure eight shape leaving my new standing ground open and immense. So, you don’t know what a “Jeetyet” is he asks. Giving a false comfort in his lowered voice. As he says this statement he ribs his battle and remarks, “apparently, we have a little high society private here.” I stand unmoving staring ahead as they go back and forth calling me name after name all having to do with high society. Still oblivious to my infraction I watch as Drill Sargent lowers his bulk so his nose is mere inches from my own.  He takes on a snooty tone, his nose raised and says in the slowest possible voice, “Private, did-you-eat-yet.” In the end, I spent chow-time laying on my back with my feet and arms straight up in the air wriggling and yelling repeatedly “OH NO THE LIGHTS ARE ON!” This move fondly referred to as the dying cockroach. I never did get to answer if I ate yet.


About the author

Heather Penn

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