Ft. Jackson in Columbia, SC was where I did my Army Basic Training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) in 1984* and I was thrilled to have the chance to be able to see it again. (*I will save you the trouble of calculating my age: I was 9 at the time and the youngest trainee they ever processed)
I arrived at Ft. Jackson 9 days after the start of 1984. When I left there on August 23, I believed that I would never see that base again. Here it is 2014 and I'm living in South Carolina going back to Ft. Jackson. Thirty years is a long time and I was curious to learn how much, or in some cases, how little I've changed.
What I did not expect was how much Ft. Jackson changed. The military base is undergoing a 100 million dollar renovation and it looks absolutely nothing like it did when I was there. The only thing I recognized was one of the original wooden chapels. Everything else has been torn down and rebuilt, in some cases multiple times.
I started out thinking I would write my blog about the day as a whole, however I find that my mind keeps coming back to one portion of the day, and back to one female soldier in particular.
One of our first stops was "Victory Tower". Soldiers are brought to Victory Tower within the first week of their arrival at Ft. Jackson. The rope bridges, ladders and rappelling exercises are designed to instill confidence and build teamwork in new recruits. It also gives the Drill Sergeants an opportunity to observe and recognize potential leaders and non-leaders.
Soldiers go through various exercises and drills designed to build up their strength and confidence before they finish with rappelling down the 70-foot tall wall that is "Victory Tower".
One of the stations is an exercise to get you comfortable with gripping the rope and jumping off and swinging.
It is a fairly easy exercise and most of the soldiers did it with ease. Except this young female soldier.
I don't know if you can see it in her face, but she is terrified. Absolutely terrified and it was only about a 6 inch drop. She stood there with the Drill Sergeant telling her to "Jump Private Jump". She was scared and frozen in place and she wasn't jumping.
She started to cry and the soldiers behind her were shouting encouragement and cheering her on. And she still wasn't moving.
And neither was I. I was drawn to what was going on in front of me. First of all, it was a very peculiar situation. Here we were, 40+ adults standing there watching them, and in my case, taking their picture, and they had to act like we weren't there. Very few of the soldiers looked at us and absolutely none of them talked to us, as I'm sure they were instructed. It felt very much like watching people behind a two way glass.
My heart went out to this young soldier and I couldn't stop from watching her.
After a lot more tears and a great deal of encouragement, she finally did jump. And she fell. Actually, it was clear that she didn't even try. She had convinced herself she was going to fail before she even began and she did.
The Drill Sergeant told her to get back in line and she was going to do it again. Our group was already moving onto the next station, but I stayed behind because I wanted to see what happened next.
Would she get to the rope and allow her fear to paralyze her again? Or would she get to the rope and stand proud and strong and say "I can do this. I am going to do this." and then jump off with confidence?
The group was moving towards the bus getting ready to go to the next destination and I had to leave. I didn't get to see what happened next.
Since I didn't get to see the ending, I get to write my own. I choose to believe she did it. I believe she walked up to the rope with her sassy self, grabbed hold of that rope and showed them how it's done. And then she looked over at ole "Victory Tower" and said "Bring. It. On."