Letting Go, Part II

And I thought signing the papers was hard.

Cassie was 17 when she joined the Army Reserves. I signed the papers in December 2001 giving the government permission to send my kid through a gas chamber. June seemed so far away and nine weeks didn’t seem that long. But June soon arrived and 9 weeks became an eternity.

Her grandpa was taking her to the recruiting station because I knew he’d be stronger than me and she needed someone to send her off with a smile and some confidence. Dad was in the Navy before the Korean War so he was just the person to give her the “You can do it!” pep talk. Not her blubbering mother.

I can still bring up that ache in my gut as I hugged her. She didn’t want to go, I didn’t want her to go, but a deal is a deal and we had to say goodbye. The worst part was that I knew I wouldn’t hear her voice for at least two weeks. It would be like flying around the dark side of the moon.

Week two, I brought the phone with me everywhere (this was back in the days before cell phones). Still, I missed her first call and I felt like the worst mother in the world. When she finally called back, here’s the transcript of our conversation:

Me: Hello?
Cassie: Mommy?
Me: Cassie? (tears)
Cassie: (tears)
Me: (tears…sniff…sniff)
Cassie: (tears…sniff…sniff)
(This went on, I’m not kidding you, for five minutes.)
Cassie: I have to go. I love you, Mommy. I miss you. (more tears)
Me: I miss you so much, baby. I love you. I love you. (more tears) I’ll see you in a few weeks, I promise.

That promise, that I’d see her in a few weeks, I was NOT going to break, despite the fact that I was almost 300 pounds and had stopped going anywhere too far from home. She was in Missouri and by god I was going to be there when the Army said she could go home.

I was never so proud of her as I was on Family Day when she marched out with her unit. And I was never so happy as when I finally got my hands on her. Here we are:

I had a hard time walking around the base. My back and knees hurt, and it was 90+ degrees. But I downed a bunch of Advil because I wanted to see everything she wanted to show me.

So much has happened in 7 years. She’s married and has the g-babies. I’m 160 pounds lighter and can wear her Army pants:

But no matter how much time goes by or how much we change, I still love her the same.

Cassie and her sister started a blog called “Sisters From Different Misters,” and she recently wrote a piece about her basic training days. Here it is, “The Basics of Basic”:

I was in the Army once. The Reserves to be exact. I was an 88M in the 298th Transportation Company in Franklin, PA. It’s a little fuzzy now why I even decided to join. I’m guessing that at the time I thought it was a brilliant idea, and unfortunately, once I get an idea in my head, there’s no getting it out.

One of my favorite things about having been in the Army is that I can say I was in the Army. I mean, regardless of what your political background is, the Army is tough shit. Any one who has ever been to Basic Training will agree. And I have yet to meet someone who’s gone through it to say it’s easy. Because it sure as hell isn’t.

For those of you who have never had the Army experience, let me explain some basics of Basic. Let’s start at the beginning.

I was assigned to go to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. When I got there, I was prepared for the worst. I imagined that I was going to be yelled at from the get-go. But it didn’t happen. Instead a Sergeant came aboard our bus and told us to file into the building and sit on the benches. There were Capri Suns and granola bars waiting for us. What? I thought to myself. They’re supposed to be super mean to me! Did I miss something?

That night, they had us line up to assign us to our barracks for the night. I quickly learned that for the next 10 weeks I’d be lining up for EVERYTHING. While standing there I remember being exhausted and woke up on the ground, face full of gravel. Nice. Great first impression…check.

For the next two days we were processed in, received our uniforms, did our PT tests and got our vision tested, got 12 different vaccines in our butts, new shoes and IDs. We were allowed to talk during meals and they tried to yell at us, but it just didn’t really stick.

The day we left reception changed my entire life. I remember every detail like it was yesterday. We were given random numbers on our duffels and were told to stand in line quietly. Again, they tried to yell at us, but we didn’t really listen. Then the strangest thing happened. Cattle trucks pulled up. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought.

The doors opened and out stepped two of the meanest looking sons-a bitches I’ve ever seen and they started SCREAMING. “Get your asses on this truck NOW!” I bear hugged my 50 pound duffel and we all filed in and immediately were told to get our heads down. Actually it was more, “Get your f***ing head down in your duffel! If I so as much see one eye ball, I will physically remove it from your socket!” Thanks to my God awful BCG’s (birth control glasses,) I was able to see their reflections. I was standing right next to the door and the Drill Sergeants. They were smiling and mouthing things to each other and silently laughing. This must be Christmas morning to them, I thought, and relaxed for a half of a second and thought that they were just all talk. I mean, c’mon, they’re laughing and stuff. It won’t be so bad.

We got to where our Basic would take place and here is where I officially met “The Pit.” The doors to the cattle truck opened up and I was yanked out by my cuff by another Drill Sergeant and told to get my ass moving.

The Pit is a space between all 3 other barracks and the road. It is roughly the size of a football field and was filled with mulch dirt and rocks. Some big rocks. Technically The Pit was divided into 3 smaller pits, but we used all of the area that morning. There was a stage set up at the far end in the middle and after four hours of running, jumping, rolling, crawling…everything, we were told to stand ‘at ease’ and meet our Drill Sergeants. Remember those random numbers I told you about? Well that number decided what platoon we’d be in. I had a number 4. As they introduced the Drill Sergeants, I kept thinking to myself, Good, I’m glad that’s not MY Drill Sergeant.. When they announced ours, we only had two where all the others had three. DS Daily and DS Robling. Ebony and Ivory. And Ivory had braces. Sweet.

I could go on forever and talk about my 10 weeks of hell, er fun, but I’ll give you the highlights:

*I got the bottom bunk. My battle buddy was obviously a pampered princess back home, so watching her drag her tired butt in and out of that top bunk cracked me up every morning.

*My battle buddy was afraid that she had a tick in the crack of her butt, so she made me check.

*I broke my hip, but being the stubborn lady I am, ran on it for another 5 weeks. Yay, Army!

*I shot expert in every single practice range but the day we qualified, I forgot to put my earplugs in. While the 10 practice rounds were going on I was attempting to save what little hearing I had left to get them in and ended up royally screwing up and only shot sharp shooter.

*We would get Snickers bars as a treat for good behavior.

*I kept small pieces of paper in my front pocket so that when we had ‘down’ time at the ranges I could write letters home.

*My last name at the time was Reed. So was our First Sergeant’s. You do the math.

*They learned I could type and was constantly put on administrative duty while the others had to sit in a stuffy class room and learn about important Army stuff. I on the other hand typed up letters to home regarding up coming graduation. I vaguely remember addressing the envelope to my parents and wanted to cry.

*Donating blood during basic isn’t a volunteering situation. You do or you don’t. If you don’t you go to the pit. If you do you get out of pushups for 24 hours. I donated like a champ.

*On the 4th of July we watched Black Hawk Down. It’s like the Army-man’s chick flick. Still one of my favorites today.

*Also on the 4th of July, I learned were our extra tax dollars go to. That was the awesomest display of fireworks I have ever seen. Ever.

*I ate Cocoa Puffs every morning.

*Because the Army is now trying to be PC they found out I was a partial vegetarian and always offered me first pick of our field meals. The one with cheese ravioli had skittles in it.

*My best girl friend I made there was from the Philippines and tried to teach me how to speak Tagalog (pronounced Ta-ga-la.) All I remember is Mahal Kita which means I love you. Aw.

*I learned that cadences are fun to say. My favorite was the one about bubbles in beer.

*I was a Renegade. No really. 4th Platoon Renegades!

*The gas chamber is not a fun place. CS gas is mean. However, after completing that task, I had the clearest sinuses to date.

*When you go through the gas chamber, they make you flap your arms when you walk out. They say it’s to get the CS gas off of your uniform, I think it’s because one of the DS wanted to sing, “I believe I can fly.”

*I signed every letter to my Mom “Don’t forget the peanut M&M’s.” She didn’t forget them.

*Climbing 100 feet into the air on a giant ladder, then scaling over the top and climbing back down isn’t fun. Our DS got to be clipped in at the top and thought it was fun to shake and sway the entire structure. Bastard.

*The Pit really sucks. Especially at midnight.

*Fire duty is so much nicer towards the end of basic when you can wear your pj’s instead of your entire battle uniform. (Fire duty is where you and your battle buddy take turns being up during hour increments during the night to make sure we don’t come under attack. Typically this time is spent cleaning or buffing the floors.)

*I could run 2 miles on a broken hip in 17 minutes. I’m just that awesome.

*Staying in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a porta potty, a sheet for a tent and a gas mask isn’t my idea of roughing it. It’s torture. Especially when they made us stay in our gas masks for 7 hours. The only good part about that was I actually could fall asleep in it and no one was the wiser. Plus my best friend Brown was our platoon leader and warned me when DS was coming. He also helped me dig my fox hole. Sucker.

*Fold up shovels don’t work.

*The Rites of Passage that happens after the 15k march from our 3 days in the field was the coolest bon fire I have ever been to. I have never been more full of pride than that exact moment. Plus they blasted Bon Jovi and other late 80’s hard rock. And it was 3 in the morning. I was livin’ on a prayer and adrenaline.

*Running through a crowd of hundreds while frantically searching for my family isn’t like you’d see in the movies. It’s hot, people are sweaty and you just want to see your Mom, damnit.

*After hearing, “Mom! I found her!” I realized it was Carly’s voice and she had found me. I had been found!

*We get a full afternoon to spend with our families off base the day before graduation. It’s really actually very cruel, because you have to return to your barracks for one last night. You can do anything you want during this time away except we can’t drink, smoke, do illegal drugs or get tattoos. I chose to sleep.

*In the bathroom of whatever restaurant we ate lunch at, Carly made me lift up my shirt because she wanted to see how skinny I had become. I didn’t find it the slightest bit creepy. But I think the woman who entered right as I was lifting my shirt up did.

*At graduation we stood on stage and introduced ourselves. I had to say, “Private Reed from Pennsylvania.” That was my shining moment.

*The morning after graduation in the hotel room, when me and the fam were driving back to PA, I heard Larry (my step-dad) say something quietly to Mom and I immediately jumped out of bed and started to make it with Carly still inside. Then I proceeded to cry. This would begin the long adjustment period in my life.

*I bought a pair of size 5 jeans. This would be the first and last time that would ever happen.

*While I wasn’t in the Navy, I did get a Sailor Mouth. I still have that memento.
I can safely say I’m not the same person from when I first entered. I don’t think any one in my family is. The Army made me a better person and for that, I’m forever indebted to it.

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