Students use break to start military career
Story and photo by Kris Gonzalez/The Bayonet
FORT BENNING, Ga. (TRADOC News Service, Aug. 10, 2005) – While most teenagers spent their summer vacation hanging out with friends, going to the beach or working odd jobs, many teenagers from all over the country traveled to Fort Benning to do the toughest job of all: become a Soldier.
They signed up for the Army’s Split-Training Option, which allows high-school students to go to basic combat training during the summer of their junior year and complete advanced individual training after they graduate high school.
And instead of being in a place where they’re the oldest and “seniors rule,” the “split-ops” are the youngest among men who learn lifesaving lessons and killing techniques from some of the military’s toughest drill sergeants.
These teenagers don’t have to worry about being bored or finding something to do because the drill sergeants will do that for them, said Pfc. Andrew Hardman of Sandy, Utah.
Pvt. David Molina, 17, of Windsor, Calif., said basic training is fun and better than going to the beach.
Pvt. Christopher Buckerfield, 17, of Clinton Township, Mich., disagreed.
“What do ya mean it’s better than the beach?” Buckerfield asked Molina. “Man, do you see any bikinis out here?”
There are no bikinis, or females for that matter – just lots of sweaty guys getting smoked or doing lots of push-ups, learning to find their way through the woods, clearing their sinuses in the gas chamber and going to ranges over and over again to learn how to fire a weapon to make “one shot, one kill.”
When the Soldiers of D Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, qualified with their M-16 rifles Aug. 2, the farthest thing from their minds was relaxing at the beach. Soldiers like Buckerfield and fellow split-op Pvt. Michael Amante, 18, of Grand Rapids, Mich., got their adrenaline rush from knocking down simulated terrorists hiding behind berms, also known as pop-up targets.
Both Soldiers have been hunting since age 12, and they admit one of the hardest things about basic rifle marksmanship training was overcoming bad habits they learned while firing with their own rifles.
Not only did they have to master the fundamentals of shooting with an M-16, but they had to qualify wearing the new flak vest, or individual body armor, and in a kneeling position, as well as the standard prone position, supported by sandbags.
The IBA consists of two 12-pound body-armor plates and adds 10 degrees to the temperature outside, said 1st Sgt. Anthony Heath.
While the rest of Fort Benning enjoyed a drop in the heat index, these Soldiers were considered to be at heat category five. With temperatures higher than 90 degrees, the Soldiers must take a 10-minute break after working for 50 minutes, and they must consume a quart of water an hour.
Amante said he didn’t mind the added discomfort.
“If I’m firing a weapon, I’m happy,” he said.
Buckerfield, Amante and their fellow split-ops agreed they need to do well at marksmanship because it will save their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. They said they know what they signed up for.
“We were all aware of the obligation before we joined,” said Pfc. Travis Stickney. “If we don’t do it, who will?”
Stickney said his father recently returned from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan. He said he was proud of his father, who served in the Naval Reserve for 15 years, so he followed in his footsteps and joined the National Guard to see if he would want to work full time in the active Army one day.
Hardman also joined the Guard. As young as he is, Hardman has his own private pilot’s license and will train in aviation operations when he goes to Fort Rucker, Ala., for AIT next summer.