In the Army Now: The Greg Drobny Saga

On November 13th, 2001, Greg Drobny shipped off to Fort Benning, Georgia for Basic Training in the United States Army. He has been sending letters to Greg A Bruns to document his experiences. The letters are found below and will be updated throughout Greg’s trek through the US military…

(for more background, read "Give Thanks" by Greg A Bruns.)


Letter #1: And so it begins… (received 11/10/01)

And so it begins, my journey into the United States Army. By this time next week I will be in basic training. I suppose that I should be nervous, but in all honesty, the closer I get to it, the more I feel as if I made the right choice. I honestly believe that this is my chance to make a difference, my chance to do something positive for the world we live in. Say what you will about patriotism, it is much bigger than that.

There is a great evil in this world, and if I have the ability to do my part in fighting it, then it would be nothing less than selfish if I did not go. I look at people with families, people with productive jobs, and I think, if putting my life on the line prevents them from needing to do the same, then it is worth it. Serving this country is about more than just protecting the United States of America, it’s about protecting a way of life. It’s about protecting what it represents. I hope to write more in the months to come on my progress through the military, but for now, I leave you with the thoughts of Theodore Roosevelt. After all, why bother saying something if someone else has said it better already?

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

-Teddy Roosevelt

 

Letter #2: Greg’s Typewritten Army Letter (received 12/09/01)

Letter #2 is in .pdf form. If you are Acrobatic, you can see the actual letter. Depending on your definition of actuality.

 

Letter #3: Dated December 11, 2001 (received 12/17/01)

December 11

To: Mom, Dad, Andrea, Scott (and Greg Bruns)

Hey,

Well, into the 3rd week of basic training now, things are going pretty much as expected. We did our first obstacle course yesterday, got to go through the mud pit under the barbed wire (just like you see on the TV). I hurt my back though, I think I might have to have it amputated. For the most part though, it’s not as hard as I thought it would be.

Of course, our platoon has its private Pyles that make it harder on everyone (they tell us that doing push-ups until our arms turn into jelly for someone else’s mistake will build character and develop teamwork. So far, their plan is failing miserably — myself and one other guy figured out that we do around 250 to 300 pushups a day, and our team isn’t really a team so much as it is not a team).

Anyhoo, we did weapons draw and had rifles issued to us for the first time two days ago. Wow, that was a scary sight. If only our taxpayers could see the pride and care that a group of 18-year-olds put into their weapons, we would probably be throwing rocks. Things are actually going pretty well. I ended up with a cool battle buddy and if it wasn’t for lack of food and being sick, I would be having a lot of fun.

The Drill Instructors don’t yell nearly as much as I thought (well, at least not at me, knock on wood), although they have made us move all 56 of our bunks into the parking lot and set them up twice. Why? Because there was trash in the trash can – what the hell were we thinking? So, I will have many stories at Christmas time.

Love Ya, See ya soon.

Greg

 

Letter #4: Life after three weeks of basic training (received 12/31/01)

Well, after only three weeks of basic training, I am home for two weeks on Christmas exodus. The Army essentially shuts down all training programs and schools every year for the holiday season, and surprisingly, allows all new recruits to fly home for a little break in the action. It does seem a little counterproductive to send us home on leave only three weeks into our training, after all, we weren’t really all that disciplined as a group before we left, I can only imagine what we will be like after 14 days of beer and Ho-ho’s. It will be interesting to see what level of motivation people return from the break with.

A large number of men in our platoon moved at such a slow speed that I question why they joined the Army in the first place. Now I wonder, having had a taste of military life, if they will use this time off to rethink their attitude and come back with a bit more intensity, or if they will just get lazier with every Twinkie they suck down.

Before I joined the Military, I had thought that the hardest part of basic training would be dealing with the Drill Sergeants yelling at you all the time. This is not the case at all. The most difficult aspect by far has been dealing with the incredible lack of motivation that the average person brings to the table. We were all given the same advice at the beginning of our training, "Do what you’re told, when you are told to do it, and how you are told to do it."

Yet, even with the simplest of tasks, this is apparently too much to ask. I realize that there will always be that element in any group of people, but as a soldier in training, we are no longer a part of a world where you can blow off what your boss tells you to do if you don’t feel like doing it. We are going into a field where disobedience and lack of motivation can lead to people dying. As clichéd as that may sound, it is the truth. With the world being as it is right now, it is very likely that many of us will, at some point in our career, be placed in a combat zone. Yet, many of the young men in basic training get up and approach the day as if they were going to work at Burger King.

I suppose that I should be grateful that these people even had the courage and initiative to join the military, after all, they are doing more for there country than most. Having said all of that, I feel that I must clarify that my military experience thus far has been very positive, and even fun at times. I feel good about this because nearly anyone who has been in the military will tell you that basic training was by far the worst part of their time in service. It is very much a learning experience, and at the very least, quite entertaining at times. After all, how many times in your job did you wish you could see one of your co-workers humiliated in front of everyone for doing something stupid? There have been many times in our training when I had a very hard time refraining from doubling over in laughter. A drill sergeant yelling at a recruit "You were not vaginally born, you were an asshole baby. Your mother shit you out!" Are you kidding me? This is the kind of thing you hear in a movie. To be present when these words are actually being spoken in a serious context can make it very difficult to maintain a straight face.

There are those times when a drill sergeant can make you feel lower than mud, but for the most part, the camaraderie that develops between those who do wish to succeed more than makes up for the bad times. There are many times when you feel tired or hungry or both, but then you look at your buddy who feels the same way and you just laugh, because you realize that everyone is in the same boat, and that gives you strength. Somehow, being yelled at and forced to do incredibly strenuous activity brings men closer together. Seeing how we came together to complete the obstacle course as a team was actually quite impressive. I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead and how we deal with them both as a group and as individuals.

With jump school and Ranger Indoctrination to follow, my challenges and tests have just begun, but I have already realized that it is very important to keep my focus on what I am going through now. I am actually excited to go back after the break and continue the training. As a group, 2nd platoon Charlie company, has a long way to go, but with 11 more weeks remaining, I’m sure that we will all learn a lot about each other, as well as ourselves.

 

Letter #5: Just starting Week #5 (received 1/26/02)

Howdy All,
Just started week #5 of basic training and things are getting more interesting. We started basic rifle marksmanship this week, which nice because it’s more like actual training as opposed to just getting yelled at for making our bunks incorrectly. Of course, going to a live fire range with 200 gun-happy 19-year-olds presents a whole new arena for problem to occur.

Example: the first day at the range, we discovered that one of the men in our platoon was missing. Not much fuss was made, other than the entire training brigade being shut down due to the fact that the Private in question did have a weapon. Apparently, while marching to the bus, our hero slipped on some ice and twisted his ankle, and being afraid of getting in trouble for missing the bus, he chose not to tell anyone. He was found a couple hours later curled up sleeping in the back corner of our bay. Just another example of the high quality people that fill the ranks of our military.

I can’t be too critical, I haven’t been perfect, but I can honestly say that I have never gone out on a march without realizing until 2 hours later that I was wearing two left boots. This is not a claim that can be legitimately made by every person in our platoon, however. We all make mistakes, but I think that one even caught the Drill Sergeants by surprise. It was one of the few times I have spoken to a Drill Sergeant without maintaining any composure whatsoever. After hearing that someone actually wore two left boots, I don’t think there was a straight face in the entire company.

The platoon as a whole is growing closer together now, in spite of a few weak links. Little scuffles and altercations are beginning to break out between different platoons and most all of our group is quickly at one another’s side, differences aside. The interesting thing is how they are able to knock you off that pedestal once you build up a little pride. Coming back from a day at the range, thinking you’re hot stuff, only to find your bunks and lockers turned upside down, can be a little disheartening.

Digging down and trying to find motivation for someone who is just going to tell you how bad you suck can be a real challenge sometimes. The most discouraging parts of basic training have nothing to do with physical hardships — it’s all about staying with it mentally. It’s the times when you are feeling low that it pays off to have friends around. Trying to do this on your own would be next to impossible. I suppose that bonding with your peers to face adversity is exactly what they want.

Unfortunately, there will always be those who just don’t belong. But for those of us who do, we will continue to drive on, and we will continue to try and find humor in even the worst situations.

Anyway, it’s been a bad week. I’ve been writing this letter for 5 days. I will write when I can. Until then… Love Y’all.

 

Letter #6: The Halfway Point (received 2/15/02)

Hey everybody –

Just passed the halfway point of basic training; week number eight starts tomorrow. Last week went by very quickly, plenty of road marches followed by grenade training, rocket launcher training, machine guns, and an introduction to the Bradley fighting vehicle. On Thursday, we moved out at 4:00am on a ten-mile march to the grenade launcher range. They woke us up at 2:45am for that one, which seemed quite odd considering that there was a time not all that long ago when I was just going to sleep around that time.

Surprisingly, this march, though it was longer than all the rest, seemed considerably easier. A lot of it is just getting used to walking long distances with a heavy rucksack and uncomfortable boots, but even then they are mind-numbing. after all, what do you think about for three hours while walking in the dark when you can’t talk to anyone?

The marches increase in distance until the end, when we do a 25-mile march right before graduation. It will be quite a test. Most everyone finds little ways of cheating, like sneaking some food out of the chow hall so they can have something in their stomachs for the march (Yours Truly pleads guilty), or buying gel inserts that aren’t allowed for their boots. Sometimes I think they expect you to break the rules. I got caught taking extra bread the other day. It’s funny, we have people sneaking cigarettes and chewing tobacco and I get yelled at for taking something my body needs.

Our Drill Sergeant did tell us that after week 9 we can have people send us Power Bars so that we can have something to eat on the long marches. That might save me.

Other than the marches, the training has been pretty easy. Unfortunately, the Army has ways of making something that could be really interesting, incredibly boring. You end up spending the majority of your time standing in a line, waiting to shoot something, blow something up, or eat something. Then you rush through it and wait for everyone else to finish.

Join the Army, Stand In Line.

It seems strange that the things that stand out from basic training are not the actual training events, but the things we get in trouble for and the things we aren’t allowed. They spend so much time keeping a tight reign on us that we don’t really receive that much training that will help us in combat. There are, however, seven weeks left and it does seem as though they are lightening up a bit and focusing more on training. It would be nice to come out of a 14-week course where I’ve been treated like scrum, having actually learned something that will apply to my job.

Yesterday we probably had the best day yet. We began MOUT training (Military Operations Urban Terrain). They spent the day teaching us tactics to use on moving around buildings and entering rooms. It was the first day that we’ve spent the whole day training and not waiting in lines. What a refreshing change. It was by far the most educational day we’ve had so far, so the future holds some promise. I did, however, manage to trip going into a room and fall flat on my face. I would have had the Screw Up Of the DAY had it not been for another Private leaving his weapon on "fire" instead of "safe" while it was slung on his back in the chow line.

The Drill Sergeant who caught him broke a bottle of Heinz 57 on his helmet. At least people said that I looked stylish when I tripped because I kept my weapon pointed at the target even as I fell, but it’s hard to look good when you’re covered in steak sauce.

Seriously, though, I suppose that I shouldn’t give people too hard of a time after driving my own nose into the dirt. How does that go, "Pride cometh before…"

Yeah, anyway, until next time…

Greg

 

Letter #7: Four weeks to go (received 3/4/02)

Hello to all,

Week number 10 has now come and gone, which leaves four weeks left to go (27 days and a wake up to be exact). We spent this last week doing ITT (Infantry Tactical Training) and training on the TOW Missile. The amount of downtime we have is ridiculous. For every 10 minutes of actual training we do, there is usually about an hours worth of complete boredom.

We usually spend the time talking about movies or food, probably because that is what is missed most. We did get on the subject of science the other day and my buddy commented that he had memorized the periodic tables. After proving that he had in fact done this, I told him how impressed I was and asked if science was something he was really into. He proceeded to tell me that he knew next to nothing about science, but had told his girlfriend to send him a copy of the periodic table in the mail to basic training due to a huge lack of intellectual stimulation that goes on here. I thought that was great and we both laughed about that one.

As you can all imagine, living with 54 other guys for an extended period, things can get a little crazy sometimes, but mostly just boring. I think people would be shocked at home much of our time is spent doing nothing. Last weekend we actually got a pass to the main post, so of course we went and saw "Black Hawk Down." If someone had told me that I would have been able to do things like see a movie or watch the Super Bowl during basic training, I would never have believed them. Don’t get me wrong, we have endured our share of discomfort (on the Bivouac this week, we were told that we wouldn’t need sleeping bags – I ended up sleeping a total of about an hour because my chattering teeth kept waking me up) but for the most part it has been pretty easy. Probably too easy, in fact.

As someone who is going to try to b in the Rangers or Special Forces, I don’t know if I am going to be all that prepared for what lies ahead. We had the idea that instead of calling it "basic training" the Army should refer to it as "basic familiarization" because whenever they show us something new they go over it really fast and then say, "Don’t worry, they will train you more on this when you get to your unit." If I’m just going to learn this when I go to my unit, then why am I in basic training? I realize that one of the main focuses of this whole thing is to teach discipline to young men becoming soldiers. Unfortunately, the old school that the Army uses to get people in line don’t seem to work as well on this generation.

This is a generation that has been raised on heavy amounts of sarcasm and, while maybe not as physically tough as previous generations, has a lot more attitude. A Drill Sergeant can smoke us until we are ready to pass out and within 5 minutes everyone is back to the way they were. This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is. It seems as though the Drill Sergeants are realizing this also, and as a result, they seem to just give up. They rush us through our training and spend less and less time with us every day. It seem like such a waste because I honestly believe that everything we have done could have been done in about 7 or 8 weeks instead of 14.

I just hope that when I arrive at my unit looking like a lost puppy dog, they don’t say, "You mean they didn’t teach you this in basic training?" That will be my luck. Anyhow, we have a 15 mile road march in the morning and other than the week long FTX (Field Training Exercise) which starts in two weeks, that is all we have to do to graduate. It’s going to be a slow 4 weeks, but I am sure that there will be many more stories to tell.

For now I will leave you with this one:

Last weekend, one of our Gomer Pyle types fell asleep in his locker. Another Private decided it would be funny to lock him in there while he was asleep. Unfortunately, when everyone went to lunch, no one remembered to get him out. The Gomer in question then decided that to teach everyone a lesson, he will refuse to tell anyone his lock combination, thus forcing them to tell the Drill Sergeant and get everyone in trouble.

Our whole chain of command in the platoon (the platoon guide, squad leaders, and team leaders) was subsequently fired and replaced by anyone who happened to be standing in front of the Drill Sergeant. The ones who were fired thought it was the best day of basic training so far. We are all still laughing about that one. Ho hum, just another day in the Army.

Anyway, keep those letter coming. Hopefully in a month I will rejoin the world of e-mail so I can stay in touch with everyone. Have fun out in the real world y’all. See ya.

Greg

Letter #8: Basic Training is Over

Well, Basic Infantry Training is finally over. They tell us that we are soldiers now, which is a scary thought. About six or seven weeks ago when someone did something really jacked up, my buddy Hall turned to me and said, "And the 14 week ‘Moronathon’ continues!"

That one really seemed to stick, so ever since then when someone said something or did something stupid, (which was quite often) a select few of us in unison would speak those words which so adequately defined our time in Basic Training. Looking back, it did seem to go by quite quickly, although when you are there, it is anything but quick.

I am sure that I will look back on this experience and remember mostly the good times, so that is why I will forever preserve the bad times right now by telling humorous stories about them. Ha ha, seriously though, I think that the most surprising thing about the whole ordeal was in the way that they treated us.

I expected the first month or so to be really degrading and to receive plenty of insults, and I figured they would lighten up towards the end and focus more on training. Boy, was I wrong. You’re pretty much treated like complete dogshit until the minute you leave after graduation. Oh well, I suppose this builds character, or something like that. Towards the end though, it did get a little easier, just due to the fact that we all knew that it was almost over.

After we finished FTX (a week long trip into the field, completed with a 25 mile march on the last day) we knew that we had completed all the training required to graduate.

Discipline was just right out the window after that. People were running through other platoons’ bays naked, or sometimes wearing just a gas mask. Some crazy fool made overtly female sexual noises in the chow hall, forcing a good number of fellow soldiers to spit out their food (I may have been involved in some way). After a week in the field with very little sleep and even less food, not much else can be expected.

Unfortunately, the time in the field which should have fit under the "Train to standard, not to time" philosophy, was in fact quite the opposite. The last day was quite a deal though; one seven mile march followed by ten miles worth of missions, and capped off with another seven mile march back home. This is the day after the "Battle March and Shoot," which consists of a three mile run with all of your gear on including your Ruck sack, and then shooting at the range as soon as you get there. We finished the run in 39 minutes, which was the fastest of all the platoons, but most of the guys in our platoon can’t shoot to save their life (pun intended), so we lost that contest. It was agreed by most that we did have the most screwed up platoon, but for some odd reason we could road march like nobody’s business.

Even after all of the bad things, we did have some people who I believe will turn out to be fine soldiers. I don’t know if I am one of those, as I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this whole Ranger thing, but there is only one way to find out. If I fail, it will definitely not be for lack of trying. For now, my friend Keihn (who has been with me since the beginning at reception battalion) and I are waiting to go on to Airborne School and begin the next phase of what may turn out to prove that we are in fact just gluttons for punishing our own bodies.

At any rate, I am quite sure that there will be more stories to tell very soon. Who knows, it might be a whole new episode of "The 14-week Moronathon."

Until then…

Greg

Letter #9: Welcome to Airborne

One week of Airborne school down, two to go. Other than the slight chance of getting injured (knock on wood), it shouldn’t be too difficult to finish. On the first day, the Black Hats (Airborne Instructors) dropped everyone for pushups as soon as we all processed in. Myself, along with all of the other Infantry guys, had hit about thirty pushups before someone said, "They only told us to do ten and recover." Ten? We had a good laugh over that one. Overall, it is run much more professionally than Basic Training. The Instructors here actually try to teach you things, which is a nice change of pace. Unfortunately, the physical demands are minimal and I’m afraid that I will get lazy before I try for the Rangers.

We ran a Regimental run two days ago which, although looked impressive (well over a thousand soldiers), was slow enough to do a fast walk. This is how most of the runs are here, usually about a nine-minute-per-mile pace. According to what I have heard, when they take you out on a run when trying out for Rangers, it’s at about a six-and-a-half-minute-per-mile pace. That should be interesting.

It seems strange being out of basic training and watching CNN. People that I went through basic with are already deploying to the Middle East, and if I make it into the Ranger regiment, I could be there within a few months. I suppose I should be apprehensive about that, but I’m really not. I accept the path that I have chosen and wherever it may lead.

To the squared away soldiers that I graduated with like Privates Braun and Krupp at the 101st, Jones and Vogelsong in Korea, Hall and Urian in Germany, keep your heads down and drive on. For us here at Airborne, life is actually pretty relaxing right now. I suppose the trade-off will be that when the time comes, it will be much harder for us. This coming week they will drop us with an inflated parachute from a 250-foot tower. I can’t wait.

More to come….

Letter #10: "Paratrooper, Baby."

I am a Paratrooper. On Friday, April 19, 2002, my parents pinned silver wings on my chest, inducting me into a select group known as the Airborne Infantry. It is a fraternity of sorts that, while only 60 years old, contains more history than most. I look back at some of the feats of heroism and bravado performed by men who have graduated from those same grounds, and part of me wonders if I belong here. Another, bigger part of me however, just wants to do the best that I can to live up to and improve upon the examples that have been set by those who have come before me.

Taking your first step out of that bird certainly brings you into a whole new reality, one that is incredibly fast and yet at the same time almost like slow motion. Running up to the door in line with others and seeing them disappear one by one is quite a site. People asked me before I went if I thought that I would be too nervous to go, and I will be totally honest, we were all way too excited about getting out of that uncomfortable parachute harness, that no one gave a second thought to jumping out of that plane.

I have had wisdom teeth pulled, broken bones, cuts and bruises of all kinds, and I am here to tell you that none of it was as painful as standing around in that hanger with that harness on. I think they do it on purpose just so you are sure to go out the door of the aircraft. Once you jump, you really don’t even notice the pain, and it is one of the most peaceful things I have ever experienced.

Floating through the sky, looking out over the whole area, watching your buddies run into each other in mid air; truly an unforgettable time. I never knew how close you come to other jumpers until we jumped. One of my buddies walked across the top of another jumper’s canopy while in the air, and the guy who went out in front of me had to land while holding onto the guy he ran into. Amazingly, all of the things they teach you in the two weeks prior to jump week come rushing back to you, and you are able to come safely to the ground with all the grace of, well, a water buffalo.

Yeah, you hit pretty hard. They told us that it’s about the same speed you would hit if you jumped off of a two story building with no ‘chute. The Black Hats (Airborne Instructors) do a great job of teaching you how to fall, and as a result, out of nearly four hundred jumpers, I believe we only had one severe injury (broken foot).

So, after our five jumps, I am proud to say that I am not only qualified to jump out of airplanes, but I am paid to do so as well. In foreign countries where people don’t want me there, no less. For now though, I am on hold (again) waiting to go to Ranger selection. The next class starts on May 6, so very soon we will see if I really have what it takes to be an elite soldier, or if I have just bit off more than I can chew. At any rate, I am still here and have not quit (unlike many others already) and am looking forward to the challenge of trying to be one of the best. Until then, drive on.

PV2 Greg Drobny

Letter #11: "Broken Bones and Assignments"

I must start this letter off by apologizing for not writing sooner. It has been, as the song goes, "a long strange trip," and many things have happened since my last letter. At the time I last wrote, I was preparing to start RIP (Ranger Indoctrination Program), a 3-week selection course designed to prepare young soldiers for service in the 75th Ranger Regiment, and weed out some of the undesirables.

I was a bit nervous, thanks mostly to the many rumors circulating through the Army about the "living hell" known as RIP, but excited at the same time. After all, this was the moment all of us had been waiting for. We were finally going to find out if we had what it takes to be part of one of the world’s premier elite fighting units. Throughout every bit of training we had done up to this point, the vast majority of those involved passed without much trouble at all, with approximately a 15% attrition rate in both Basic and Airborne). Now, we were entering a program where the majority of the people would quit before it started, or during the first week. I had brought myself into a mental state of overwhelming confidence by the time RIP started. I had convinced myself that there was nothing they could do to make me quit. I was ready.

Now, I could write on about all the details of RIP for the next 5 pages, but I’m not going to. Why? Well, for two reasons: 1) I was told not to, and 2) as much as I would like to go on and on about all of the cool, secretive, high speed stuff that goes on at RIP, there is no cool, secretive, high speed stuff that goes on at RIP. So instead, I’ll give you a summary of the events that transpired during those three weeks, which led me to where I am now.

After the first week of RIP, I was doing great. A lot of people had been dropped, or just quit due to low PT (physical training) scores, or just lack of motivation, and those who had been around since the last class said that once you made it through the first week, you were home free. Just stay out of trouble and make the 12 mile road march. I knew I could make the march, and staying out of trouble was no problem. I was well on my way to being a Ranger.

By Tuesday, things were going fairly well, other than the fact that I was having a lot of pain in my hip. It had been hurting on and off for a while, but not this bad. I figured it was probably a pulled groin muscle, and I was constantly re-injuring it. All I had to do is complete the march on Thursday, and I would be done with all of the required tasks… I could hold on until then.

Thursday came early. We had started the march at 4:00am, and I was in agony. I kept up for about 3 or 4 miles before people began passing me and leaving me behind. I made it about 8 or 9 miles before they made me get on the truck because I was limping so bad. I told them that I could make it the rest of the way, but they said I would never make it in time. No big deal they said, I would be given a chance to make it up on Tuesday. No problem, I thought. We have the weekend off, so I can rest my injury and be ready by Tuesday.

Monday morning came way too soon, and when we started PT that morning, I knew I was in trouble. I was able to keep up on the run, but when I had to carry another soldier up a hill on my back, I knew that there was something VERY wrong. I was in a lot of pain, but all I had to do was make the march the next day.

Tuesday morning popped up, and all the Icy Hot and Motrin in the world wasn’t going to help me make that march. I finally broke down and talked to the medic. He told me that he wasn’t going to let me march anyway, after seeing how bad I was limping. I was sent to the hospital for X-rays.

The official result from the X-rays was a "medial femoral head fracture." I had a fracture on the top of my femur, right where it meets the pelvis. I was told that had I kept going with this injury any longer, I would probably have needed an entire hip replacement. Not exactly the kind of news you want to hear at the ripe old age of 28.

I was three days from graduation, I had already been assigned to 3rd Battalion, stationed at Ft. Benning, and I was dropped like a bad habit for medical reasons. I was told that I would be looking at a 6 month recovery, and the Regiment wanted nothing to do with me in my condition. So I was given a profile that didn’t allow me to do anything but sit around all day with the other cripples. Incidentally, one of my buddies from Basic Training broke his foot on the second day of RIP, so we hobbled around together and avoided any figures of authority when at all possible. I was placed in "worldwide," which is for anyone who signed up for RIP and didn’t make it, and your "worldwide" status means that you can be sent wherever the Army needs you. So, as I sat and watched friends and classmates graduate in their new tan berets (I had been issued one and had it taken away the very next day when I was dropped) and become Rangers, I awaited orders that would take me, with my luck, to the coldest, most remote base the Army has.

I was given a lot of support by a lot of my RIP classmates. Many of them felt that I really got the shaft and that I had every right to graduate with them. Personally, I am very ambivalent about the whole situation. I certainly feel that I am fully capable of making it in the Ranger battalion, but at the same time, I didn’t finish the requirements, and you have to draw the line somewhere.

The following 2 weeks sucked pretty bad. Hobbling around on crutches is not fun, and everyone looks at you like an outcast. It was a pretty depressing time, and until my orders came, I was ready to throw in the towel. My orders, however, let me know that someone up there likes me. I was to be assigned to the 6th Ranger Training Battalion, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Florida.

This is how it works: Ranger school goes in 3 phases: First: Ft. Benning, Georgia; Second: in the mountains of northern Georgia, at Dahlonega; Third and final phase: Camp James Rudder at Eglin AFB. This place is one of the best kept secrets in the Army. There are only 200 people stationed at the camp, and as a result, it is much more laid back than the regular Army.

I am assigned to the OPFOR (Opposition Force) platoon. Our job is to run around playing bad guys for the students going through Ranger school and, apparently, meet as many beautiful women as possible on the white sand beaches between Pensacola and Panama City. We are about 20 miles from civilization at this camp, but all in all, not a bad place to be. My only regret is that AI have but one life to give… ha ha ha.

I am still unable to perform all of my duties, but I am healing and therefore should have many more stories of glorious Army life in the near future. Until Then.

PV2 Drobny, Gregory

PS: In a strange turn of events, I ended up wearing the Tan Beret after all.

Letter #12: "Unbridled Opinion"

First off, I would like to say thank you to all of those who have been reading the letters I have written. I would love to hear from any of you, and as I am now able to check my e-mail regularly, I will include my e-mail address at the end of this page. I went with a little change of pace for this piece, with it being September 11 as I am writing this, I figured that it would be just a little too cliche for me to write about the "Impact of 9/11 on our nations soldiers."

Instead, I would just like to share a few quick thoughts on our situation as a nation.

We are a dichotomy within ourselves. We see things both as a newborn and as a grizzled, old veteran. We are shocked at even the thought that some small nation would have the audacity to attack us, yet we are calloused enough to continue on caring more about what’s on MTV than who our leaders are and what they are doing. We are strong enough to come together to show support for our men and women who are in harm’s way, and at the same time argue (often violently) to no end amongst ourselves about trivial issues. We complain about how "They" are not doing their job right, and how "They" are not doing enough for us. Deep down, however, we all know (and are most likely afraid to admit) that "They" are in fact you and I.

We are a nation who is at war with its own ideals. We would like to have the freedom to choose, and have a law that keeps our neighbor from doing the same. What does all this mean? Does it mean that our country will self destruct? Or does it mean that we will wipe out all the evils of the world? Most likely neither, as is the case with most of these issues. As the saying goes, we "Can’t have our cake and eat it too."

We will never rid our streets of crime because we no longer agree on what crime is. We will never provide our children with the best education because there are entirely too many subjects to educate them on. There will never be a time when we all agree, and at no point should we ever strive for that. Through the experiences we have all had, we see things differently from one another, and that’s what makes it all work.

It’s not healthy to spend all of our time discussing politics, nor is it wise to over indulge our fantasies of fame and fortune by concerning ourselves with what so-and-so is wearing to the Oscars. The yin and yang, the push and pull, the struggle for a balance. That is what makes us great. That is why we are where we are. You have no more reason to tell the person next to you how things should work than they have for telling you the same. We must learn from one another, and accept that sometimes even the weirdest guy in the room might actually have a good point about something.

These words are not intended as gospel, so much as they are intended as thoughts from someone with a different point of view. After this past year, many of our lives have changed, and as a result, so have many of our opinions.

Let us not forget those who have left us, while making sure that we do not dwell in the past.

PV2 Greg Drobny
gregorydrobny@yahoo.com
U.S. Army 6th RTB


Letter #13: "Simple Things"

I am learning. I have spent 29 years on this earth, and I am in constant awe of the new bits of knowledge that presents itself each day. Over the past ten months I have been writing stories about my Army career, and some of the absurdities that have presented themselves during that time. As I look back at these stories, I realize that a lot of it has been more about the negative aspects of the military (which there are plenty of), and not much has been devoted to how much I have learned.

I look back at how I thought about life before coming into the military, and compare it to how I view it now, and I notice some interesting things. Namely, how I look at the simple things, things such as:

1. Eating a good meal has in fact become one of my favorite hobbies (try eating an MRE when your hands are so wet and cold that you can’t open the package and when you finally open it, you wish you hadn’t). I was always a fan of good food before, but I have taken it to new levels since basic training ended. Olympic athletes don’t have the dedication to their own sport that I do when it comes to food.

2. Sleeping in a nice bed. Maybe I should shorten that one to just ‘Sleeping’, as this is a precious, and valuable thing in our line of work. Most of us in the Infantry have learned to sleep nearly anywhere, and most likely will if given half a chance. Before I came in to the military, I rarely slept more than six or seven hours a night. Now, if I wake up on a day off after any less than eight hours, I will tell myself, quite frankly, that ‘You are not trying hard enough’, and through sheer force of will, I will succeed in unconsciousness. Just being able to lie in bed without someone yelling at you is a pleasure that is beyond words.

3. Engaging in a conversation with a person of the opposite sex. As women are not currently allowed in combat arms, the path I have taken has been almost entirely estrogen-free. For my brothers who are serving at the far reaches of the globe, my heart goes out, because simply having that balance in your life is quite important (the word ‘balance’ is not intended to be…well, just get your mind out of the gutter). I certainly didn’t appreciate the importance of a woman’s presence in life until I was around nothing but guys for six months straight.

4. A hot shower. Although I had traveled to places that were humid before, I have primarily grown up and lived in very dry climates (i.e. Colorado, Nevada, California). So, adjusting to the high humidity while doing the amount of activity that we do with the amount of equipment and clothing that we wear on our bodies has been quite a challenge. And let me tell you, after spending a few days in the field, when it’s over 90 degrees and over 90 percent humidity, a shower is no small thing. Upon returning from one of our excursions, I looked at my roommate and said ‘I will give you a thousand dollars if you let me take a shower first’. He thought I was joking. Silly man, I think that I really would have paid him the money. Having an opportunity to stand in a shower by myself (see number 5 on the list) has been a novel thing for me in the last couple of months. When that hot water hits me, the world begins to make sense again, and everything seems okay.

5. Time. Time is quite possibly the one thing I have learned to appreciate the most. I could tell you that the reason is because they give such insane time standards throughout basic training (try getting an entire platoon of fifty guys to shower in eight minutes – with six stalls) that you learn to manage your time very well, and that would be true. However, I could say that you value your time more than anything because with all of the time spent standing around doing nothing, you probably could have learned a second language or developed a cure for the common cold instead of doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and this also would be true. I had considered estimating the number of hours I have spent standing around waiting over the last ten months. Then I realized that, unless I would enjoy crying myself to sleep every night for many moons, I probably should avoid knowing that information.

Appreciation of simple things is something we all overlook most of the time in daily life. Through the things I have been through recently (which, when compared to the rest of the world is pretty tame) I have learned that sometimes the greatest joys in life come from the seemingly ordinary activities that we normally take for granted. So, the next time you are sitting down to a hot meal, or taking a nice, long, hot shower, think of life without those things, and how our friends are doing in those hot, nasty, dangerous places without them. Stinky and hungry, that’s how they’re doing.

Until next time,

PV2 Gregory Drobny
6th Ranger Training Battalion
gregorydrobny@yahoo.com

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