Do You Know Your Name Soldier?
I stood in line contemplating the consequences of what I was about to do. It was around noon, a hot day in August the year two thousand, and the suns warmth was eating away at my already charred forearms. The air was stagnant and had a faint smell of mildew that was hard to ignore. The smell of old Army gear and sweaty soldiers is a constant in Basic Training. My unit had been on a training exercise for the past two days and everyone was sun burnt and exhausted. My thoughts drifted as my nerves kicked in.
“Drink water!” Our drill sergeant (DS) always had a way with words. “All of it soldier”, he shouted as his neck veins bulged. DS Creighton was about five feet eight inches tall. He was a small stature man with a receding hair line and big bushy eyebrows. He was very stocky for his size. As he began briefing us on the upcoming two days, I noticed a constant bead of sweat dripping off of Greg’s nose as he sat cross-legged next to me. Greg and I had become close friends in the two months we had known each other. He was from a small town in South Dakota, so we christened him “Dakota”.
The one thing I feared about basic training was the gas chamber. In past conversations with Dakota, he told me of his older brother Luke’s experience with the gas chamber when he went through the program. His story sounded like an excerpt out of a “Friday the 13th” movie. He told of people bleeding from the nose, blinded, coughing uncontrollably, and mass confusion. This was what I feared for the past two months and now it was only forty-eight hours away.
Naturally, the two days passed faster than any two days of my life and I snapped back to reality. I was standing in line about to take on “the beast”. I told Dakota I felt sick. He laughed and told me to stop acting like a little girl. As we got closer, I could smell rotting eggs, a clear sign of the presence of CS gas. CS gas is an irritant similar to the pepper spray that police use to quell unruly crowds. Soldiers were shuffled in the chamber by groups of ten. Coughing, hollering, and shrieking screams were coming from inside the chamber and I couldn’t imagine what else was going on inside. I began to panic.
As Dakota and I stood facing the old gas chamber, I told him I didn’t think I could do it. He told me something I will never forget. He said, “If you make it through today, tomorrow will be a breeze.” Ever so subtle, his words struck me and I realized that I had to be strong. I had to do what needed to be done regardless of the pain or suffering that I had to face. I put my gas mask on and gave a nod to Dakota as if to say I was ready. As the door swung open and DS Creighton said let’s go, I walked in with my chest stuck out more prepared than I would ever be.
We filed in one by one and stood along the dark damp wall built of cinderblocks. I could see the gas emitting from a small aluminum canister on a table in the center of the room. It left the table as a light green cloud which quickly evaporated into the air. I stood there as DS Creighton paced back and forth in front of us. He said, “Today would be a day we would not forget. I was ready to rip my mask off and show that CS gas that it was nothing.
We were in the chamber for about a minute now and I could feel the back of my neck and my wrists beginning to sting. Suddenly Dakota lost control and started gasping for air and motioning with his hands that he couldn’t breathe. DS Creighton ran to him and told him to seal his mask properly to keep the gas out. Dakota tried but couldn’t do it. He tried to run for the door. DS Creighton grabbed Dakota by the neck and slammed him against the wall. He slammed him so hard I could feel the wall vibrate as he hit it. DS Creighton ripped his mask off and put it up to his face and yelled, “Like this soldier!” He pushed the mask back in Dakotas face and stood there until Dakota had it on. As the seconds passed, the burning sensation was getting unbearable. My neck felt as if someone was constantly rubbing it with sand paper. Sweat poured down my back as DS Creighton approached me and said, “Your turn, unmask yourself soldier and tell me your identity.” I pulled my mask up and simultaneously exposed my eyes and lungs to the gas. I choked. I couldn’t open my eyes, and all of a sudden I realized that I was in trouble. I felt the room close in around me and I felt extremely claustrophobic. DS Creighton hollered, “Do You Know Your Name Soldier!” I knew I had to say it, so with all of my might and the rest of the air left in my lungs I said, “Bryce Guillot, US Army.” I put my mask on as the door swung open and the warmth of the sun once again preyed on my skin, I was still in excruciating pain, but ever so thrilled to be out of that hell-hole.
It took about thirty minutes before the effects of the gas wore off. As Dakota and I sat there embellishing in our success, I knew that from that day forward, no obstacle would seem impassable, and no mountain to tall. I was a soldier, and more importantly, a man.