The great thing about growing older and maturing is that you are able to look upon previously embarrassing if not disgraceful episodes in your life and either learn from them or laugh at them, sometimes both. I had a lot of bad luck during my first two years in the military, some of it my fault and some of it not. The most ridiculous of those instances though is the time I was shot in basic training on Fort Benning. Enjoy…
It was a hot July day on main post Fort Benning in the year 2005, and my basic training company was in week five of training, which had us on the known distance range this particular day. I was on the 200-meter berm, standing to the right of my battle buddy, a short Asian kid who had just finished shooting. We were waiting for the targets to be marked by the other platoon that was behind the berm for just that purpose, when I felt a slap on my upper shoulder, just behind the armpit… but not like a slap from a hand, more like one that penetrated.
We didn’t have our body armor on, as the heat had climbed over 110 degrees with humidity at over 90%, so heat casualties were a concern. I thought a Brown Recluse must have bitten me or maybe a wasp stung me. I tugged at my BDU top to check it out and I found a perfect little hole in my uniform. Thoroughly confused at this point, I tugged at my uniform to look at it again but now I could feel warmth spreading on my brown undershirt and my shoulder started to throb. I again saw the perfect hole, but now the cloth around it was dark from a liquid that was different from the sweat pouring out of me. The most ridiculous thought crossed my mind, did I just get shot?
I decided that it couldn’t be anything else, and it just so happened that the nearest Drill Sergeant to me was a prior 3/75 Intel guy who was known to be the meanest and most sarcastic NCO in A co. 2/54. I sounded off to DS McGinnis, “Drill Sergeant…. I think I got shot.” With the most hateful look he could muster, he looked at me and said, “Shut the fuck up Private, you got stung by a bee.” I pulled my BDU top up one more time just to reaffirm my suspicions before arguing with him, and said to myself that if I weren’t shot, then something else is really wrong.
“Drill Sergeant, I really think I got shot.”
He muttered as he started walking over, “Fucking Privates get bit by a bug and the fucking world ends. Skovlund, I’m gonna smoke the dog shit out of you if you aren’t bleeding like a stuck pig.”
He came around to my back and told me to take my BDU top off, which I painfully complied with. “HOLY FUCK PRIVATE! YOU DID GET SHOT! HAHAHAHAHA take a knee and drink water!” I complied while he got on his radio and told the other Drill Sergeants that Skovlund got shot like it was the most hilarious thing he had ever seen. Now that it was confirmed, all I could think about was my High School friend Brent who was convinced that I would be shot in basic training and repeatedly reminded me of that fact during our senior year of high school. At this point, the other Drill Sergeants were scrambling over, and making frantic calls over their radios to what I assume was range control. I remember one was literally doing 3-5 second rushes over to our position while screaming at the other Privates to get their heads down as if we were under fire.
Once they gathered around me and had all the other initial entry soldiers’ faces in the dirt, we took my brown undershirt off to further assess the situation. Although there was blood, I wasn’t hemorrhaging by any means, so it wasn’t exactly an urgent situation. One of the NCO’s who was there and hadn’t even been to Drill Sergeant School yet decided that he could see the lump in my skin from where the 5.56 mm bullet was. He took out his Gerber tool while saying, “Don’t worry Skovlund, I’ve been to CLS,” and literally rolled the bullet out like he was kneading bread until he could see it, where he then used the pliers to pull it out and give it to me as a souvenir.
The first actual medical care to respond to the situation were two Spec-4’s in a covered Humvee with a big, red cross on it. It was painfully obvious that the most tumultuous thing they had ever treated was dehydration, so they took out some curlex and wrapped it on my shoulder, not really knowing what else to do. At this point, I was silently freaking out, not because I was in pain but because I thought they would kick me out of the Army for this and my dream of becoming an Army Ranger would never be realized. At this point, the cavalry was screaming down the gravel road that ran alongside the range towards us. Ambulances, fire trucks, unmarked government vehicles – everything. I was loaded into an ambulance, stuck with an IV, and we roared off to Martin Army Hospital.
Once there, they brought me in and a doctor assessed me and asked where the bullet was. I pulled it out of my pocket and he asked how I got it out. “Sir, I didn’t take it out, my Drill Sergeant did. He is CLS qualified!” I proudly proclaimed. The attending doctor was not amused with that answer one bit, and asked me how I felt about someone other than a doctor performing surgery on me with an un-sanitized Multi-tool, and would I like to press charges? I replied in the negative, thinking what’s the big deal? He’s been to CLS!
They cleaned out the wound and dressed it, and before I knew it our battalion chaplain came in to see how I was doing. I told him that I was fine, and asked him if I would be kicked out for this. He said that it would be up to the doctor, but he doubted it. My next question was about whether I would be able to keep my Ranger contract, to which he said I would have to talk to the First Sergeant about that. He then produced a cell phone and asked me if I would like to call home and tell my parents what happened. Hell yeah! I’m in basic training; I’ll take any opportunity to make a phone call, especially if I don’t have to use minutes on my phone card! He then advised me that it may be wise not to lead off with the fact that I had been shot, to which I agreed knowing my mom was the one likely to answer at this time of day.
“Marty Jr.? Why are you calling me on a Tuesday, I thought you only got calls on Sundays?”
“Oh, because I’m in the hospital.” Shit…
“WHAT!? WHY ARE YOU IN THE HOSPITAL!?”
Well, the cat was out of the bag now, so I filled her in and let her know that I was perfectly fine. The wound really was minor, and so within a few hours, I was discharged from the hospital and returned to our company area. I immediately had to go into our First Sergeant’s office, and he leads off by advising me that I can’t sue the Army, so don’t even think about it. I responded that I had absolutely no intention of doing anything of the sort, and was only worried about keeping my Ranger contract. Relieved, he responded that whether I pass RIP was up to me, not him. I took that to mean that I wasn’t getting kicked out, and shortly after was released to go re-join my platoon up in the barracks.
The next four or five days flew by while my convalescent leave was being processed. I had to go into sick call every morning to get the wound cleaned out with an eight-inch Q-tip that was soaked in alcohol, and then shoved all the way up the tunnel created by the bullet. I can tell you that I would have rather gotten shot again every single morning than go through that. I was advised that if I didn’t qualify with my rifle alongside the rest of the company that week before I left that I would be a Day One recycle. I did not want that to happen, so I went out and after three attempts, I finally qualified with my bum shoulder being on my shooting side.
I returned back to South Dakota for my thirty days of recovery, and on my first night back my friends threw a party at some kid’s house I had never met. Suffice it to say that I drank like I had never drunk before, and woke up with my white shirt soaked in blood and puss around the shoulder. I asked my friend Reece what happened, to which he replied, “Dude, someone asked you what you meant by ‘getting smoked’, and you showed them. We tried to get you to stop, but you kept going.” Well, that was a genius move on my part, and now I have to go into the emergency room to get my shoulder re-dressed.
After I returned from leave, I was re-assigned to C co. 2/54, where I would finish my initial infantry training. I never was given a very clear answer on how I was shot, but from what I understand another trainee on the adjacent range was not following protocol on the shoot/move range, and accidentally discharged three rounds, one of which I caught. It wasn’t until I finally made it to 1/75 that I quit getting asked about the incident, as everyone on Sand Hill heard about it and wanted to hear the story from the source all through OSUT, Airborne School, and RIP. To this day, when I tell people about it, I always receive a confused look followed by, “Wait, you got shot in Basic Training??” Yup, I did. Through five combat deployments, I never suffered even a piece of shrapnel, but somehow during the most micro-managed, safety-driven course I have ever attended, I was shot.
Marty Skovlund, Jr. is a veteran of the 1st Ranger Battalion and Syracuse Recruiting Battalion, a former small business owner, the author of Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror (Blackside Publishing) as well as Ranger Knowledge: The Complete Study Guide (St. Martins Press). He is also the executive producer of the award-winning documentary Nomadic Veterans and the award-winning short-narrative Prisoner of War. He is currently working on his third book as well as pursuing a career in film and television.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on July 25, 2014.
U.S. Army privates wait their turn to go through the convoy live-fire course during Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., Sept. 19, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Desiree N. Palacios) (Released) Source.