by William Yeske
The following is an excerpt from William Yeske’s book: Damn the Valley 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2-508 PIR, 82nd Airborne in the Arghandab River Valley Afghanistan–which can be purchased here.
In March 2008, I finally left for Fort Benning Georgia to attend the US Army Infantry School with the goal of getting into Special Forces by way of the fast-track 18X contract. The School of Infantry on Sand Hill in Fort Benning was a particularly fun slice of ridiculousness. Part of the training there was waiting to finally in-process for our class rotation to start. It was one of the worst places to be… 30th AG. There were a bunch of oddballs in our barracks and between watching the games that privates play, I wondered if this was the lot that I would eventually end up next to in combat someday. I can’t remember the number starting out, but I know that we were caught up in some unofficial competition between the training companies to drop/recycle as many candidates as possible.
There was Drill Sergeant “O” who had a regimental Ranger scroll on his shoulder. That 75th patch should mean something to anyone that is in combat arms: never get in between the Rangers and their objective. He was there for the first weeks and you didn’t want to be on his radar in a bad way, or you were destined for a recycle. He left a few weeks after we started. Some of the guys whispered that it was because he was unstable, and his smoke sessions were too over the top. It was bullshit because he was probably the most capable warfighter there and everyone knew it. He just always drove the point home a bit harder… it was what we needed. However, as we move into the “kinder” and more “gentler” military, the antics of old are no longer tolerated, no matter the value in what they teach. We still train up the best military in the world, but I question if the troops will be able to face the horrors of what future warzones might bring.
One such lesson was taught at the end of the day after being drenched in sweat from whatever particular exercise we were currently doing. He called for everyone to “toe the line.” That means to drop whatever the hell it is you are doing and get to the position of attention with your toes at a line that had been created via tape that wrapped around the room. The number one rule in the bay was that no trainees were allowed into the taped-off center section that dominated the room… that was his. He called for shower time in two minutes, so we scrambled to drop our clothing as fast as we could and prepare for the icy blast that was to come.
No warm showers were to be had in basic training… well, not conventional showers exactly. The en masse shower room that held about 20 shower heads in it. There were no “stalls” though, just faucet heads coming out from every angle you could imagine. Cold water would all be turned on and you would essentially walk through the cross blast of the icy water as you lathered some soap onto your armpits and crotch. Hopefully had it rinsed off by the time you hit the 20th shower head because there was no going back for more.
It didn’t matter if most of us made the time hack, because there was always someone that had screwed up in one way or another. “Half right face,” Sergeant “O” belted out and we all knew what was next. That is almost always the command to get a formation in the position to begin physical punishment for whatever infraction they’ve just made. “THE SIDE STRADDLE HOP.” “The side straddle hop?” we echoed as we sort of looked at each other like. “What the fuck… is he serious?”
You are wondering why this concern if you didn’t attend the military at some point during your lifetime. Well, let me fill you in. When you are lined up for the shower, everyone has towels around their waist with one hand holding the towel in place and soap and toiletries in the other. There is no way to do the side straddle hop, or jumping jack as you may know it, without dropping everything to do so. About a quarter of us understood as we just dropped our stuff, including our towels, on the ground. The rest made the futile attempt to keep a hand on their towel to keep it around their waist.
The hilariousness of the scene was unforgettable as 60+ young men were consumed in shame as naked bodies and male genitalia slapped around that room while other exercises were belted out by this barrel-chested Army Ranger, who was dead serious in the moment. It didn’t let up until every damn person in the bay completely gave in to the fact that he wasn’t fucking around, and the humiliation would continue in mass form until you bent to his will of accepting your nakedness. You had to put your own notions aside and join the rest of the naked bodies engaged in a battle of their own doing within the confines of preconceived societal rules. It took somewhere around three to five minutes for everyone to get on the same page.
“THERE IS NO FUCKING SHAME ON THE BATTLEFIELD,” he belted in the middle of the bay floor. “You think that you’re not going to face your buddies’ naked ass at other points in your career? You think you aren’t going to have to stay in some desert shithole in a tent spaced nut to butt? You think you aren’t going to have to strip someone down or cut their shit off when you have to treat them after enlistment they get blown the fuck up? The fact you have to realize is that you are just in a bag of meat that keeps you alive. This is just the vehicle to get you to the fight. There is no shame in this… it’s just another body.”
And with that, he left us to shower and bed down on our own that night, thinking our own thoughts on what he had just said. This guy had just taught something that will stick with me always in dealing with any situation that involves patching someone up. It might seem callous and cold, but at the end of the day, it’s just a body.
William (Will) Yeske is a combat veteran who served 11 years in the U.S. Army. He is a serial entrepreneur who brings significant expertise in marketing, IT, and project management. He currently runs and operates a marketing company, No Limits Marketing Group (NLMG), founded to help small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. It uses a combination of modern marketing techniques coupled with a non-lethal targeting framework learned in the military to provide clients with winning strategies. Will was also a founding board member of a Veteran non-profit, Rally for the Troops (now part of Racing for Heroes) and has worked on other veteran-based projects.
He is currently attending Columbia Business School while running current business projects, creating new possibilities for future endeavors, and parenting his two children with his wife, who is also a US military veteran.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.