All of a sudden I saw a flash and hundreds of bullets filled the night sky. It sounded as if a firefight had just begun; the bullets whizzed by, the ground shook as the mortars exploded, and war cries from my battle buddies were enough to make anyone run in fear. My adrenaline took over as I waited to climb the rusty ladder that would lead me into my final test: low crawling two hundred and fifty meters through sand and live rounds. If I made it through this last test, I would receive my values tag and earn the title American soldier. I had been waiting years for this moment. But as I stood there, I felt as if I could not make it through this final test, and while I thought about this, the only words that came to my mind were, “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.” (The Soldier’s Creed).
I had barely reached the ladder when I heard the voices of my Drill Sergeants yelling, “Come on, privates. Get up that ladder. Let’s go.”
I grabbed the first rung and began the journey up. Climbing the seven foot tall ladder made me feel like I was climbing the tallest mountain in the world. Each rung was an obstacle in itself. One hand held my M4 while the other pulled my body up towards the dust-filled sky. My tactical vest began to weigh on my shoulders. My ACH (advanced combat helmet) put pressure on my EyePro giving me a headache. The elbow and knee pads I was required to wear slid down my arms and legs with the slightest movement my body made. All I wanted at that moment was to be back in the barracks getting ready for lights out.
After what felt like a week, I finally reached the top. I fell face first into the sand; it was so cold it felt damp. My M4 fell beside me and I gripped the sling right at the front hook, laid it on my right arm, and began pulling myself through the sand. I dreaded low crawling. It was not only exhausting, but it hurt. Every movement I made with my arms resulted in my elbow getting rubbed raw by my OCP blouse. I had made it only a few feet when I realized the ground was shaking. The mortars a few hundred feet ahead were being set off. I could see flashes as they exploded. The instant bursts of light looked like fireflies. I had to keep low crawling. I tried to look up, but I could not. My helmet kept pushing my head down into the frigid sand.
I could see my shadow as a flare filled the dusty sky. It was kind of pretty; but if that flare fell on top of me, I would be burnt to a crisp. The type of flares the army uses can ignite at three hundred and seventy six degrees farenheit. That flare was not about to fall on top of me; I continued to low crawl. I searched for the mortars again. I was advancing. The holes where the mortars sat were now visible. As I got closer to them, the trembles from the ground increased. It felt as if someone underneath the earth was using the ground as a punching bag. The explosions were deafening. The EarPro was not even enough to keep the sounds out. I was now three hundred feet in. The barbed wire was in my view and the mortars were just a few feet ahead. I decided that as soon as I reached the barbed wire, I would take a break.
Out of nowhere I heard my Drill Sergeant yell, “I see you Private. Come on, Private.”
So much for taking a short break. The barbed wire was not as low as the Sergeants said it would be. If I wanted to, I could have crawled on my hands and knees and not gotten hung up. But being as there was a Drill Sergeant somewhere near me, I did not want to take that risk. Pushups after I completed this test, just because I had high crawled, didn’t sound very fun. After all, it was bad enough that they made me do this thing. Climbing through the barbed wire was like climbing through a box. There were walls of sand on both sides and barbed wire on the top trapping you inside. The flares were behind me, so all I could see was the blurred night sky.
I made it through the barbed wire when I heard my Drill Sergeant again.
This time he yelled, “Come on, Private! Don’t stop!”
I thought to myself, “Will this guy ever leave me alone? And how does he know that I’m over here?”
I guess the saying, “Drill Sergeants are everywhere and know everything,” is true. There were now no more obstacles ahead of me. I was getting very exhausted and tired. I wanted to quit, but I did not want to disappoint anyone. I prepared myself for the last three hundred meters when I noticed a blob coming at me. At first I was scared, they did warn us about bears, but then I realized it was my Drill Sergeant.
“Are you serious?” I asked myself, “I thought he was gone.”
I soon found out that he was not. In fact, he must have been waiting for me.
And then I heard his voice again, “Hold on, Private! I am coming!”
The Drill Sergeant reached me a few seconds later and we both began to make our way to the end. My arms ached. The last three hundred feet felt like three hundred pull-ups. My gear began to feel heavier every time I moved forward. I felt like crying. The feelings and thoughts going through my head were overwhelming. I wanted to take a break, to just rest in the sand for a few seconds, but I knew I could not.
“Private, I need you to make it through this. The American people are counting on you,” my Drill Sergeant said.
I looked up at him. Usually they were never this encouraging.
“Private! Keep your head down!” he then yelled.
“Yep,” I thought to myself, “There’s the yelling.”
“Now say the Soldier’s Creed!” he yelled again.
I looked up once more and was yelled at. And so I sat there eating the sand as I recited the Soldier’s Creed.
“I am an American Soldier,” I began.
“I am a warrior and a member of a team,” the Drill Sergeant joined me.
“I serve the people of the United States, and live the army values,” I moved forward.
“I will always place the mission first,” he glanced at me.
“I will never accept defeat, I will never quit,” I could see another flare fill the sky.
“I will never leave a fallen comrade,” the Drill Sergeant looked for the finish line.
“I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills,” our voices grew stronger.
“I always maintain my arms, my equipment, and myself,” I casted an eye at my M4.
“I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat,” my Drill Sergeant skipped a line.
“I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life,” the air was cold as I took a breath in.
“I am an American Soldier!” we both screamed (The Soldier’s Creed).
I could now feel the sand sticking to my uniform. My sweat had made my OCP’s moist, which in turn attracted the sand. The blisters on my feet felt like they were on fire. We had done a ten mile ruck march only a few hours earlier, and I couldn’t stand it any longer. I stopped; frozen to the ground.
“You have not given up on me yet, so I am not giving up on you,” my Drill Sergeant said encouragingly.
It must have been the right words to say at the moment, because I began to low crawl again. I had about two hundred feet left. There was nothing but the distant sound of assault rifles filling the air. The finish was near, but I still didn’t know if I could make it. My body really ached.
“Only one hundred feet left!” yelled my Drill Sergeant.
I was now moving very slow. The sand was deep and it was hard to breathe through all the dust. Having pneumonia did not help either. I could not see my Drill Sergeant, but I knew he was there somewhere. And then I heard him.
“Fifty feet!” he yelled as my elbow pads slid off, and my OCP’s began to rub my elbow.
“Twenty five feet!” he screamed.
I could see the railroad ties marking the finish line. I thought my arms were going to give out on me.
“Ten feet!” we were so close.
If only my arms were ten feet long I could have touched the line and been done. I inched my way forward.
“Five feet!” I closed my eyes.
The last few feet were the hardest, but finally a wooden object touched my hand. I looked up and saw the railroad tie. A feeling of relief and excitement spread through my body. Then reality sunk in; I had made it.