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Soldiers negotiate Fort Jackson's "Endurance Obstacle Course" while crawling in mud and dodging barbed wire. This is just part of the training soldiers must undergo during boot-camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Staff Photo by Vincent Z. Whaley)

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(Published Sunday, March 5, 2000)

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Rappelling down a 30-foot wooden tower and crawling on your back in mud while dodging barbed wire are as commonpace in today's Army as running several miles and doing push-ups.

But along with maintaining physical and mental stamina, the Army of the 21st century requires soldiers to mold their lives around seven values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. This special-values training begins as soon as recruits step off the bus and lasts throughout their military careers.

"Each soldier undergoes 26 hours of study just on Army values during basic training, and I usually show them a scene from the movie Saving Private Ryan to illustrate each value," said Lt. Col. Allen Watts, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 13th "First at Vicksburg" Infantry Regiment.

"All seven Army values can be found in the final scene where Ryan is told his brothers have been killed in action. His response to that tragedy and his sacrifices in battle illustrate perfectly how an American soldier should hold to the Army's values. The first letters of those seven values form an acronym for leadership, and that is what we want every soldier to develop."
A soldier rappells off the Victory Tower at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Staff Photo by Vincent Z. Whaley)

During a recent tour of the Army's premier basic and advanced individual training facilities at Fort Jackson, educators and media representatives from Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky were given an opportunity to see the newest boot-camp tactics.

The Army's nine weeks of basic combat training are in three stages — Red Phase, White Phase and Blue Phase. At the end of each phase, soldiers must meet specific standards that count toward graduation.

Red Phase is composed of introductory lessons in drill and ceremony, physical training, military courtesy and wearing of the uniform. Rifle maintenance, first aid, radio and telephone communications also are introduced, as is nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. Recruits also tackle the Victory Tower obstacle course, which enables them to build confidence and motivation through teamwork.

While recently participating in Red Phase, Pfc. Matthew Woodward, of Johnson City, Tenn., said adjusting to the Army routine was "quite challenging and very different from civilian life."

"I left home approximately three weeks ago and have been in basic training for two of those weeks," Woodward said. "I have never been away from home for a long length of time. It is quite a bit different. The training is more challenging than I expected, but you just have to do your best to keep up.

"For some people it is a very good decision to join the Army, but when you come here you have to be mentally prepared, because it is a lot different from what you are used to. Some people don't make it, because it is extremely challenging."

Although Fort Jackson's Victory Tower — the same wood and rope structure that actor Danny Devito rappelled down in the movie Renaissance Man — may appear intimidating to new recruits, Capt. Christopher Muhr said they only train on the tower once and "if they refuse, they go home."
Recruits negotiate the Victory Tower obstacle course at Fort Jackson, S.C.
(Staff Photo by Vincent Z. Whaley)

"When you're up there and you've never rappelled before, it's very scary, especially for those already afraid of heights," said Muhr, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment. "But the key is to keep soldiers motivated. There are a lot of physical things to do in basic training, but it's more of a mental thing. There is nothing we have them do that males and females can't do as long as they have their head in the game."

With the arrival of White Phase, training intensifies with additional marksmanship practice, map reading and a six-to-eight-mile road march. This phase ends with M-16A2 rifle qualification on a state-of-the-art computerized firing range.

Highlights of Blue Phase include a special three-day training exercise in which soldiers march to the field, set up tents and learn techniques of using field equipment. Combat skills, defensive tactics, fire and maneuver, land navigation and radio communications are the focus of the 72-hour "Victory Forge," which ends with a 12-to-15-mile road march.

Many recruits pull through the daily rigors of basic training by centering their thoughts on mealtime. And if Fort Jackson's dining facilities, or mess halls, resemble other Army forts, one thing is for sure — the Army definitely knows how to feed its soldiers.

A far cry from the old stainless steel trays used during the war years through the 1960s, the Army now provides modern plastic trays and glasses along with separate buffet-style lines — one for hot items such as chicken, fish and vegetables and another line for hamburgers, hot dogs and french fries. And unlike mess halls of the past, these allow a soldier to get soda, fruit punch, milk or juice instead of just water.

Of all the different obstacles of basic combat training, corresponding with and carrying out orders from a drill sergeant is usually every soldier's least desirable task. But unlike the Army of years past, the number of drill sergeants cursing and yelling at their puppy-eyed, fatigued recruits appears to be dwindling.

"The Army used to be under the concept of breaking you down like a shotgun and building you up again. It is no longer that way," said Master Sgt. Joseph E. Necheporek. "Now the Army builds you up from where you are with your confidence and self-esteem and gives soldiers responsibilities and leadership abilities that some of them don't have.

"The drill sergeant is there to oversee everything that they do, and they don't deliberately scream and yell at people. But, of course, the drill sergeant is the authoritarian and has the responsibility with the soldiers who just came in to make sure they learn the basics of the Army.

"It's good for the kids, because instead of the drill sergeants telling them what to do all the time, they're placed in leadership positions where they work among their peers and prove themselves," Necheporek said.

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