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Fort Jackson South Carolina trains more new army recruits than any other army base in the country. And I was sent there to take a look at just how the boot camp is changing to meet the current demands of the war. One thing that caught my attention early was the large number of women in the companies that were training there. In some groups it looked like the women outnumbered the men.
It was amazing to watch the recruits climb the walls and accomplish tasks that push a person beyond their limits. The men and women train together at fort Jackson. The only time they are separated is when they head to the barracks for sleep. Sixty soldiers share one large room in the barracks I toured. They said that's part of their training to learn how to socialize and work together.
Just outside the barracks are large exercise areas covered in mulched up tires which gives them a soft spongy surface where they do their sit-ups and other daily exercises.
One thing I didn't notice was a lot of screaming. The soldiers say the first day their drill sergeants let them have it, but after that it's not that bad. The commanders say that's because they've learned yelling at some one gets immediate results, but doesn't really train the soldier any better in the long run.
Some other changes include the mess hall where the soldiers can eat as much as they want and they have a lot of choices. I tried the fish and it was surprisingly good. But it's not every day they eat in the mess hall. Some of their training requires them to eat out in the field.
Basic training today is centered around what's happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. The soldiers do live fire convoy training and every soldier learns urban warfare techniques including clearing buildings. All this in addition to the normal in the trenches type of warfare.
It was also interesting to ask the soldiers why they were there. I'd say the most common response was to get their college paid for. Others said it was a family tradition to serve. Some wanted to make sure they had a secure job, and there were those that just have always wanted to be a soldier.
On graduation day was interesting to see the families come pick up their soldiers and see how they had changed. Several had lost twenty to thirty pounds in ten weeks. Not a bad weight loss program. I would be curious to see if these teenagers were more inclined to obey their parents after what they had just been through.