A Day in the Life of an American Soldier
“The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers. The Soldier is also a citizen. In fact, the highest obligation and privilege of citizenship is that of bearing arms for one’s country.” – George S. Patton, Jr.
The American soldier is quiet, resolute, and extremely dedicated. When joining the Army, each one has voluntarily raised their right hand and taken the oath to protect and defend the United States of America. They come from all walks of life, making the Army an incredibly diverse and open organization. They serve at numerous installations (sometimes very remote) throughout the world, working to fulfill their mission of constant readiness at a moment’s notice to respond to our country’s call. These soldiers are your neighbors, friends, relatives, and acquaintances. These courageous men and women are the few. Still, to this day, their years of service resonates far beyond their active duty service. For example, retired First Sgt. (25 years of service) James Phillips was drafted right out of high school and served in Vietnam and then in Desert Storm. Today, he works at the gun range tower, still continuing to make a difference in the lives of soldiers. When asked about his service, he stated, “If I had a chance to do it all over again, I’d do it.”
The 101st Airborne Division Combat Aviation Brigade, located at Fort Campbell, Kentucky rolled back their curtains and included me into a day in the life of our American soldier. The unique daily activities that I observed, coupled with the soldiers’ personal perspectives, afforded me the opportunity to have a small glimpse into what our soldiers do throughout the course of a day (when they are not deployed). The standard goal that ties everything together is “Readiness at All Times” for whenever our nation calls. As stated by Sgt. 1st Class Andrew McClure, “Readiness means ready for everything, whether it is Physical Training (P.T.), the motor pool, the gun range, et cetera. Readiness means always prepared.” Staff Sgt. Clodfelter stated that it was rewarding to see that everything the soldiers did in the state of readiness resulted in accomplishing their mission.
To be in a constant state of readiness, all of the soldiers have Physical Training (P.T.), beginning at 6:30 a.m. outside with the soldiers saluting the flag as the cannon sounds and reveille is played. Afterwards, the 1st Sergeant reviews with a number of assembled platoons of soldiers what their training will entail and to share additional information for the day. The exercises begin with a selected individual from each platoon leading in the P.T. This involves stretching, warm-ups, sit-ups, running, pull-ups, and weightlifting. Safety is explained to the soldiers and is paramount in everything they do.
The rationale for the strong emphasis on P.T. is readiness. The soldier’s body is strengthened and flexibility is increased, thus enabling them to successfully complete assigned tasks, along with reducing the chances of injury.
While attending P.T., I participated in some of their exercises on a small scale, such as weighted push-ups, medicine ball activities, along with the weighted bell. Along with that, I had the unique experience of donning the military gear that all soldiers are expected to carry. The gear was a fully-loaded rucksack (30 to 40 pounds), and a flak vest with protective plates (15 pounds). For me, this was extremely heavy and difficult. Our soldiers must be in shape to be able to carry this gear, along with their rifle, pistol, ammunition, and water, for miles through any terrain . Just imagine yourself carrying this equipment! Cpt. Kristoffer Sibbaluca stated, “Many of the exercises that our soldiers do coincide with the tasks that they are assigned. For example, mortar operators are expected to twist and turn as they fire their mortars. This activity parallels with some of the stretching exercises in the P.T. program.”
After P.T., typically on Monday or as it is called, “Motor Pool Monday”, the soldiers must meet for formation, at the Motor Pool Staging Area. At that point, they receive instructions from the Battalion Commander, Command Sgt. Major, and/or the Company Commander, or 1st Sergeant. After receiving instructions, the platoons then disband and go to their assigned tasks on vehicle maintenance, known as “Prevention, Maintenance, Check, and Services” (PMCS).
This vehicle screening and servicing ensures that all are in a state of readiness. Some of the maintenance checks are as follows: fluid levels, brakes, belts, starters, batteries, lights, and communication equipment. If extensive service is required, the vehicle is either transported into the garage, or the mechanics will make the necessary repairs outside.
While this was occurring, I had the opportunity to speak to a few soldiers on their own unique perspective on the Army. Sgt. Maj. Eric Arnt, when asked about the greatest challenge, stated, “The challenge is in transforming civilians arriving at boot camp with different sets of values to shape into one set of values: The Seven Army Values.” The Sgt. Major and I discussed some of these values: Integrity, Loyalty, and Self-Service. The remainder is as follows: Duty, Honor, Personal Courage, and Respect. I might add, I witnessed these values on display throughout the day with every soldier I encountered.
First Sgt. John Nelson shared the same sentiment about Army values as Sgt. Major Arnt, but he also stated that when working with and teaching soldiers, he tries to incorporate their individual learning styles into his methods of teaching.
I had also spoken with 1st Lt. Julie Dillon. 1st Lt. Dillon is a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, who has been assigned additional duties at the motor pool. She stated that relying on others (as a team) to teach her about vehicles has increased her understanding and appreciation on how tirelessly soldiers work to keep all equipment in readiness condition.
Our soldiers have specific job titles, but they are soldiers first, which means that they are required to meet certain expectations such as P.T. and vehicle maintenance as well as weapons and marksmanship. As part of their readiness, soldiers are expected to disassemble, assemble, and clean their weapons (handguns and rifles), thus ensuring that they function properly at all times.
The practice of proficiency at discharging their weapons occurs at the gun range. The gun range that I attended was specifically designed for handguns, including the M-9. During this time, the following scenario occurred. Three soldiers were positioned on the firing line (with full gear including helmets), discharging their M-9s at designated targets located in their firing lane. The multiple targets were located at various distances throughout the firing lane. All were hidden prone, behind berms.
The person located in the control tower overseeing the range was in charge of the number of targets that would rise up at a moment’s notice. As the targets rose, the soldiers would discharge their weapons at them. The information on the accuracy of each soldier’s performance was conveyed to the control tower. The information then was compiled on how well each soldier did, thus providing the opportunity to the soldiers to assess how to improve their accuracy.
I met Sgt. Garver at this range. When asked about his personal success in the Army, he stated that when he was a drill sergeant, he taught many of these skills to the new soldiers and that to see these skills come together upon deployment was extremely rewarding. This feeling was not only conveyed in his voice, but was very visible on his face as well.
Another portion of our soldiers’ day is spent at the Dining Facilities Administration Center (DFAC), where they receive nutritious, wholesome food. Food and its preparation are crucial in the readiness process. By that, I mean that the food is nutritious, meeting all health standards, including the Army’s standards, and is extremely tasty. It is also designed for maximum energy, so that the body can metabolize it successfully to accomplish various mission-driven goals. The lunch food choices are as follows: meat prepared in different fashions (chicken/beef), various kinds of wraps, rice, a variety of fresh vegetables, a large salad bar, and finished off with desserts. While having a meal at the DFAC, I witnessed a plethora of smiling faces and jovial comments as the soldiers were dining or selecting their food.
The food is not only prepared hot on the base, but also in the field or when deployed. As DFAC service director Warrant Officer Andrew Welch told me, every meal is a mission and after a long day in the field, a good, nutritious, tasty, hot meal lifts the morale of the soldiers. Again, improving morale by providing a great meal adds to the readiness. In fact, the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade’s DFAC food service competed all year against fellow Army DFACs and won. They now advance to the finals against other branches. I call this the “Super Bowl” of field food preparation and service.
Spc. Richardo Hunter, who works in the DFAC, when asked about his duties, stated with a proud smile that “It is not a job, but a career.” He also said that he enjoys working as a team, gaining leadership responsibilities, and helping others.
As an aviation brigade, the flight line is an integral part of the overall mission purpose. It is an area where the rotary helicopters reside: the Chinook (CH-47), Blackhawk (UH-60 and UH-60M -Medical) and Apache (AH-64A). There are two airfields on Fort Campbell, and I was able to observe both Saber and Fort Campbell proper airfields. It was during my observation that I noticed continual readiness maintenance taking place on the helicopters in various sized teams, ranging from one to over eight soldiers. This maintenance occurred in and outside of the hangars.
While he was working on a Blackhawk helicopter, I met Spc. Catlin Cone. He talked not only about continually maintaining the helicopters, but about the ongoing training and refresher courses he takes that enhance his skills and knowledge of helicopters. He stated that he enjoyed working as a team and helping other soldiers. When asked about his job, he stated, “Think about what you enjoy and have a passion for the future.” SPC Cone’s passion for what he was doing was very evident. SPC Cone also provided me the opportunity of sitting in the cockpit of a Blackhawk helicopter. I was amazed at the hundreds of dials and levers. All of these have to function properly; otherwise, there could be serious ramifications.
As civilians, we observe the Army’s actions through different multimedia and digital sources. We witness snapshots of the military, their missions, and occasionally results of particular missions. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes in constant readiness are so many soldiers working as a team, and alongside support personnel, expending countless hours planning, training, inspecting, maintaining, repairing, and working hard to ensure that the mission is accomplished successfully. As Lt. Col. Yastrzemski precisely stated, “We have ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
To conclude, I would like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to the Brigade and 6th Battalion Command Teams, Col. Craig Alia, Lt. Col Yastrzemski, and Capt. Sibbaluca for providing me the opportunity to witness “A Day in the Life of an American Soldier.” I am so humbled by what I experienced. It seemed as though I had known the soldiers for a long time. Their candidness has given me newfound respect and appreciation for all they have sacrificed to keep their fellow Americans safe. God bless all of you. I will keep you in my prayers. To all of my readers, please keep all that are serving, or have served, in your prayers.
Faith, Prayer, and Rediscovery
It cannot be seen, felt, smelled, or tasted. It is something that exists within most of us and affects our innermost core. What I am talking about is “Faith”. For me, faith is the true belief that we will be supported in good times and in times of acute pain and sorrow.
Having faith is like falling from a tree, knowing that there is a safety net below to catch you. When falling initially, there may be a feeling of fear or insecurity, and wondering if the net will hold. But, the true essence of faith is the knowledge and trust that something will stop the fall, thus casting self-doubt and questions aside.
Faith also surrounds and permeates you with feelings of complete contentment, happiness, trust, and inner peace, with all of the disparaging feelings swept away. It is the assurance that by leaving it in His hands, “All will be well in God’s time”, not in ours, and trust that “Thy will be done” is your best option.
For example, many years ago, my position where I was employed was eliminated. This was extremely difficult, not only on myself, but on my family as well. At age 52, I wondered if I would be able to find a comparable position, and still be able to care for my wife and children, two of whom were in college at the time (and a third who would be starting college that fall). I did a lot of praying and reaching out to the Lord and letting go, left it in His hands, and knew that everything would be all right. Lo and behold, a job offer came to me that was in a higher position, with more money, and I could continue to support my family. Please understand that prayers are not always answered in our timely fashion. This point will be covered further into the article.
Another example is when at a recent class reunion, I discussed with a friend in attendance about faith and the loss of a loved one. The family had lost a very young child; through this time of tremendous anguish, a pastor reached out and talked to them about faith in God. This belief began the healing process, a process that would continue to be with them. This faith in God has bound them together through all they have encountered.
Sometimes, at our lowest point, we may rediscover our faith and realize that it goes hand in hand with prayer. Through prayer, we speak directly with God. This may mean reciting prayers from a book, but more importantly it involves speaking from the heart, using your own words, and knowing that God is listening. These prayers provide you with the opportunity to ask for God’s help, laying the problems at God’s feet to solve and rectify while keeping in mind the perfection of God’s own timing.
So, for those of us that have taken a detour from faith, there may come a time in life where problems seem insurmountable, but the choice of the rediscovery of faith and prayer is always there. God is always waiting.
A special thank-you to the friend who shared with me the story of their personal journey of faith that inspired me to write this article.