Degrees of Hell

I joined the army at 17 the month after graduating high school. I read that 40% and more of the new army recruits do not survive basic training as they fail either the mental or physical testing. That was also true in 1966 but not quite as harsh due to the increasing demands of the Vietnam War.

The main “IQ” test was the testing for Officer Candidate School (OCS). The OCS test produced a shock that stunned and astonished the battalion officers, NCOs (sergeants), 250 recruits and me. I got the second highest score behind an old man of 25 who was a college grad engineer. No one could believe it. Lucky for me I was not old enough to apply for OCS and when I turned 18 ½, and was old enough, I was in Vietnam and knew I did not want the responsibility for lives.

The physical testing was another matter and a disaster. I could not pass the testing if my life depended upon it (and I felt it did). Week after week I failed the weekly physical test. I went from 175 pounds to 155 pounds but gained little in muscle or endurance. In week six I was transferred to Special Training Company (STC). In STC we engaged in physical activities and exercises seven days a week and 18-20 hours a day. That was combined with constant verbal abuse and harassment by the NCOs. The goal of STC was to convince the slackers to pass the test, return to regular duty and be good soldiers. The other goal was to convince the truly physical failures to take a general discharge without argument. Both goals were served by making the recruit’s life a living hell.

Most slackers lasted only a week or two in STC before returning to the basic training cycle. They could not take the punishment when it was, in a sense, not warranted. Those of us who “belonged” went week after week in this miserable existence of STC. I was in STC for eight weeks and I felt that I would stay eighty weeks if needed to pass the test because I would not accept a general discharge. I did not fault the army for having STC, it seemed necessary, but I was not going to have my life ruined by a general discharge. (My parents never said a word but dad was in the army from 1940-1961 and served in WW II and the Korean War.)

In week eight of STC I “passed” the test. I believe my score was, once again, about 280-290 and 300 (of 500) was needed for passing. I think the NCOs were tired of me and added a few points. So it took me 16 weeks to do the 8 weeks of basic but I got done.

I was a miserable, bullied, lonely teenager. A couple of months after basic I went to Vietnam and served a year with the 199th light infantry brigade where I was scared most every day. Those years were hell. But the most miserable time of my life were the 8 weeks of STC. There are degrees of hell.

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