In the beginning, there was only chaos
So no shit, there I was, hanging out with some old friends I hadn't seen in a while, enjoying a few beers (who am I kidding, way more than a few) and chatting.
Somehow, as it seems to often do, the conversation turned to reminiscing about our mandatory military service in the Finnish defense forces. Now, we all had vastly different experiences.
We had served in a wide range of roles: Regular grunts, MPs, a field cook, a truck driver (yours truly), a tank commander, and a hi-speed low-drag recon guy. Some of us had greatly enjoyed our service, and remembered it with great fondness and nostalgia. Others were just glad that it was over and they would never have to do another march in full gear or sleep another night in a leaky tent. Most of us fell in the middle: Some parts really fuckin' sucked, some parts were pretty great, and while we didn't actively hate it we weren't in a hurry to do it again either. But there was one thing in particular that we all could unanimously agree on.
The first couple weeks of basic were a chaotic, confusing mess. And since that's an experience a lot of people here can probably relate to, I figured I'd write about it.
I can still remember the day I first walked through those gates. Even though my memory is generally so shit I can barely remember whether I've had lunch yet today, that day remains etched into my mind clear as crystal.
My dad had volunteered to drive me to the base, and spent the entire drive telling me horror stories of his own service 30 years prior. He seemed to be quite amused by how I grew visibly more anxious the closer we got to our destination. Thanks a lot, old man.
As we arrived, dad handed me my backpack and patted me on the back with a "good luck, try to get back in one piece" and sped off. I think only in the moment his car's tail lights disappeared around the bend did it truly sink in where I was and what I was about to get into.
The instructions given had been to arrive clean shaven, with hair pre-cut to regulation length, wear light, PT-friendly clothing and bring no personal possessions beyond the bare necessities. Most recruits (myself included) had obeyed these instructions, but a few clearly had not.
One guy showed up with a patchy beard and waist-length dreads, wearing a beanie and wool sweater (mind you, it was 27c/80f) and stinking so strongly of weed that I could smell it from across the parking lot. The MPs were not amused. Another waltzed in wearing a tan 3-piece suit, complete with a red tie and a leather suitcase under his arm. Yet another got the rest of it right but came in with an absolutely massive camping backpack, filled to the brim with who knows what.
We went through entry check (IDs and such), got sniffed by drug dogs (with a few lucky individuals getting to have a nice private chat with the MPs), had our bags checked for other contraband and were sent off to our companies.
At the company the next order of business was getting sorted into platoons and squads, getting familiarized with our barracks, our command and each other, and waiting for the last stragglers to arrive. Then off to grab our gear from supply, drag all our newly acquired gear (goddamn that sack was heavy) back to the barracks, and commence the Tetris of somehow getting it all to fit in our lockers, of course interspersed with lots and lots of "hurry up and wait." There was also a lot of running around like headless chickens, trying to find someone to swap with because clothing item X was way too big or too small.
As the cheapo piece of shit watch I had brought along had already died after only two hours, I couldn't tell the time, but at some point it was finally 9pm, meaning evening snack time. As it turns out, this snack consisted of a rock-hard piece of rye bread and a single slice of ham. When I asked my squad leader where the butter was, he only laughed.
I remember sitting on the edge of my bunk, gnawing on that bread and contemplating the decisions that had brought me here. My feet were sore as hell, I was exhausted, and the motherfucker on the bunk above mine had just ripped a fart so nasty it almost made me gag. And because I was far from the most social guy, I was starting to feel a bit mentally overwhelmed by having to be around other people all day. Oh well, I thought, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
As the lights out call came and I stretched out in my bunk, I remember thinking to myself something along the lines of, Well, it hasn't been that bad so far. I wonder what tomorrow is gonna be like?
Oh, how little I knew.
Note: I originally intended this to cover more than the first day, but it got way longer than originally intended and I really need to get some sleep at this point. I may or may not hammer out a continuation to this at some point, though.
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