Today’s exciting adventure is the unforgettable visit to the gas chamber this morning. The event started with a briefing in front of the chamber – where we were regaled by the NCO’s with horror stories of casualties and survivors who barely made it. Then they called those with asthma and placed them in front of the line (that included me – actually I was at the very head of the line)! We put our mask on, then were told to enter. I noticed right away that the NCO stirring the pot of chemicals was enjoying himself. It did not bade well for us. Once everyone got in, we were told to loosen up our masks. One NCO approached me and asked me to recite my social security number. That was the last thing I remember…
We woke up early today and were bused to one of the ranges for what they call “Team Development.” It is basically an obstacle course, but instead of working the course as individuals, we were taught to put our heads and strategies together as a platoon to overcome the obstacles.
A beret is a “round flattish cap made of felt or cloth…worn by local peasants.”
So from peasant’s headgear, the humble beret has become the normal, day-to-day wear of the American Soldier. The black color was authorized to be worn by all US Army soldiers just recently (November 2001); previously it was only authorized for Army Rangers. Although there were pre-formed berets available for purchase, we at the chaplain school were taught how to prepare the beret the old fashioned way.
The black (not pre-formed) US Army beret usually comes from the clothing store stiff. So that it can be formed properly, the owner has to first (1) shave it until it’s thin or pliable enough to “hug” the head of the wearer; (2) after shaving, the beret has to be soaked in lukewarm water until completely wet; (3) after soaking, the beret is squeezed (not wrung) of excess water, then (4) shaped on the wearer’s head and left there until completely dry. Doing this will form the beret according to the contour of the wearer’s head.
Sunday on post for a Roman Catholic priest, is spent mostly in chapels within the garrison. Since there were a lot of basic trainees who are Roman Catholics and there was only one resident Roman Catholic chaplain on post, the Roman Catholic priests-students at the school-house were always welcome to help with Masses at the main post chapels, as well as in the others chapels, on Sundays.
Many of us were direct commissioned from civilian life and had no idea of military courtesy, tradition, or marching. The NCO’s from the cadre were very patient with us as they instruct us with songs/cadences, marches, and the proper way to salute.
After learning the proper way to wear and care for the uniform, as well as the pertinent Army Regulations governing the wear of uniform, we did our very best to look soldier-like. There was an inspection conducted by the platoon leaders and NCO’s. Those with prior service were very helpful to the newbies. What a fraternity, what a camaraderie!
Monday morning. I was not sure what to expect. I did not know anybody either. Just so I won’t be late for class at 0700H, I scouted the location the previous night and found it to be within a mile or so from my BOQ. After the pep talk by the commandant, we were divided into four platoons and were introduced to our platoon “Senior Group Leaders” (SGLs). There were about 175 students total. Later on I realized that there were only three Roman Catholic priests in the group!
My home for the next three weeks is an old building called Kennedy Hall. It is one of the “hotels” inside the post where unaccompanied soldiers may stay for the duration of their training. The accommodation is not bad (similar to Motel 9) although it is about a mile hike from the school house.
My first Sunday morning at Fort Jackson was spent in the Post Chapel where I assisted at the celebration of Holy Mass upon the invitation of Fr (MAJ) Kelly, the Post Chaplain. After the Mass, the Catholic congregation continued the celebration with a simple breakfast which was open to everybody. It was a wonderful opportunity to interface with the local Catholic leaders and parishioners, and meet the soldiers who attend Mass at the main post chapel.
Woke up early this morning and drove out of the rectory while still dark, for a 14-hour travel to Fort Jackson which is in Colombia, SC. There I will attend “Chaplain Initial Military Training” (CIMT) for three weeks together with male and female clergy from different religious tradition according to the US Army’s finest tradition of religious pluralism.