CHAPTER 6 BOOT CAMP – COURSES, GAS HUT & GUNS
Our first classes were about military knowledge, history, behavior, and leadership; yet again cadets had already somewhat taught me this but there were differences. Still, I was bored to tears and with very little sleep I like others fell asleep in class. One day the instructor’s ruler slamming down on my desk jarring me as he told me to stand in the back of the classroom with the others for a few minutes. It wasn’t just the material but we recruits were always exhausted so sitting in a classroom just made us pass out.
In another class we were shown and had to practice knot tying. There was a wall of ropes that hung from wood that we had to tie while timed and tested. I hated it because there were so many different knots that we were taught and I got mixed up. The instructor went by each one and tugged onto it to see if it was secure. If it was tied correctly and was tight you passed. I held my breath so uncertain if I did any of them right mine were quite loose but I still passed. Despite passing I had to wonder if the instructor let me slide by because I had no clue how to do half the knots but I figured that the navy would use knot tying a lot more than the army or air force.
Not surprisingly we received St John’s Ambulance First Aid training. We had to watch gory films about maimed soldiers, bomb causalities, and burn victims, I adverted my eyes. What I did enjoy and find informative was the practice we had in the classroom making a sling for a broken arm, a splint for a broken leg, wrapped an injured head, and even learned to bandage eye and ear injuries. We also made a sled to move an injured person to help and safety. Each of us learned CPR on a dummy which wasn’t a class favorite. We were tested on everything and received our first aid and CPR card when we passed.
One of the classroom courses was weapons familiarization using the FNC-1 Rifle, FNC-2 Rifle, a nine millimeter pistol, and the sub-machine gun. The first day of class we were assigned a rifle with a serial number that we were never to leave unsecured or you’d be criminally charged. You either locked it away or you took it with you even to the bathroom! We learned all the parts, how to assemble and disassemble them, and the care & maintenance of the weapons. During class we practiced these tasks to prepare for a timed test of stripping them down and putting them back together. We spent a lot of time using oil, a bristle brush, and a rag to clean inside the barrel. We took them back to the barracks to clean. I was shocked when some girls had the nerve to pass their rifle out the window to injured male recruits to clean for them that were housed in our barracks in a different wing. I guess they didn’t take the sergeant’s warning too seriously! Then a girl left her weapon unattended at the mess hall, someone handed it in and the sergeant traced the serial number to her. She got the usual punishment plus was charges a fine which would be reflected on her report. What shocked me even more was that the girls still passed their rifles through the barracks windows despite the incident the stupidity of it all and the danger of being caught would get them sent home but no-one ever got caught.
9 mm pistol
We also learned about range safety because we were going to go out to the range to qualify on the weapons. We learned to check the chamber for ammo, how to clear it, how to put on and take of the safety, when to pick up and put down the weapon, and last but definitely most importantly we had to declare; “There are no rounds or live ammunition in my position sir!” The instructor told us that recruits liked to keep ammo as a souvenir but because of safety reasons it just wasn’t tolerated. If you were found with one you’d be RTU (return to unit). We were only firing the pistol and sub-machine gun at the small on base range. When I fired the pistol I burned my hand because I held it by the chamber. I loved the sub-machine gun though. It was light weight and exciting to fire off the spray of bullets.
What I hated was when we began to practice drill with our rifles! Shoulder arms meant you picked up your rifle by gripping the barrel and slamming it into your shoulder which resulted in painful bruising for me. Present Arms meant holding the rifle in front of your chest and general salute meant lowering it back to the ground and put it on an angle. Drill was tiring, heavy, and painful with the rifle. When I tried to shoulder arms I was afraid I’d drop it like a few recruits did and then get yelled at followed by doing push-ups. We heard that if you used a couple of fingers under the rifle’s sight it helped you lift it but the instructor knew that trick and promised he’d punish who-ever was caught doing that. Still we used it whenever we thought we could get away with it. Even presenting arms wasn’t a walk in the park; holding a heavy rifle out in front of you was shaky.
The most disturbing course we took was NBCW (nuclear biological chemical warfare). We watched videos of bomb tests and historical footage of the effect fallout had on humans from the pictures of the aftermath of the nuclear bomb that was dropped on the Japanese after Pearl Harbour. We had discussions about what military personnel were expected to do in case of a nuclear threat. Each base had a NBCW squadron that were supposed to set up for the decontamination and organization of base personnel. Military members were to meet at a designated safety zone, dropping everything. Afterwards we wondered if you could really leave your family behind to die. In class the instructor would do surprise gas drills. “Gas, gas, gas” he yelled and we had to get the gas mask out of the bag and put it on so it was airtight and reply gas, gas, gas within thirty seconds. I could smell the odor of gas on my assigned mask realizing they cleaned then reused them. He smiled and seemed to enjoy pointing out the people who weren’t fast enough and died. On top of that we practiced a simulation of giving ourselves this huge horse needle which was used to combat nerve gas. I was freaked out about having to actually go through the gas hut and stab myself with a needle of saline solution. As it turned out we didn’t have to inject ourselves with that big horse needle it turned out to be just a scare; but the gas hut was real.
The morning that we had to go to the gas hut we wore our combats of course and the whole platoon, males and females were marched to the location. We were formed into ranks and about five people went in at a time. I watched as the first few groups went in and came out the back sputtering, spitting, with their eyes and skin burning. The instructor told them not to rub their eyes and get their asses back to the barracks and shower in cold water. When my turn came and the instructor came by to check the next five’s gas mask to see that it was airtight I expressed concern that it felt loose on the sides so he tightened it. Inside the hut you had to keep your mask off until you recited your name and social insurance number to the instructor then you don the mask and ran in a circle until the whistle blew and then you could leave. To my horror I couldn’t get my gas mask on; it was too tight! Even the instructor in the hut couldn’t get it on for me. Seeing my distress he grabbed my arm because my eyes were tearing so profusely I couldn’t see a thing and he threw me outside through the door. My skin stung, my eyes watered like crazy and my nose ran I was so embarrassed and although Jack and Noreen ran over to help me when the wind blew the gas off of me into their faces they had to back off. Another instructor outside helped me off the ground and got a recruit who had just left the hut steer me back to the barracks because I couldn’t see. I hit the cold shower still wearing my combats except my boots and I stayed in for a long time letting the cold water flush out my eyes and sooth my skin. As each girl came in the stink of gas came with her until she showered. Our uniforms were all washed several times in cold water together. That smell lingered no matter what we did! One thing we did notice was that the girl with the long hair wasn’t with us that day and no-one saw her go through. Later we learned that she had slept with a P.E.R.I. and got pregnant so couldn’t go.
Going into the gas hut