CHAPTER 8: BOOT CAMP – CAMPING & RIFLE RANGE
After all the courses, physical challenges, and inspections we had one big hurdle left to jump, that was Annapolis Valley Shooting Sports Club (Grandville) in our twelfth week. We were going there for survival training and to qualify on our rifles. It was a ten-mile hike with a fifty pound pack on our back and a heavy rifle slung over one shoulder. The instructors led the march and started the signing to keep us in step and our minds off of the hardship. Sometimes they even broke us into double time which was a slow run. My head throbbed every time they did. We had a few short stops to drink water from our canteen. Even though at first I felt like I was the only one struggling to keep up as I glanced around me I saw that many of the others were hurting just as much as I was.
When we finally arrived at camp the guys and girls were immediately separated to set up two camps. Our master corporal gave a demonstration on how to build a lean-to but it wasn’t nearly as simple as she made it look. She took vines and stripped them for lashings to tie together long pieces of wood covered with leaves. It was all held up by one branch tied between two trees. Noreen and I were paired up but no matter how hard we tried our shelter was a mess. What made things even worse was that it poured that night and the rain came down the sloop into our lean-to teaching us that location choice was very important. The next morning the master corporal and corporal went around and helped the soaking wet, cold girls construct lean-tos that wouldn’t immediately fall apart. We didn’t have much time to spend on them before we had to go for breakfast. Dry cereal and cold runny porridge weren’t much of a choice ration packs sucked. The instructors stayed inside a dry warm cabin and had a warm breakfast! Rations encompassed so many delights most of which were in aluminum packages that you dropped into boiling water and squished out like mashed potatoes, beef stew, tomato soup, and corn hash. Cheese was in a toothpaste package and the crackers were whole wheat or Melba toast that crumbled into a million pieces. Only the pudding or fruit cups were a treat. The smell and consistency of the food made me ill.
The priority was to get qualified on the FNC 1 and FNC 2 rifles. We went over safety procedures and the declaration of no ammo again before the first group went up to the range. We had to take on three positions when firing which were lying down, sitting/crouching, and standing. We aimed at targets that were one hundred, two hundred, than three hundred yards away. This was only a practice and the first time we fired the weapons. The instructor told us to hold the rifle tightly into our shoulder, aim, than fire. I found it was so heavy I had trouble steadying it! When I squeezed my first shot off the rifle bucked up and slammed into my cheek making me cry out. The instructor whistled for firing to stop came over and pushed the rifle into my bruised shoulder telling me to try again. My cheek throbbed and no matter how hard I tried every time I fired pain beyond belief shot through my shoulder making me hold it away from my body and risking being hit in the face again. When I came off of the range Noreen and Jack drew in a breath as they told me about my new black eye, the second one in boot camp. A few of the guys told us the trick to not getting hurt was period pads. If you cushioned your shoulder where the rifle sat it would absorb some of the recoil. They gave me a couple to put in place for my next round. I wished I had known about that before I got hurt! So we practiced a few days then had to qualify. When you finished you had to show an empty rifle magazine and standing at attention then yell “there are no rounds in my possession sir!” If you were caught with any used or live ones you would be immediately arrested and kicked out of the military. No-one in the group did to my knowledge and I thought anyone stupid enough to keep one for a souvenir deserved to be booted out. The guys compared targets and boosted. Only a few recruits had to re-qualify and I was very surprised that I wasn’t one. I didn’t think that I hit any of the targets at all until I was given my target and saw a few holes in them! Even then I questioned if I had really done it because my aim was terrible.
One of the other exercises we did when we were at Grandville was a search and rescue. We were all sleeping when our instructors woke us up and told us that there were some campers that got lost in the woods and we had to find them before they died from hypothermia. We knew it was an exercise and grumbled about being dragged out of our warm sleeping bags. The instructors told us to line up in three long lines behind each other but you couldn’t lose sight of the searcher beside you. We stumbled around in the dark with flash lights and it wasn’t long before recruits lost their sense of direction in the woods and got all turned around. I heard the horn that was signalling for us to come back but panicked a little when I realized no-one was beside me. I called out a few times and heard other voices calling out until a few of us managed to meet up and head back to camp. It took a while for recruits to straggle back to camp and in the end we actually had to find two that were missing. One instructor stayed behind and yelled at us about our sorry attempt while the others found the missing recruits. Despite the fiasco we were laughing. That night soft snow had begun to fall and our instructors made sure we were all tucked safely in our sleeping bags.
Thursday night we had a party with singing, stories, skits, beer, and box lunches. Everyone was saying how they’d miss each other and that as bad as it was all boot camp brought us close together and was a unique experience. Jack told me he didn’t want to say good-bye that he loved me and wanted to get engaged! I explained he was just feeling the Cornwallis phenomenon. When people go through a tough experience together they feel a bond. I was amazed that Jack felt he knew me that much. We didn’t know anything about each other because of being separated so much and even on the weekends we went out several times but were busy working on our kit and studying. Maybe it was the beer and sheer exhaustion that was talking.
Box lunches for a treat