The bus ride to Fort Dix took approximately eight hours. It was a long boring ride because I didn’t know anyone on the bus, not a single sole. I never was an outgoing person, and introverts are not good at meeting new people. I kept to myself and kept quiet, not wanting any trouble.
When the buses arrived at the guarded gates of the fort, the military police waved us through. I had never been on an army base before and was surprised at how old some of the buildings were. Since the fort was established in 1917, I suspected that the two-story wooden barracks that we drove by could have been constructed during World War I. They sure looked antiquated, but the bus pulled up to a more modern-looking brick building. The tough-looking starch and pressed, spit-shined Army sergeants were standing there waiting for us. As we filed off the bus, the sergeants directed us to walk quickly and quietly single file into the building.
The next week or so, there was a lot of processing and orientation. The first thing on the agenda was to give us all a new hairstyle. We marched into a room full of barbers who took about 30 seconds to buzz cut our heads. It was kind of funny, especially watching the shocked look on the faces of the guys that had long hair down to their shoulders. Next, they issued our uniforms, and now we all looked pretty much the same, a bunch of bald kids wearing the same o.d. green fatigues. The only difference in our dress was the name tags sewn on our shirts. Eventually, we had to stencil our name on each article of clothing, including inside our shoes and boots and even on our boxers. Another item issued early on was our dog tags. They were two metal plates stamped with our name, service number, blood type, and religion. The drill sergeant told us that the two metal tags must be chained to our necks at all times, day and night. The reason being: So that they could identify our bodies when we came home in body bags!
It seemed like we were getting immunization shots daily. They would have us line up and walk past a medic armed with an injection gun. You would stop for only a few seconds, and he would shoot a shot into your shoulder. Then we would march forward a few more steps and receive another injection; sometimes, getting shot from both sides at the same time. The sergeants warned us to stand perfectly still while receiving the shots because if you moved or flinched, the gun would cut your skin. A few guys had blood running down their arms and were getting yelled at for not following orders!
There were several hours of boring aptitude and skills testing. The tests were similar to the SATs that I took in high school, but not as hard. They included arithmetic reasoning, general science, word knowledge, and even automotive and electrical topics. I never did well on tests and barely passed my high school classes, I was lucky even to graduate.
After receiving the test score results, they began calling out names and narrowing us down into smaller groups. A few of us were called out individually and sent into a separate room to be interviewed one on one by a sergeant with a lot of stripes. Upon entering his office, I was glad that the sergeant didn’t start yelling at me; he was acting reasonably normal. He began speaking like a regular person. Surprisingly it turned out that somehow, I did do well on the tests, in fact very well, scoring higher than most, so they said. He told me that my outstanding test results had opened up a lot of opportunities. He suggested things like officer candidate school (OCS), helicopter pilot school, or even West Point if I was interested in going to college. However, each of those types of training required an extended commitment to the service. OCS and helicopter pilot would require a six-year enlistment, and West Point would require a ten-year commitment to the Army. I had no intention of extending my time, so I said: “No, thanks, I am only here for my two years of service.” It appeared that he was having a difficult time controlling his temper. Next, he asked me what I wanted to do during my two years of service. I told him that I would like to become a military police (MP) officer and serve at Aberdeen, Maryland, with my friend Pete. He asked me where I would like to do my overseas duty. I replied, “Japan,” thinking that would be a friendly, safe country to visit. He said all of that could be possible, but there would be no guarantees unless I were willing to sign up for additional years of service. At this point, I started thinking to myself that this guy is seriously offering me some great opportunities. It was tempting, but I wasn’t sure. It sounded like he was recruiting, so after a few minutes of thought, I once again replied: “No, thank you, Sir.” And he lost control of his temper and immediately began yelling. “I am not a Sir! Now get the hell out of my office!”
At some point, after all of that, they had us dress up in a more formal style of dress uniforms, called “class A” uniforms, attempting to make us look like real soldiers. Then they had us pose for pictures in front of an American flag to send home to our parents
Kuhn: 18-year old teenage “Soldier.”
It looks like I may not even shave yet!