by Betty Thompson Jackson
I was a basic trainee at Fort Jackson, South Carolina in May 1982. One very hot day I went on sick call. The bus dropped us off; Moncrief Army Hospital loomed in the distance. Basic trainees weren’t dropped off or picked up at the front door. I walked through those doors with a steel pot and my medical records in my hand. I have never been to a hospital as cold as Moncrief before or since.
The medical personnel had no bedside manners and could spot a basic trainee a mile away. Being a trainee affords you no privileges. The medical personnel placed the appropriate forms in my medical record, and told me to have a seat. I sat quietly with other trainees on sick call and waited my turn to see the doctor.
The doctor did his examination with no kind words and definitely no sympathy. He made notes in my record and sent me on.
After that doctor’s visit I felt worse than when I had entered those doors. I thought I couldn’t stand this type of treatment, and when I returned to my platoon I’d ask to be discharged and sent home. Forget the fact that I’d talked my best friend from college into enlisting with me. I was sorry I was going to leave her there.
Walking towards those double doors that led to the outside, I saw a female restroom. I went in and sat in a chair. I needed a few minutes to get myself together. Instead of pulling myself together, I started crying as if someone in my family had died.
A lady walked over and asked if I was having troubles, and I muttered, “No, Ma’am”. She asked if I was sure. I didn’t intend to tell her anything, but she was so kind I told her everything. I told her about my treatment, that I planned to quit.
She had to be someone’s mother because she hugged me and told me to finish crying and get it all out of my system. She told me to pray, that the drill sergeants’ treatment would be taken care of, and not to quit. She prayed for me, I thanked her and she left.
As I made my long trek back to the bus stop with Moncrief to my back I felt a burden had been lifted off me and the military didn’t seem so unbearable.
Back at the barracks I told my friend about my trip. She didn’t believe I was crying like a baby to a stranger. I completed basic training and returned home a “weekend warrior”. Members of my army reserve unit assured me that basic training is a process all soldiers go through.
I had some difficult days as a weekend warrior. But thanks to that nice lady’s kindness, I hung in there 20 years, retiring as a Staff Sergeant. If she ever reads this story I’d like to tell her: Thank you, I’m still following your advice.
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