Pvt. Dylan Cunningham, sr. , watches as his company, Echo Company, competes in the 3-60th Battalion Drill and Ceremony Competition at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina on July 26.

This summer two other Buhler High students, Trenton Arheart, and Quentin Bennett, and I graduated from Army Basic Combat Training (BCT). Bennett and myself both went to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina while Arheart went to Ft. SIll, Oklahoma.

My unit at BCT was 3rd Battalion (BN), 60th Infantry Regiment(3-60th) River Raiders, Echo(E) Company Eliminators, 3rd Platoon (Plt) Chaos. I shipped out to BCT on May 20, 2019. After several flight delays and having to stay in Dallas, Tx overnight, I arrived in Columbia, SC on May 21.

It was here that I had my first encounter with a U.S. Army Drill Sergeant (DS). The Drill Sergeant led us to the bus where we had to have our faces buried in our bags until we arrived at 120th AG BN for reception.

Upon arrival at 120th we were “warmly” welcomed by a female Drill Sergeant who gave us the impossible task of getting off of the bus in one minute. After doing pushups because we failed to complete the task we were brought into a classroom for initial paperwork.

Once paperwork was complete we moved into another room where we did shakedowns where they took all of our contraband items which  was basically all of our civilian items except for our cell phones.

The rest of reception was initial clothing issue where we got our Army Physical Fitness Uniforms (APFU) and our Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms and received our vaccines.

Once all of that was completed the rest of reception was just haircuts and more paperwork and medical evaluations and upon the completion of that it was finally time to ship to our BCT units.

Over the next ten weeks my fellow soldiers and I would undergo the soldierization process where we would be broken down and stripped of everything from our civilian lives and built back up as American soldiers.

From conquering our fears on the confidence course to tasking obstacle courses and chemical warfare training in the gas chamber, to gruelling ruck marches which were almost always at least three miles, these ten weeks would entail early mornings and late nights, typically waking up at five in the morning to do physical training (PT) and training all the way until eleven at night. We would spend most of our time here exhausted both mentally and physically.  

During week eight it was finally the moment we had all been waiting for, the final training event we would undergo during our time at BCT: the Victory Forge. The Forge is a four-day, three-night field training exercise that begins with a 12-mile ruck march with any where (depending on your company) from 30 to 60 pounds of gear in your rucksack.

My company made us have the full 60 pounds of gear as well as carry our M4-A1 rifles. The following four days would be full of hunger, exhaustion, and tension between you and your battle buddies, but on the third night, right before setting out on the final trek we would take as trainees, morale couldn’t have been higher. 

There are no words that can properly describe how it felt standing on Hilton Field that very early morning on the final day of The Forge. We had finally done it, and become what we sought out to be — soldiers in the U.S Army.

During the soldier ceremony, had you been there you would have seen men and women from all parts of the country and even the world, tired, hungry, hurting, basically feeling any negative emotion you could feel, but no one was slouched over feeling sorry for themselves or complaining about how miserable they felt; everyone was standing tall at the position of attention, disciplined and proud. The best feeling I’ve ever had in my life so far was when my commanding officer, Captain Ngo, shook my hand and congratulated me before putting my Army patch on my shoulder. I actually started tearing up.

While Basic may have been the hardest and most miserable thing that I have done in my life thus far, it was also the best and most rewarding thing I’ve done.