The M4 carbine’s metal ridges feel cool against my hands. Four magazines bounce around my waist on an ammo vest as I sprint over dying grass and dirt kicked up by a squad of soldiers before me. I drop to my left knee, eject one magazine, pull out another and slam it in with my palm, then run. Finally, my chance to live what I dreamed of a hundred times. But as I cross the finish line, something separates me from the soldiers more than enlistment papers or tactical knowledge: I am not Army strong.
Train for the Battlefield
In July, I was a guest at physical training, or PT, with a company of Army Pathfinders from the 10th Mountain Division’s Task Force Knighthawks stationed at Fort Drum, New York. To prepare for my morning with the troops, I maintained a loose workout schedule for three weeks. Five miles here, two there. Pushups and situps once in a while. Drink more water than beer. (Is your drink making you fat? Lose up to 32 pounds this year just by switching your beer, coffee, and juice. Discover the secret in Drink This, Not That!)
Dew clung to my Chevy Cobalt as I passed through the post’s gates and into the public affairs parking lot at 6:30 that morning. I pulled a camouflage uniform over my head and looked in the bathroom mirror. My grandfather still tells me stories about World War II and his time at Fort Drum. Growing up, I pretended so many times that I had this uniform, and now I did—I looked like a soldier. But as I walked to the training field, officers standing in the cool morning air looked twice and grinned at me as if to say, “You have no idea what you’re getting into, you dope.”
As I crossed over a dry ditch to the PT field, Lt. Col. Matthew Braman, who commands hundreds of soldiers at Fort Drum, nodded at my green notebook. Smirking, he asked, “Are you running or writing?”
In the last days of my master’s program at Syracuse University, an Army lieutenant told my professors that any journalist interested in military reporting could come to Fort Drum three weeks later to experience training firsthand. My eyes popped and I told everyone I knew that I was going. After reporting military stories all year, I would finally stand with soldiers, immersing myself in a taste of their daily lives.