Editor's Note: "A Soldier's Story" is a new original series by CNN's "American Morning" that will track three military recruits from their final days as civilians through deployment. Our Jason Carroll has been given unprecedented access by the Pentagon as the president outlines a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. In part two, a new recruit spends his first 24 hours in the Army.
By Adam Reiss
As 18-year-old Will McLain leaves home for the first time there are tearful goodbyes with his parents. His mother Lori certainly did not want this day to come.
Will and his recruiter Sgt. Sheldon Rivers take the two hour drive to the processing center in Los Angeles where Will registers for the Army. He is asked about his tattoo and his medical records are thoroughly checked before he heads into the seminar to learn proper procedures for standing at attention.
"Sir yes sir!" Will is taught how to keep shoulders back and his stomach tucked in.
"I'm anxious, but I'm glad it's finally starting – like one of those days you don't think it will come and like bam it's here," says Will.
"Does anyone have any doubts, reservations or restrictions about joining the military?" shouts the drill instructor. "No sir" is the response from everyone.
"When I tell you to you are going to exit this bus quickly and safely, but the key word being quickly. Do you understand!," barks drill sergeant Crystal Scott as Will's bus arrives at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It's two hours outside of St. Louis and a world away from his home outside Los Angeles. More than 200 soldiers reported for duty with Will on his first day. 30,000 a year go through the 43rd AG Reception Station, at 600 a week.
Here he has several days of orientation before the real work sets in as he goes through thirteen weeks of basic training. There are a lot of drill sergeants screaming orders in every direction and Will appears a little dazed, if not from the new environment than certainly from the lack of sleep traveling for the past day. He will be required to give up his personal belongings, including his cell phone – his last point of contact with the outside world. Then it's time to collect his bedding, and lights out before they are back on a little more than four hours later.
Breakfast looks good – the only problem is he has less than three minutes to devour it before heading off to his next assignment. Will is 5'9" and 228 pounds, so he will definitley have to lose some weight. Drill sergeant Crystal Scott says she is sure he will lose it.
"We have ways to do it, you can be sure he will lose that weight."
Next he goes through more orientation, gets his gear, immunizations shots, and has his eyes tested. It turns out Will's eyesight is not 20/20, so he will be fitted with glasses.
Soon he is on a long line for the barber shop and the obligatory cut. He takes it like a man and can barely muster up the courage to look at himself in the mirror. It's Will in the mirror, but he's not yet the soldier he has set out to be.
"Not yet. I haven't been through boot. I won't even claim being a soldier until I'm done with that."