Editor's Note: From the home front to the front lines, we're following one recruit's journey in our American Morning original series "A Soldier's Story." Today, in part five, Jason Carroll reports on the critical weapons training our recruit Will McLain needs to survive on the battlefield.
By Jason Carroll, CNN
For privates like Will McLain, the stress is not just about passing a weapons test. It’s also about coming closer to learning whether or not he will be deployed to fight a war.
It is one of the last hurdles to overcome before completing basic training – weapons qualification.
Before Will McLain enlisted, he showed me how to handle a shotgun back in his hometown of Rosamond, California. But shooting for recreation is nothing compared to what he’s doing now, where hitting bulls-eyes is just as important as avoiding sniper fire.
Will's shooting scores earned him a rating of marksman, but fell short of the score needed for sharpshooter or expert.
I asked him if there were times he thought he couldn’t do it.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it,” he replied. “It was more like, dang, what did I get myself into. I got three years of this coming up, but to realize that you can make it through this, it’s kind of good to feel.”
For exercises to be as realistic as possible, some take place at night or during the day in a mock Iraqi village where they practice urban warfare training.
That is for now. Will and his company have five more weeks of training before they learn their next step.
“Each deployment is different for every person. Every now and then we sit them down and try to talk to them and answer their questions,” says Drill Sgt. Joseph Rix. “Most questions are ‘where am I going drill sergeant?’ And we won’t know that until a few weeks before they leave.”
“I think about it a lot. If I get deployed, it happens. It’s part of my job,” says Will.
I asked him if ever thinks of home.
“Everybody thinks about it once in a while, especially when you’re laying down in your bunk at night,” he responds. “For me, I'm 18, I'm going out into the world, I gotta realize this is what I need to do.”
Now that Will has completed his basic training he now begins his specialized training to be a combat engineer. Those are the soldiers who do everything from disarming roadside bombs to building bridges.