My National Guard Life

[Blog excerpt by Spc. Danica Cho]



A typical Army National Guard Armory kitchen.

WARNING: Some materials in this blog may not be suitable for children under 18 years of age.  Viewer discretion is advised. Statements made in this blog are personal reflections and do not reflect the views of the Army or the Army National Guard.


Day 1 of January 2014’s Drill started with an Army Physical Fitness (“PT”) Test at 0530 hours (5:30 AM).  I had awoken at 3 AM and started my day with a tasty breakfast of Grilled Cheese Sandwich and two fresh eggs, drizzled with ketchup.  This was a decision that I would soon regret, as I found myself vomiting half of it into a toilet, after finishing the 2 minutes of Push-Ups and Sit-Ups.  I finished vomiting the other half of my breakfast after crossing the finish line of the 2-mile run, kneeling on the bank of a muddy ditch and vowing to never eat breakfast before a PT test, ever again.  Even though I had put forth 110% effort, I still failed the run by 2 minutes and dreaded the Counseling Statement that was sure to follow.

After the fitness test, we changed into our Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs), took roll call for attendance and gathered to listen to our Platoon Sergeant’s briefing.  I couldn’t sleep the night before because I had been so stressed about passing the PT test.  Now, I was guzzling a 20-ounce energy drink to stay awake.

“This weekend is the last time that we’re meeting at this location,” announced the Platoon Sergeant.  “We’ve lost our space here.  From now on, we’ll be Drilling at the main Armory.”

The main Armory is almost 70 miles away from our current location.  Now we would be forced into a 3-hour daily commute to attend Drill each month, and share the Armory with several other platoons — stacked on top of each other like an overcrowded puppy mill.

The news hit us like a punch to the face.  We had been Drilling at this cozy office for the past 3 years – how could we lose our “home away from home?”  For many years until 2009, we used to Drill out of our own classic Armory only 3 miles away, complete with spacious flooring, offices, storage connexes, large parking lots and an entire fleet of military vehicles.  Now, it felt as if we were broke and homeless.

What had we done to deserve this sentence?  Was this a result of state budget cuts?  There were no explanations offered and no one dared to squeak a word of resistance.  The air was thick with silence as we struggled to accept our new fate.  We’ve learned by now that in the military, change is constant and we have to adapt by rolling with the punches.

Our last Drill in our cozy office.

Our last Drill in our cozy office.

We were then informed of our mission for the day: we would be driving Highly Mobile Multi-Wheeled Vehicles (HMMW-Vs) to another Armory located 80 miles away, to complete mandatory online Army training in a computer lab.


We spent many hours in the hot, stuffy computer lab and as night approached, we grew tired and hungry.  Relief came when one Soldier announced, “Hey guys, there’s pizza in the next room!”

Everyone whooped with cheer at the surprise treat and dug into the stacks of pizza boxes like a pack of starved wolves.  Afterwards, we jumped back into our HMMW-Vs and headed over to an Air Force base, where we would be staying for the next two nights.

This was the first time that our Army National Guard unit received accommodations to stay at a hotel on an Air Force base.  The large building looked ordinary on the outside, but the interior rooms turned out to be hidden gems of luxury that were way beyond our humble expectations.  It was as if a lodging fairy had waved her magic wand and transported our troops from the field into the magnificent foyer of a five-star Hilton hotel.





“This is THE nicest hotel room that I have ever stayed in, in my entire life,” remarked one Soldier.  “I’m switching over to the Air Force!” he bellowed, as other Soldiers laughed and jokingly nodded in agreement.


Day 2 of January 2014’s Drill began at 0600 hours (6 AM) and was spent all day on the firing range.  We wore our protective gear  – Kevlar helmet, bullet-proof vest, ballistic glasses for eye protection, foam plugs for ear protection, gloves for hand protection – and shot pistols and rifles onto paper targets.

There’s a lot of peer pressure to qualify on the pistol and rifle, within a limited time frame.  The longer you take to successfully hit the required minimum number of targets, the more snickers, jeers and whispers you hear about being a “poor shot.”  Other Soldiers don’t even want you next to them on the firing range.  They glare at you with contemptuous eyes, warning you to stay away, as if you’re some kind of bad luck magnet that will prevent them from properly qualifying on their own weapons.

“You BOLO-ed on your pistol?!” yelled one Soldier to another, in overly dramatic disbelief.  “How is that even frickin’ possible?!”  The taunting is merciless.

Zeroing and qualifying on the rifle is much more difficult than the pistol.  The minimum standard for qualifying on the rifle is shooting 23 out of 40 rounds, into a 50 to 300-meter target.  You keep trying and trying….reloading your magazine full of ammunition, firing, studying the bullet holes in your target and wondering why they aren’t hitting where they’re supposed to go….Your mind races as it ponders all of the variables: is it a problem with your sight alignment?  Trigger squeeze?  Breath control?  You make mechanical adjustments to your rifle — a few clicks to the left, a few clicks to the right, up, down — and try again….Your arms are tired, your throat dehydrated, your brain spinning from a pounding headache while your stomach begins to growl and wonders when it’s chow time.


After several hours, I finally qualified and breathed a sigh of relief, having shot 30 out of 40 rounds.  I swaggered a slight “victory walk” off of the firing range, before turning in my emptied magazines, paper target and rifle.  We cleaned our weapons, loaded our gear back into military vehicles, picked up trash and had a final formation as the sun began setting into nightfall.  Our Platoon Sergeant congratulated us on a job well done, without resulting in any safety violations or injuries.

Exhausted, I returned to my hotel room at the Air Force Inn, peeled off my muddied boots and uniform and unraveled into a hot, heavenly bath.  I topped off my night with a Japanese fish-and-rice dinner, including a soft-shell crab sushi roll and “miso-horny” soup, while watching my virtual hot date — Juan Pablo — break a few hearts on “The Bachelor” TV show.  Do Saturday nights get any better than this?


Day 3 of January 2014’s Drill started at 0700 hours (7 AM) with Counseling Statements for Soldiers who failed the PT test.  As usual, a list of Soldiers’ names were rattled out loud in front of the whole platoon, as we PT failures shuffled into a hallway of the Armory and stood in a line of shame, waiting to be “counseled” by a sergeant.

Counselings are sensitive in nature and should be handled with care.  However, we had the misfortune of being counseled this morning by a particularly menacing, sadistic female sergeant, whom I will nickname “The Screamer.”  As you can imagine, The Screamer always loses emotional control and starts screaming bloody hell, if anything is out of place or doesn’t go according to her strict expectations.  I wish she would seek enlightenment and realize that a mature sergeant is someone who handles stress with a calm demeanor, no matter how bad or unpredictable the situation is.

The first Soldier in line walked into an office to face The Screamer.  One minute later, he walked right back out and started doing frog-hopping exercises for punishment.  He was forced to bend over, grab the heels of his boots with his hands, and awkwardly leap forward like a ridiculous frog – his boots thumping loudly against the bare linoleum floor.  Lord only knows what he said to piss off The Screamer, but it must’ve been something harsh because another female sergeant paraded his poor butt up and down the hallway, in front of the entire platoon!  I watched in horror and felt so sorry for him.  I prayed fervently that I wouldn’t face a similar wrath when it came my turn to meet The Screamer.

Although The Screamer was unsurprisingly condescending to me during my counseling for failing the PT test, I was able to escape out of the office, free from punishment.  It was a harsh reminder to double my efforts in working out so that I can pass the PT test next month and meet my 34% body fat limit. I need to meet the Army’s fitness standards and finally be free from the social stigma of being a “PT failure.”

We drove in HMMW-Vs back home and finished the rest of the Drill day with administrative tasks, particularly with preparing promotion packets for Soldiers so the lucky few can be promoted in rank this year.  Hopefully, it will finally be my turn to make my E-5.  That is, if I ever pass the darn PT test!  Wish me luck for next month….


* Names have been changed to protect the identities of Soldiers.