Five weeks into basic training meant a few things. One of those was the quasi-routine I had settled into at that point. I’m not sure that waking up to yelling and banging on trashcan lids before sunrise each morning can ever develop into a true routine, but I had adjusted. Similarly, I had adjusted to getting to sleep as fast as possible once lights were out, since it was such a precious commodity.
Like most people, I rarely remember any dreams I have. It could be the most vivid and exciting or scary thing possible, and I’ll forget it five minutes after waking up. One particular night in basic marked a big exception to that rule. The day preceding the dream wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I barely remember what we even trained on now. Similarly, I hadn’t been yelled at individually or done anything that stuck with me by the time lights went out.
After passing out, I remember having one of those really realistic dreams that seems like it’s actually happening (cue Inception references). Suddenly, I was standing in a single squad formation, and our drill sergeant stood in front with a clipboard. We were locked up at attention as he studied the paper on it. The brim of his campaign hat then shot up as he looked us over and said “SOUND OFF!” I was on the far end of the squad to his right, and the squad leader barked out “YES, DRILL SERGEANT.” That particular response didn’t make sense to me, but each person down the line echoed it, and I prepared myself to bellow it out as well.
It was finally my turn, and I sounded off “YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” The drill sergeant stared me down, and said “Harper, I said SOUND OFF.” I thought he had heard me the first time, but I yelled out “YES, DRILL SERGEANT!” again. Without blinking and without breaking eye contact, the drill sergeant pivoted and was suddenly in my face in one fluid motion. This time he barked “SOUND OFF HARPER!” I yelled back again, and he repeated his command. Fear pumped through me as I realized that I was yelling, but that he couldn’t hear me. Not knowing what else to do, I repeatedly yelled, “YES DRILL SERGEANT!!”
Out of nowhere the drill sergeant and squad abruptly faded away, and a ringing pain in my forehead replaced them. It was dark as I opened my eyes, and I saw a squad mate of mine standing beside my bunk. I looked past him and every single member of my platoon was at attention toeing the line that ran in front of the bunks in our bay, and looking like they’d just seen a ghost. My squad mate leaned down to me and asked what the heck I was thinking. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he shook his head. He had been on fireguard, and was making the rounds into the latrine with the second fireguard when they heard me yelling about the drill sergeant. They had come sprinting out of the bathroom waking everyone up by calling the bay to attention, thinking that our drill sergeant had come in early. It wasn’t until he got up to my bunk at the front of the bay that he realized I was yelling in my sleep. That’s when he whapped me in the forehead with his flashlight.
I was still dazed, but he turned around to the bay and told everyone to get back in bed. I wasn’t the most popular platoon member the next day.