Lying in his barracks bunk after that first night of basic training, every muscle a-scream, the barking of drill sergeants pounding in his ears, Chriss Moen struggled to sleep.
And with only a few hours remaining until he was roused from his bunk for much more of the same, he couldn’t help asking himself what millions of other young men in the same fix have asked themselves over generations.
“What the hell have I gotten myself into?”
It was the same question he’d started pondering the previous morning when he was one member of a group of 50 or so who’d reached basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C., packed into cattle cars.
Moen had gotten into that tight spot by entering a recruiting station with a buddy in their native Spokane shortly after their graduation from Rogers High in 1975. And, with their parents’ permission, they enlisted in the U.S. Army as walk-ins.
By 4 p.m., when the recruits had been sitting on their duffel bags for seven hours, waiting, fear in all of them, the door opened, and in strode a big man.
“He looked just like a bulldog,” Moen recalled of Drill Sergeant McCurdy.
“Gentlemen, did you have a nice ride?” rasped McCurdy, as Moen demonstrated, pulling his mouth to the right, like a man who continues to talk despite a fat cigar hanging from one side of his mouth. “I’ve got one thing to say: you’ve got three seconds to get off this bus, and two of them are gone!”
Immediately, Moen said, the big man grabbed the recruit closest to the door and threw him out of the car. In the next moment, 50 guys began struggling to get out of one small door at the same time, with drill sergeants screaming in their faces, “You’re late! You’re late! We’ve been waiting for you all day!”
“Like it’s our fault we were late,” Moen recalled thinking.
Moen describes what followed.
“All night,” Moen said, “they run you back and forth with your duffel bag, then they throw your duffel bag down, tell you to get on the ground for push-ups, then they yell at you to run up to the top to the obstacle course, and when you get there they blow the whistle and you have to run back down, and if you don’t make it…”
“Finally, at two in the morning, we’re lined up, everyone is sweating and they take us the barracks. Duties are handed around. They show us how to make our bunks, and it’s lights out.”
So began two weeks of all-day hell known as boot camp, Moen said, an interval when the U.S. Army breaks you down from civilian life and remakes you into a soldier.
“It’s all shock and awe,” Moen said.
If he hated that — he did — he grew to love the U.S. Army, which he went on to serve faithfully and with distinction over a 25-year career that took him to postings all over the world and saw him serve as a recruiter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later complete tours in Honduras and Panama, where he met his future wife.
Along the way, Moen picked up three Meritorious Service medals, three Army Commendation medals, one Army Achievement medal, an Army Good Conduct Medal and one National Defense medal, attended three non-commissioned officer leadership courses, and served on three overseas tours.
Moen, 64, who retired in 2001 as a master sergeant (E-8), ultimately settled in the city of Pacific with his wife, Irene. Today he devotes most of his free time to his fellow veterans, living and deceased. He is second Vice Commander Post 15, Kent, American Legion, a life member of Disabled American Veterans, Chapter A-One, Chapter 33, Kent, and Honor Guard Member, Volunteer, Tahoma National Cemetery.
“I lived a soldier’s life because I was a soldier, and I am still a soldier for life,” said Moen.
Remembering a career
Moen opens a photo album and the course of his U.S. Army career passes rapidly in snapshots.
The unit the Army assigned the fledgling combat signaller (multi-channel), Private Second Class, was in Ansbach and Nuremberg, Germany. His platoon, the 141st Single Battalion of the First Armored Division, operated on the line, where it installed communications equipment for the commanding general and ran lines.
In the first photo, taken after he’d completed his 10 weeks of basic training and 12 weeks of Tech School at Fort Gordon, Georgia, he sits in a chair, cigarette in hand, peering at the camera from behind sunglasses, spiffy in the new suit he’d just bought with his first check.
In another photo, he sits in a truck, holding an unloaded M-16 rifle.
Time moves, and he’s now a mustachioed Private First Class in Fulda Gap, Germany, an army recruiter in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an army medic in Honduras tending to the needs of the civilian population, a soldier in Panama assisting in the closing down of Gorgas Hospital in Panama.
And he’ll be there Saturday, Nov. 5, marching with his comrades in Auburn’s 57th annual Veterans Parade and Observance.
He summed up his feelings about his Army experience.
“I got to travel the world I got meet a lot of people, see things I would not have seen otherwise. I got trained in things that I would probably never do. I’ve got friends that have never been in the military, and when I talk to them, some of the stuff they can’t believe, you know, where I’ve been and who I met.
“For me it was a good move. Again, that first night of basic training, yeah, it was ‘what am I doing here?’ But my family was proud of me, my mom, military traditions, my uncle, my grandparents. My little brother, Todd, followed me. It helped me get a college degree, meet my wife, get my house,” said Moen.
He is fond of quoting the famous lines from Henry V, which Shakespeare put in the mouth of Henry, inspiring his army just before the battle of Agincourt: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he who sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother.”