FORT JACKSON, SC (WIS) - This year, we are paying tribute to the men and women who have served our country in our Year of the Veteran series.
But it's also important to see the steps that come before that. So what does it take to become a soldier on Fort Jackson? In a rare look behind the gates of Fort Jackson, members of the public were invited on a Basic Training Tour.
"Our real purpose today is just to let you see behind the curtain, what happens at Fort Jackson," Col. Joseph McLamb, deputy commanding officer of the fort, said.
And it's in the seats at the fort that civilian volunteers sit on day one of the 10-week programs.
"All we train you on in Basic Combat Training are these things here: discipline, mental and physical toughness, Army values and some very basic soldier tasks like being able to employ your weapon, being able to conduct First Aid," Col. McLamb said. "These are things that we expect all soldiers to be able to do."
After being fitted for their uniforms and gear, the trainees begin their journey to earning the right to be called a soldier.
"I'm a specialist, but right now I'm a trainee. I haven't earned my rank yet," trainee Desarae McGee said. "It's definitely just a lot of uncomfortableness. You're either too cold or too tired."
"Working out, exercising a lot of time, trying to teach us those fundamentals that comes along with becoming that soldier," trainee Alonzo Spurley said.
And doing so on a strict schedule.
"It's a big change from normal civilian world to having to get up at 3:50 every morning, consistently, and also having to work out, work hard all throughout the day because your day doesn't end until 2100, which is 9 p.m.," Spurley said.
Their Drill Sergeants keep the same hours and perform the same physical tasks. The trainees fight their way through the obstacles with a little encouragement from the drill sergeants and at times the other trainees.
"They've got different walls that are set up basically for us to try to get over as a team to help unite each other and make us closer," McGee said. "On week five, where you're like, 'Dang I miss my family. I want to just give them that phone call,' but you got to just push through. The trainees that are with you that definitely become your family. You get a lot closer."
Those who stick it out take part in a graduation ceremony full of pomp and circumstance. Their families cheering them on traveling from across the country for this moment. Making it all the more worth it for the trainees still pushing through.
"It just kind of feels like the right thing to do. It makes you feel proud. It makes you feel like you have some courage and something to serve for and just that feeling of selfless service – it feels good!" McGee said.
"I love it. I love everything about it. I want to put my best foot forward. Out here, we're working hard trying to build the next soldiers for America," trainee Alonzo Spurley said. "Just trying to make sure everybody is able to do the job and to keep everybody at home safe.
Fort Jackson was established in 1917 to train soldiers for World War I. Since then, they believe as many as 5 million soldiers have arrived as civilians and left as soldiers from Fort Jackson.
In 2018 alone, 48,000 potential soldiers are scheduled to take part in Basic Combat Training alone. If you add the various officer courses and the Advanced Individual Training that figure climbs in excess of 60,000.