I joined the Army in the summer of 1964. Even with the restrictions on physical activity because of the Spinal Meningitis outbreak at Fort Ord, the physical training was more intense than anything I had ever done up to that point. We had to sleep with the windows open (we got in bed, turned out the lights, and watched the fog roll into our platoon bay). We only had one case of meningitis but we had half-a-dozen guys go to the hospital with pneumonia....but I digress....I was talking about physical training.
We still had to run about everywhere we went, we still did vigorous calisthenics, and we had all kinds of physical exertions. And before we could graduate, we still had to pass the Army Physical Fitness Test...(APFT). The test consisted of five events: The Run, Dodge, and Jump; the Forty Meter Low Crawl; the Horizontal Ladder; the Grenade Throw; and the One Mile Run (in boots). Each event was enough to burn up a full day's worth of energy but to pass we had to complete all five events with no more than ten minutes recovery time between events.
I was a skinny seventeen-year-old who was already a heavy smoker and moderately heavy drinker. I couldn't run across the street without oxygen support. My first day in the Army I had to get all my hair cut off (ALL of it...and I had had a lot), I had to line up and pick up everybody else's cigarette butts, and I had to run...well, it was really more of a shuffle but it was a lot more than I was used to. We lined up four columns abreast and ran to the barber shop, then we lined up and ran to the clothing issue facility to get a jacket and a ball cap to cover our bare heads, then we ran to the finance office to get our "Flying Ten" - a ten dollar bill to use to buy toothpaste or shaving cream or cigarettes, then we ran to the mess hall for lunch, and then the afternoon was full of running from here to there.
I also did an abundance of pushups...the standard punishment for almost any infraction was "Gimme Ten" or "Gimme Twenty" which meant ten or twenty pushups. Asking "Ten what?" usually resulted in an increase in the number of "whats" you had to give. We quickly learned that you couldn't just light up a cigarette whenever you felt like it...that could lead to a long string of unhappy events. Nope...you only smoked when the sergeant said you could..."Smoke 'em if you got 'em" was the signal to light up and "Butt 'em" was the command to "field strip" your cigarette...pinch off the fire and grind it under your boot, strip the paper off of the cigarette, disperse the tobacco, and put the paper and the filter in your pocket...you do that so the enemy won't know you were smoking there...whatever enemy is lurking around the Central California Coast. Usually we would be given a smoke break every hour depending on what we were doing.
Once we learned how to care for our M-14 rifles, we carried them everywhere we went...and most of the time that required us to wear our steel helmets and "web gear"...the M-14 weighs in at about 11 pounds, the helmet weighs three pounds, and the web gear weighs about a half-a-ton by the time the day is over.
So our daily activities included a lot of physical conditioning just getting from place to place. With the different training activities like crawling and climbing and dashing and crawling and marching and climbing and crawling and marching and the regular PT exercises like pushups and side-straddle hops (Army for Jumping Jacks) and all the other exercises...I spent a lot of time being sore. But after a few weeks, I began to see a definite change in my physical capabilities.
Then about two-thirds through basic, we did a "diagnostic" APFT. It was tough. A lot of us didn't do so well. But it didn't count...well...it counted but only to show us where we needed to improve. I was surprised that I did better than I thought I would in some of the events:
The Run, Dodge, and Jump was the hardest for me. You had to run about ten yards to a set of parallel rails waist-high that were perpendicular to your path. You had go in one end and run out the other then jump across a ditch that was about eight feet wide and three feet deep...then go through another set of rails...in one end and out the other then around and back into the rails going the other way then come out and jump back across the ditch and repeat the whole thing again. It was a killer. I barely made it.
The Forty Meter Low Crawl was hard, too. Flat on the ground, keeping your belt buckle in contact with the ground, and using your knees and elbows to move along the ground as quickly as you could...another killer.
The Horizontal Ladder was just that; you had to go hand-over-hand up and back four times. Amazingly, I did really well on that one...being skinny does have it's benefits. I blazed up and back and up and back without slowing.
The Grenade Throw was another one that I found surprisingly easy. A lot of guys had problems with it, but it just seemed simple to me. There was a car tire lying horizontal on the ground about twenty-five yards away. It had a box built around it filled with sand, kinda like a horseshoe pit. You had to throw dummy grenades into the tire if you could. I don't remember if it was three or five grenades, I just remember I put all but one of them in the tire...easy-peasy.
The final event was the One Mile Run and since I was still a smoker and despite the fact that I was in lots better shape than I was when I got there, I still had a really hard time making a good time on the run. But I made it; barely.
By the last week of basic, I was able to pass all the events, if not easily at least respectably. If I had had the sense to quit smoking then I could have done so much better...sigh.
Throughout the rest of my career I watched the PT test change. The grenade throw was replaced; then the low-crawl became the inverted crawl (a new kind of torture)....things morphed from one set of tests to another until sometime in the late 70s or early 80s the Army dropped the five event test for a simpler three event test: Pushups, situps, and a two-mile run.
Another thing that changed was the emphasis...some units didn't even do PT or take tests...then it became super-emphasized...then not. Weight standards came and went. Seemed that whenever we needed to keep people around to do some shootin', then the standards kinda slipped...then when the shootin' was over we had to get rid of the weak and the fatties.
But it was a lot like anyplace else, the standards were there and some folks took them seriously and others just tried to skate around them. Okay...that's all. My rant is over. We are in the phase where guys who have been allowed to get fat and sloppy for the last ten years are now getting booted out if they can't get the weight off and the physical fitness up. Some of those guys have spent three or four years in harm's way...you figure out how this counts as honoring our vets..