A Painful Reminder
STAFF SGT. STEPHEN ROBERTS
138th Chemical Company
Georgia National Guard
Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia
Thousands of recruits enter Basic and Advanced Individual Training each year. Most graduate without any problems. Others, however, are injured or involved in incidents during training that result in the dreaded “hold over” status, which means they don’t earn the title of Soldier with their peers. I was injured during AIT; however, my injury went unreported and unnoticed.
Fresh out of high school and straight to Basic training, I was away from home for the first time. While some things were the same, like making your bed and being respectful, many things were different. It was the 1990s at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and after training hard for weeks, I graduated from Basic. Before going to AIT, my battle buddies and I were granted a three-day pass. After two months of lockdown, we were finally allowed to go off post. Everyone was looking forward to some freedom, and a bunch of us rented hotel rooms. Our plan was to hang out and enjoy some much-needed rest. We spent a majority of our time by the pool, just swimming and having a good time.
Late Saturday afternoon, about 24 hours before we had to report back, a few of us started wrestling by the pool. We pushed each other back and forth across the slippery pool deck, trying to throw each other in the water. Trying to be tough, I scooped my buddy up over my shoulders. As I released him toward the pool, my feet shot out from under me and we both fell in the water. On the way in, though, my head slammed into the side of the pool. I was dazed and in a lot of pain. With so many people around, I tried to pretend I was OK, but I wasn’t. I dragged myself out of the pool and sat in a chair. I said, “That’s it. I’m tired of playing.”
As I sat there, I noticed blood trickling from my split scalp. I played it off and blotted my wound with a towel until it stopped bleeding. I thought everything was fine — until I got back to my room. There, my head began to throb and swell. I was assessing my wound in the mirror when my buddy walked in and noticed the cut. We both agreed we couldn’t say anything because we didn’t want to get into trouble, and I didn’t want to get held back from my class.
Rather than going to the doctor, we did the next best thing (at least in our minds). We went to the store, grabbed a package of gauze and performed first aid like we’d just learned in Basic. We took the gauze, put it on the swollen gash and tied it tight with a bandana to apply pressure. By the next morning, the swelling had subsided and I could barely see the cut. I graduated AIT and didn’t give another thought to my head injury.
Less than a year later, I noticed some scar tissue and an unusual wrinkling pattern on my scalp. Concerned, I went to the doctor and was told I had cracked my skull! The doctor said he’d seen injuries like mine before with baseball catchers not wearing helmets, leaning too close toward the plate and getting smacked in the head with a bat. He also said the fracture had healed nicely (not bad for a newbie in the Army), but there wasn’t anything he could do about the scar tissue.
Older and wiser, I realize now how dangerous our behavior was that day. At the time, we were more interested in having a good time and weren’t thinking about our actions. For the past 15 years, that scar has served as a reminder of all the unnecessary risk I took when I was younger. I realize how lucky I am to be here today.
I take my role as an NCO seriously and share lessons learned — both good and bad — with my Soldiers. Hey, no one’s perfect. But if we learn from our mistakes and educate others, we’re on the path to reducing unnecessary risk and saving lives.