Before mobilization the Army conducts a Soldier Readiness Program (SRP). By “ready,” the Army means medically, dentally, and financially. The process is meant to shake out any problems a solider might have before deploying. As beneficial as it might be to get that loose filling screwed down before you ship out, an SRP is such a tedious ordeal that you might be willing to go a year only chewing on one side of your mouth to avoid it.
I’ve gone through 4 SRP’s at least in the past year, and there is always something not right with the old paperwork. There is always a new excuse for drawing more blood, and there is always extra room on your arm for more shots, and finally, no matter how fast you get everything else done, there is always a huge bottleneck at the final reviewing station.
SRP on Battalion Ave (Ft. Hood) starts in an octagonal building known as “the dome” on account of its roundish roof. You arrive by the busload, bustling in with a couple of hundred soldiers single file. Once you get through the glass doors, there is a desk manned by three civilians demanding your ID card and your green sheet. Once they swipe you in and stamp and initial your green sheet, you can feel proud: you’ve just completed station 1 of your SRP and have 13 more stations to visit. Your last station will be Station14, but Station 14 is just a formality to make sure you’ve gone to station 13. Station 13 is really your last station because that’s where they conduct your final: “final review.”
At other SRPs, I’ve found myself sitting in a hallway for hours waiting to get into the waiting room, only to wait more hours before getting to see the final reviewer. The SRP on Battalion St. is prepared for the overflow. They have six rows of 20 seats all lined up in the lobby to the left of the front door as you walk in. And when you see all those soldiers lined up –privates, sergeants, majors, specialists– all humbly sitting there, you think to yourself, “I hope I don’t have to wait in that line.” But of course you will.
I had to go through station 13 three times. It is a dull event. But you work with what you have and the first time around you have a bunch of new punctures in your arms from the shots you got at stations 11 and 12. After you have thoroughly examined your needle wounds, you can read about the side effects of the shots from the handfuls of flyers the medics hand out. (The small-pox pamphlet was so good I read it all the way from the front side to the back.) After I had run out of tracts to peruse, I took to playing with my cellphone, taking time to discover how to take pictures with it and send them to people– namely fellow blogger RC2, and a friend in Connecticut who told me to stop because I was running up her bill. But when my battery started running low, there was nothing for me to do but to endure the interminable wait, cursing myself for not bringing a book.
I had already cleared SRP the day Major Hasan employed his Muslim faith to murder his comrades. Our unit had one close call with a soldier who was there that day but was out a good number of minutes before the shooting. The Fort held a big ceremony today and the President and the Generals spoke in grand manner about the heroes the nation lost as ceremony demands.
But when I think about the events of Nov 5th, I don’t think of heroes or patriots. I just think of all those young people sitting at station 13…waiting.