The Catholic Defender Remembers Basic Training

Posted by John Benko - November 10th, 2010

February 7, 1985 I was on the bus from Harrison Arkansas to the Little Rock MEPS to begin my Military career.

I memorized the “Code of Conduct” along the way. I wanted to start my new career with the right motivation.

I remember staying at the hotel waiting for the plane taking us to Ft. Jackson South Carolina for Basic Training (Boot Camp).

The only thing I recall from this short stay in Little Rock was that some of the other applicants had hookers come to their rooms. I was not one of them as I would not have condoned that kind of activity.

I had been practicing my faith solidly for a good while, thankfully, by this time. From the very beginning of my Military career, I felt it was important to be faithful to God. This would be important to note because this was my position throughout my military career.

I would have many schools and field problems where infidelity was rampant. I tried to be a Soldier for Christ first and a good example for those who were away from home for the first time.

Basic training started out just like you see in the movies and the classic stories. We were “herded” on the ‘cattle trucks” and we were quickly placed into platoons.

I’ll never forget the drill instructors bringing it on from the outset. Just getting off the trucks was an interesting experience.

I quickly got the nickname “Padre” because of my strong faith. I encouraged everyone to go to church on Sunday, especially if they were Catholic.

It worked good for most of them, but still others would drift off as some were tempted by females assigned to nearby barracks.

Late at night they would find places to get together.

I tried to discourage that but for some, the temptation was just to strong.

James 1:12-15 states, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him. No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death”.

I come from a strong patriotic background, I have always believed in what the Red, White, and Blue of our flag represents.

The red stands for the blood shed in defense of our freedoms.

The white stands for the purity of our actions.

The Blue stands for the truth by which we stand.

This is why I stand up against those who would burn the flag.

For those who would alter and dishonor the truth from our foundations. This is why Secular Humanism is a danger to freedom. They want to take Christ out of public life making our nation a Secular State.

One of my Brothers joined the Marine Corps because of the problem with the “Hostages of Iran”. He felt like he should do something about what was on the news for so long. He had an influence over me.

On one occasion, we were shown a video of how the Russian Soldiers trained. This was while the “Cold War” was still in effect, at the end of the video, the Drill Sergeant invited us to ask questions from what we saw. After a number of troops asked their questions, I raised my hand to make a statement.

The Drill Sergeant gave me permission to speak. I then stood up and said, “Drill Sergeant, we have been watching how our counterparts train. One major reason why I prefer this uniform that I’m wearing now is because it protects our right to worship God in freedom and preserves our liberty to do so. On the other hand, these Russian Soldiers do not mind taking clubs and beating old men, women, and children because they were hiding in a barn to worship God. These people have to worship God in secret”.

At that point an immediate round of applause and cheering followed my words which surprised the Drill Sergeant. He was taken off guard with what I said and the response it got. This went on for another 20-30 seconds until the Drill Sergeant regained his composure.

When he gave that look everyone went back to their sitting at attention leaving me standing their alone. The Drill Sergeant looked at me for a moment and said, “That’s all Private” and I sat back down.

Everyday was a new challenge as we passed every part of Basic Training. The road marches, The obsticle course, the field exercises, the mind games were all challenges that we had to meet.

At the end of the day, often times my Platoon would ask me to say a prayer. I felt that was an honor because they respected me and felt it was important.

On one occasion one of the Drill Sergeants had us in a formation at ease as we watched a demonstration on marching.

The Drill Sergeant was frustrated from what he was seeing. He screamed out, “Who do you think I am, Jesus Christ”? I responded, “Drill Sergeant”, I’m not Jesus Christ, but I am a representative of his”. That got me a few pushups!

As I reflect back to the time I was in Basic Training, I am so thankful that my faith was solid. My Faith has served me like a compass for over 26 years.

During my time in the Army I have had the chance to witness to thousands of people from all over the world.

God has blessed me far beyond any expectation I can have. The good news is that He is still doing so!


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