When I decided to join the Army, I was scared. I was scared of what may happen, if I would go to war, what if I got hurt or worse killed. All these things were running through my head and I almost thought do I really want to do this? I did go! Best decision I ever made. I left a couple of months after I graduated high school in 1987.
I turned down 2 scholarships out of high school when I went into the Army, allot of people might say “boy that was crazy” and some may be right. I was good with accounting, numbers, computers, but all I wanted to be was a Paramedic, ever since I was a kid I wanted to be one. My mom who raised me by herself, did not have the money to help me go, so I said I am going to do the next best thing and join the Army. When I signed up I was eligible for $11,000 worth of G.I. Bill, for 4 years of Active duty service. So I signed up. I was given a few options when I joined, but unfortunately the medic program was a 9 month waiting list to get into, I did not want to wait that long, so I took a job in the telecommunications field of the Army. I was going to be a 72E, Telecommunications Teletype Operator.
So I am at the federal building in downtown Cleveland, bag packed, You go through all these stations, eye exam, hearing test, physical, psychological test, it takes like 3-4 hours to go through everything, there was a USO section there where they were serving pop and snacks, and you can learn what the USO did, and how they help soldiers all the time. So I get through all the physicals and pass. Next, we stand in an official type room, the United States Flag, and all the service branch flags are there, and we get sworn in, you raise your right hand, and “insert name here” swear to uphold the constitution and defend the United States of America for 8 years. 8 YEARS!! wait a second my recruiter told me 4. So I raised my hand and politely asked what do you mean 8 years? I was told 4. The 4 years was for Active Duty, and 4 years was to be either National Guard, Reserves, or inactive. So if you were in the any of that in those 4 years, they still can call you to active duty and ship you off.
So I am on a plane flying to Fort Jackson, S.C. for basic training, and I am nervous, as well as I should be, we get off, Drill Sergeants in your face already, dragging you around, saying “get over there”, boy were my nerves shot, I thought to myself “I volunteered for this?” and yes I did. They got us into groups, and that was to be my company that I would be with till Basic Training was over. Then the Drill Sergeants had us sound off, and when it was my turn, it hardly came out, so here I have a Drill Sergeant in my face, my heart is beating a mile a minute, and he says “boy!, you better learn to speak up!” and I said “Yes, Drill Sergeant as loud as I could, sure enough I was okay for now. We go through line after line to get our gear, fatigues, BDU’s (camouflage uniforms), our Hair Cut….mine was gone in 55 seconds, crazy. I thought am I going to survive 8 weeks of this?
Push ups, lots of Push ups, I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many push ups I did. During the 8 weeks of learning Army History, structure, basic weapon techniques, first aid (which was easy for me, had already did volunteer work in an ER while in high school, they would let me do things to help), all the physical training or P.T., it was difficult because I was 6’1 and 205, and that was on a frame that had no strength. I had some weight to lose , I struggled with running, push ups, sit ups, almost everything. I remember during meal times, I would often take 2 0r 3 bites of my food, drink half my milk, and the Drill Sergeant would come by snatch my tray and tell me to get up and get out! Over the 8 weeks I progressively lost weight, and up till the last week before the final P.T. Test I was passing the minimum requirements for the push ups and sit ups but not the run, You had to be able to run 2 miles in I believe 16:36 (16 minutes, 36 seconds) and my last run I was at 16:52, not far off, but anything could happen on your final P.T. Test in your 8th week. But prior to that you had to conquer Victory Tower which is pictured below.
I did it, it was hard. Very hard, but when all was said and done, I had the exhilaration along with all my other army buddies, that we did it, we conquered it, and overcome our fears. I only had the final P.T. Test coming up, and I was nervous, I was nervous because my Drill Sergent came up to me and said if you don’t pass you will have to repeat Basic Training, and I said there is no way that is going to happen. Remember how I said I was 205 lbs when I started, by the time I got to my last P.T. test, I was down to 162 pounds in 8 weeks! Amazing. I had strength now, and my uniform top, I was able to take and wrap half way around my back that is how much I lost. The day of the test, I was nervous, I passed the sit ups, I passed the push ups, and I kept thinking about that run I had to do. So when we were done with the push ups and sit ups, I was ordered to stay behind and clean up the mats with another soldier and store them away, by the time I got to the track/trail to do my run, my company (I was in A company) was already finished and sitting on the ground, joking and laughing, I had to run with C Company. I guess I was a little jealous because remember the 16:36 I had to beat? I did my run in 15:12, a whole minute + faster than the week before. I remember some of my friends and soldiers, and even my Drill Sergeant yelling at me during the run about get your butt moving, don’t give up, things like this. Well when I crossed the finish line and the time keeper for me said 15:12 I was shocked. So I jog over to the field my company was sitting on and the drill Sergeant asked how did I do, I said I killed it, and passed with a 15:12 time, he shook his head and said impossible, runs over to the time keeper for me, and asked him himself comes back, and yells “Shewbridge killed this thing with a 15:12 time, over a minute off of last week” others obviously did better running 12, 13, and 14 minutes for 2 miles, that is how far we had to run in that time 2 miles, but for me to do that was an accomplishment, and I remember most of the unit coming over and shaking my hand or patting me on the back. It was a great day!
I went on to my job training at Fort Gordon, GA, on to Camp Page in South Korea for my first true duty assignment and spent a year there, and then on to Fort Bragg, NC where I would serve out the rest of my Active Duty, I went to Desert Storm/Shield from Fort Bragg, in 1990-1991. What a time, here I am in a war time situation, that I thought I would never be in, well I survived came home after I got back from Desert Storm, I had about 4 months on my Active enlistment, thought about staying active duty, but got out. To complete the other 4 years of my contract I joined the National Guard unit, and spent almost a year with them, before I went inactive for the next 3 years, only thing again was, if something happened, they could call me up and I would have to go, now that the 8 years are done, I was done unless I re-enlisted which I didn’t.
I used the G.I. Bill to pay for EMT then Paramedic school. And I went on to a 20+ year career of being in that field. So what did the Army teach me, it taught me to be a man! To stand up for what is right, it taught me strength, and gave me the durability to conquer my fears, and take on the world. It made me a better human, it made me stronger, and more determined to do what I could in life to make it better. So I thank you , U.S. Army for giving me the tools to make things what they are today, and for the inspiration to continue on, and not leave any behind. So I salute you! For all that you have done! Thank you, sincerely from the bottom of my heart.
If you have a family member, a son or daughter who is thinking about doing the same, sit with them and talk to them, just don’t tell them they can’t go, give them the choice, and let them decide if it is right for them. They may want to get out of it, what I got out of it, and that was to find who I was, and I am more thankful for that than anyone will every know. So encourage them if they really want to do this, give them the adoration, and the spirit you have to stand behind them, and be proud that they want to make a difference. So as always I thank you all for reading this, I thank you for making this site what it is, and helping it grow. If you would like more information about the U.S. Army you can follow this link here.