My days off after my ‘graduation’ that meant the end of my very basic training were like heaven. My hometown seemed so beautiful. I was so happy to see smiling people around, including women, wearing clothes with normal colours on them (just for a change). I had only 3 days off, that seemed to pass amazingly quickly, but made a huge difference to my psychology. I starting thinking that week by week, I’d get through this. I just needed to be patient…
Thankfully, after we got back from that leave (all privates that joined the army as I did, had the same days off after taking the oath), we were treated better. Now, most of the officers weren’t as strict as before. The morning inspections lasted less time and less people were punished in the morning gatherings for trivial things like wearing dirty boots or not having the perfectly made bed. It was obvious that they only wanted to make us more disciplined and break our spirit the first weeks and that period had ended. Also, they knew now that our new duties (I’ll explain below) were more complicated and more frustrating, so they didn’t bother us as much.
When, someone becomes a soldier, meaning that he pledges his own life to country / nation / flag (whatever you want to call it), as long as he is healthy enough to do so, is allocated and trained in a specialty and also equipped with a rifle to guard a post. Our next couple of weeks in the military training base was about learning how to use a rifle. After that we would be sent to a proper military base to be trained in our own specialty.
So, the day we got back from the leave, I was given a rifle (a G3A3) to be locked with everyone else’s in our room, in special lockers. I had to remember which one it was (not such an easy task for everyone – believe me), keep it clean and ready to be used. Having guns in our room also meant that someone had to be there 24/7 to guard them. So, a new duty was created, that of the “room guardian” (θαλαμοφύλακας). There were 4 different people that would be doing that every day, which was divided in shifts of two hours. So, I had to serve as the guardian for 6 hours from time to time that of course included a night shift that was either 00:00 – 02:00, 02:00 – 04:00 or 04:00 – 06:00. The last one was the easier one, since we were waking up at 6:00 anyway. That meant that your sleep wouldn’t be disturbed. The first one was ok-ish, since you slept from 22:30 to 23:45 and then did your swift to sleep for 4 hours after that. The hardest one was the 02:00 to 04:00 since you had to sleep in two parts of around 2.5 hours.
However, guarding the rooms was one of the easiest duties you could have. You were indoors (warm and dry), most likely with other guardians to keep you company and not easily surprised by the officer in night shift or the patrols. The irritating part of being a room guardian was the fact that you had to wake people up in time for their duties. You had to wake all outdoor guards to be ready and dressed in time to leave to go to their post and the room guardian that will replace you. Almost everybody was willing to get up without a problem, but in each room you’d have some prick not willing to comply but create a fuss. If a guard was not in place in the right time, it was the room guardian’s fault for not having waked him up.
While, that was going on inside the buildings, the rest of us where out for training. We were being taught the rules of marching / saluting while holding a rifle (there are of course specific rules on that). We were also been taught how to guard a post. While guarding an outdoors post there is a specific way of holding the gun and accepting a patrol or the officer in charge that come to check on you. No one is allowed to come close to a guarding post without knowing the passwords of the day
The most important of all though, was the training in firing with the guns. Being a guard, even fully equipped, would mean that you’d never have to fire (we haven’t been in war in ages so it’s amazingly rare for an incident to occur that would involve a private firing at someone). So in order for us to learn how to use our rifles, special training days in firing grounds were arranged. We would get up early in the morning, be packed in old military vehicles (Steyr Trucks) and be driven to the training firing grounds far from any habitable area.
There, we would be given good rifles (properly cleaned and maintained, not the ones we kept in our lockers) to use. I remember my first training in firing very well. I was really stressed / excited about it. There were making groups of ten and we were given earplugs as well for the noise. The rifle did make lots of noise and also kicked quite hard. We had magazines of 10 bullets each time (I hope its called magazine – I googled it) and our targets were in 400m on a hill side. Since, it was our first time, it could quite a while to show us how’s it’s done, so we only got to use one magazine. I remember that only one of my bullets hit the target (not a very good score). Of course, when I say hit, I don’t mean the small circle in the center of the target, I mean the target in general (we weren’t keeping points). Of course I wasn’t that troubled about the scores. However, the privates that got 10 out of 10 I remember being given an extra day off…
So, after a couple of days in weaponry training (theoretical and practical), we started properly guarding outside posts. Again the day was divided in two hours swifts. However, some posts were quite remote and it took you up to 45 minutes to go there from the main buildings where we were sleeping. So, there was a patrol led by a corporal that was accompanying all changing guards and distributing them in the different posts. While being there, you had to stand in the special guardian position and look around for suspicious movements. To be frank, what you only had to worry about was the patrol and the officer in charge. There were some officers trying to find ways to surprise you and scare you. Specially, during that period while being in training, guard checks were very frequent and strict.
The two hours of the night swift were the worse. I remember being half sleep waiting for the two longest ever hours to pass (each time), checking my watch every 3 minutes. Fortunately, sometimes, friends of mine were in nearby posts, so we used to text each other about a coming patrol. What I was doing to let time pass was create ‘Top 10’ lists of things. I’d select a subject (not an easy one to complete quickly) and spend some time wondering about it. For example, how many bold politicians do you know? What is the best love story taking place in space in the movies? Who was the best on screen vampire…
So, guarding posts and similar training was what we were doing for the next three weeks before being transferred to a proper military base. In the meantime I was informed that my specialty had to do with driving a truck and keeping the logistics of a military warehouse (loosely translated from “Τεχνικός Αποθηκάριος Γραφέας και Οδηγός Αυτοκινήτου”). I was also to be trained as a sergeant which meant I’d be back to the same military training base to welcome the next group of soldiers in three months time.