The first couple of days in the military training base were tough because everything was new and I didn’t have a clue of what was going on or was expected of me. I remember being yelled at a lot. Because they were trying to make everyone more compliant and disciplined, all officers were ordered to be meaner and stricter about everything.
The first couple of days, I was feeling totally lost. The sergeant in training that was allocated to my platoon, called ‘Fanis’, wasn’t the best we could have. He was supposed to familiarize us with the procedures and how to do things, but he was amazingly indifferent, not knowing them himself. In the army there is a procedure for everything. You have to know how to behave. From saluting your higher officers to make your bed or wear your uniform, it’s been all written down and done in a very certain way.
Also, everything is being called differently in the army. Codes and regulations are written in more formal, older Greek with words not being used any more. These and all the procedures were what they were trying to teach us the first weeks of our training. I still have a small notepad I used to keep with all names of different ranks, guns, objects etc…
In general, I used to wake up around 6ish. The morning inspection was right before the morning gathering of the regiments that took place at 7:30 (since it was in winter time). For the inspection I had to look good (boots, uniforms, shaved etc) and have the perfectly made bed. Everything in the room had to look good and tidy. The captain of the regiment was passing in front of everybody (we were waiting in attention in front of our bed). If he would stop in front of your bed, you had to take a step forward, present yourself in the proper way and wait. In most cases if he stopped in front of your bed, it would not end well. Since we weren’t formally soldiers yet (before the oath) the punishments imposed involved mainly cleaning (toilets, shower rooms, kitchen, helping at garbage gathering etc) or helping prepare dinner in the kitchens. I’ve cleaned the toilets and also followed the garbage truck and helped with the garbage bins more than once. (We used to call the garbage truck the ‘Love Boat’).
During the morning gathering of the regiments, we were mostly being told about the day’s errands. What was also included (that I totally dreaded) was the fact that the people being punished for any reason would leave their line and gather elsewhere, in front of the officers, separated from the rest of the group. They had to formally present themselves and state the reason for being there in front of everybody that stood in total silence, listening to you (hundreds of people). If the reason was grave and the punishment imposed was not the proper one, the captain in charge on that day could change it (only for the worse). Just being there in that line was a reason enough to be extra careful and try to do everything as expected.
After the morning gathering, each regiment had to leave these grounds to perform their mentioned tasks. In most cases, what we did was train in proper marching, saluting, rehearsing for the ‘graduation’ ceremony and exercising. You’d expect that exercising to make us fitter would be the first in their priorities, but you’d be wrong. Recently, (the last decade I think) a new regulation was imposed that no private would do / perform an exercise without having someone of a higher rank doing it as well with him. That rule was made to protect soldiers from being ordered to do crazy stuff (doing a hundred laps around the base in the rain, etc.) from the type of officers who want to punish people physically. However, there weren’t many officers that motivated to take a bunch of soldiers of very different fit backgrounds and spend all this time training them. Since the regiment had to follow the pace of the slower / less capable member, it wasn’t really that easy to keep us going.
Around 13:00 to 13:30 we’d stop to eat, rest a bit, do another regiments gathering and some more training until later in the evening when we’d stop for dinner. Lights were automatically turned off I think around 22:00 or 22:30 in summer. That was our schedule for the first three weeks before the ceremony that would mean the first time we could take some days off and head home for a couple of days and relax. I don’t know how many hours I spent standing in attention, motionless, to train for that day and rehearse yelling the words that we would say to take the oath that day.
After a couple of days I was getting the hand of the schedule and feeling more relaxed and confident. I started making some really good friends and I learnt who to avoid (troublemakers that wanted to drag you along in whatever they were doing) or the strict officers that really took joy in yelling at people. I also had the opportunity to socialize and meet people from very different background than mine that proved quite an educative experience. You get a very good perspective and knowledge of yourself when meeting people living so differently than you…
I also learnt the most valuable lesson ever, which was never to attract attention. If for any reason, you were spotted, it wasn’t for good. The best policy was to keep a low profile to avoid being ordered around to do stuff. Even if you were overweight, wearing glasses or had a distinctive surname, you’d be the first to be called for duties preferably avoided: ‘Hey you fatso / with the glasses / ‘Papadopoule’ (very common Greek surname) come here for a while that I need you…’
The day that the ceremony took place was a very happy day. We rehearsed for it so many times, that it was a pleasure knowing that we wouldn’t have to do it again. It was supposed to last for a couple of hours where we marched up and down in perfect unison inside the military base and also took the oath of always being obedient and willing to die for our country in case of need, in front of political, religious and military officials. All went well and my very-proud-that-I-became-a-man (sad I know, but so true) parents were waiting for me to drive me home where I’d stay for 3 nights away from this madness!
When I’d get back, I would be trained in guarding a post (most common duty of a private) and other very serious stuff including weaponry…