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'Perspective Is Everything': How To Get Through Basic Training

A photo of Sontina and Reggie Barnes
Sontina Barnes

When Sontina Barnes joined the Army in 1993, she was looking for something new.

“I was a junior at N.C. State and I was burned out,” she recalled.

At the time, she was working three jobs on top of school.

“I don’t know why, but I just saw the military as a break. I thought, ‘I can travel, I can go do all these different things I’ve never done before.’”

When she told her parents she’d enlisted, her mother was dismayed. She couldn’t imagine why her daughter might want to leave college. But her father, who had also served in the military, was thrilled

“My dad really wanted my brother to go into the military, and I was like, ‘Forget him, I’ll go!’” she said.  “I guess because I was a girl, my dad never told me about his military experience. I knew nothing. Nobody told me anything about what to expect.”

The first few days settling in and meeting new people were delightful, she said. But once she was on a bus headed to her first duty station, reality set in. Drill sergeants, in particular, proved an unpleasant surprise. She began to regret her decision to enlist.

“I broke my foot in basic training, and I had gotten almost to the end, so I hid it, because I had heard that if they find out you’re hurt they will recycle you and you got to do it all over,” she said.

Barnes didn’t think she could repeat the experience.  

Shortly before she was supposed to transfer to her next duty station, she had a conversation that fundamentally changed her point of view. She was on break during a road march, miserable, in the midst of four days with no shower, just plenty of ticks, mosquitoes and dirt. A fellow soldier Barnes admired leaned over and told her: “You just have to change your perspective.”  

"She imitated every single drill sergeant we had, so every time they would talk to us, we couldn’t help but laugh," said Barnes. "That was the turning point for me.”  

Barnes completed basic training and trained at Fort Sam Houston as an operating room technician before returning to college to complete her undergraduate education while serving in the Army Reserve.

"That one person talking to me about changing my whole mindset, changed the whole rest of my time," said Barnes. "I had a blast from that point forward. It was like we had found a secret way to have a party."

This conversation was produced by North Carolina Public Radio/WUNC – as part of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative, and made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

Elizabeth Friend grew up in North Carolina listening to public radio in the backseat of the family station wagon. She has been reporting and producing at WUNC since 2016, covering everything from Army history to armadillos. She's also the co-founder of the beloved summer event series Audio Under The Stars. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the outside world with her family, dabbling in esoteric crafts, and cheese.
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