An Indian Joins the Infantry

By Kamal Darji

There I was, at the recruiter's office, sitting across Sergeant First Class Dudley; he was going over my options. Despite the increasing number of options he listed, my mind had already been made up. On September 9, 2013, I, a recent college graduate, enlisted into the United States Army as an Infantryman or an 11 Bravo.

I had the itch to join, so to speak, since high school. When I was in high school, there were an influx of Army recruiters and Marine recruiters walking through the hallways. I admired the way in which they carried themselves, and on some deeper level, envied the confidence they projected.

I was raised in an Indian household where education was an extremely integral part of our psyche.

As a result, I attended East Carolina University and graduated with a Bachelor's in Psychology and a minor in English. It was towards the end of my time there that I got in contact with my cousin.

My cousin, Pruthvish, was the only person in my family who was in the military. His stories and, ultimately, the ways in which he had changed piqued my interest.

I wanted that kind of structure and discipline in my life. I was sick and tired of the paradigm set by my fellow Indians; most of them were applying to medical school or something in the healthcare profession.

While both are respected endeavors, I refused to be another carbon copy. I wanted to do something that broke the shackles of redundancy, so to speak. I wanted to challenge my anxiety and do something that would not only break me out of my shell but utterly destroy it.

Even my recruiter made it known that I was a bit of an anomaly. I was an Indian guy and a vegetarian, to boot, interested in a combat job. He said most of the other Indians wound up picking jobs in healthcare or intelligence.

The propaganda of the videos had gotten to me, and I was excited by the prospect of shooting multiple weapon systems and, ultimately, fighting for a country that had given me everything.

I shipped out for Basic Training on September 9, 2013. Basic Training is a bit of a blur, but there are some distinct memories that will forever be etched in my mind. One particular encounter with a Drill Sergeant had him looking me square in the eyes and saying, “So you signed up to kill people but you won't f****** eat animals?

Basic Training was a rude awakening for a guy who had just graduated from college. I was a sheltered kid who had been supported, financially, by his parents.

At first, it had been a blessing, but then I had taken advantage of their hard work. In a way, I felt this next part of my life was a just punishment for my prior actions. I wanted to experience pain and suffering so I could learn to be more grateful. There was a lot of running, a lot of pushups, a lot of sit-ups and just about anything else the Drill Sergeants could conjure up with their colorful imaginations.

When I graduated from Basic, I found out my first duty station would be Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I arrived in El Paso on December 13, 2013. When you first arrive at a duty station, there is a process known as in-processing. Essentially, it is an orientation every new soldier must finish before arriving at his or her unit. Due to everyone being on leave, it took me an entire month to finish in-processing.

I was told my unit would be 4th Battalion 17th Infantry Regiment, or, more conveniently, 4-17. I will never, in my life, forget my first encounter with my squad leader, Staff Sergeant Vargas. On Day 6 of in-processing, I had missed the bus due to negligence. I had been waiting out there for the bus at least half an hour early. However, not seeing anyone, prompted me to go back to my room. Consequently, five minutes later, I get a call from Stewart, another new soldier, telling me I had missed the bus.

I arrived in the COF, or the area in which we worked. Out walked this Puerto Rican man with the build of a linebacker and the death stare to match. He had tattoos on his neck and seemed to be looking for a reason to unleash his fury.

He said, “Darji, you done with in-processing." I attempted to sound unafraid and said, “No, SGT, I missed the bus earlier." At this point, the muscles on his face started rearranging themselves and he was sizing me up like a lion does its prey. I didn't know for sure but, at that moment, it seemed a switch had been flipped.

He calmly asked, “How old are you, Darji?" I said, “24, SGT." That's when it happened. He bellowed, with all his fury being unleashed, “How the f*** does a 24-year-old grown ass man miss the f****** bus?" I did my best impression of a statue at this point and didn't utter another word.

He said, “Get the f*** down and start pushing."

As I was doing pushups, a culmination of thoughts went through my head. I was pondering why I had signed up for this and if it was truly the right decision. I was thinking the future would be scary if this man was part of it.

That was just the beginning of my transition into the Infantry. Due to me having a degree, I had been given the rank of Specialist. Most of the guys had to earn that rank; as a result, I had a giant bullseye on my back.

I was the dreaded species known as the “college specialist." Everyone disliked me at first and felt that I was a condescending college graduate who was attempting to infiltrate their world.

As a result, I was getting “smoked" constantly. The expression of “getting smoked" is when you're told to perform a myriad number of exercises at the discretion of someone who is higher ranked than you.

I was smoked constantly the first few months. It was not always unwarranted; I would mess up frequently as I lacked common sense. I was described as a very book-smart person who had not even an iota of common sense. It was also done as a way of checking where my head was at. They wanted to assess how far they could push me and how I reacted to it.

There were many times I wanted to quit. There were days I just didn't feel like this was worth it, and I told my squad leader that I wanted to go home.

He looked at me, seemingly lost in thought, and said, “Shut your bitchass up Darji before I punch you in the f****** face." I took his word for it and didn't say another word about going home the rest of the day.

I have not always enjoyed my time in the Infantry. I have downright hated it at times. However, with that being said, I feel it was a necessary step in my progression as a man.

I am glad it was my decision, and I saw it through even though some people laughed at me and said I would never make it.

Overall, I believe my three years in the Infantry have made me a stronger person physically, mentally, and emotionally. On some levels, I felt I learned more about life in the Army than I ever did in college. I have had the privilege of getting trained on and shooting a copious number of weapons and learning how to push through to the objective no matter what obstacles are in your path.

More importantly, once I earned their respect, I had the support of some of the most loyal people I have ever met. I always thought of my parents and my sister when I wanted to quit. I couldn't imagine going home and looking them in the eyes and telling them I quit.

It was with the support of my peers that I was able to push through. I met some great leaders who led by example and brought out the best in me.

I was born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey; however, I've called, North Carolina home for the last ten years before leaving for the Army. I was honorably discharged from the United States Army, two months ago, as a Specialist or an E-4.

I was stationed in Fort Bliss three years and four months. Unfortunately, I did not get to go overseas; however, as my family and friends have professed, I was lucky in that aspect. I was able to push myself far outside my comfort zone and master many different weapons' systems. I was able to shoot machine guns, throw live grenades, and push myself physically, mentally, and psychologically.

I plan to pursue a Master's degree; however, for the time being I am conducting my research and considering my options.

It is tough in some regards because I am a black sheep, of sorts, in my family. It is tough to find others in the Indian communities who have served in the Army, let alone, in a combat job. Not too many people, including some of my own family and friends, understand what my role as an Infantryman consisted of.

As my time in the Army comes to a close, I will not the miss the times out in the field freezing or the lack of sleep. However, I will miss the camaraderie I had with some of the guys here. I have a sister I love very much but I do not have a biological brother. After this experience, I can truly say I have brothers whose kinship is something I truly cherish.

Contact Kamal Darji at kdarji5@yahoo.com.