In Training (7)
“Only a little bit further, recruits!”
While listening to the shouts of encouragement from the instructors, Kang Jin-Ho continued to trudge forward, the heaviness of the military gear weighing down on his shoulders.
The shouts were coming from seemingly every direction.
The assistant instructors were trying to egg on those recruits falling behind during the march, but their voices sounded more like noises at this point.
If this had been a different training exercise, the instructors would've been preoccupied with chewing the lagging recruits out, but today? They were all making pitying faces while pushing the recruits from behind.
“…Huh-uhk!” Ju Yeong-Gi walking in front of Kang Jin-Ho suddenly began wobbling.
Kang Jin-Ho reached out and supported Ju Yeong-Gi's backpack filled with heavy military gear.
The momentary reduction of the gear's combined weight crushing down on Ju Yeong-Gi's back helped him regain his balance.
Kang Jin-Ho spoke to the recruit in front, “Keep going.”
“Yeah…” Ju Yeong-Gi replied, his voice faltering.
As the sweat streamed down his face, he took another pained step forward.
He was born with large bones and a good deal of muscles, which only made a long-distance march like this an absolute torture session.
If only the military gear in his backpack weighed less! He wouldn't have been troubled this much.
An assistant instructor walked up to Ju Yeong-Gi.
“Recruit No.99, Ju Yeong-Gi, sir!”
“How are you feeling, recruit? You okay?”
“Sir, I can do this!”
“It's fine to give up if it's too difficult, recruit! Don't push yourself unreasonably!”
“No, sir! I'm okay! I can do this, sir!”
The assistant instructor tutted softly while scanning Ju Yeong-Gi's sweat-soaked figure from top to bottom.
Kang Jin-Ho supporting this recruit's backpack from behind was obviously a breach of regulations, but the assistant instructor couldn't bring himself to intervene.
Are the higher-ups trying to kill these recruits?'
The assistant instructor groaned while taking in the sights of the heavy military backpacks visibly sinking deep into the recruits' backs.
There were two types of boot camp marches: a shorter 10km course or the longer 40km one, with recruits performing them in combat gear.
The 40km march was the last training exercise in the boot camp training regime and was considered the 'crowning jewel' of the boot camp.
This hellish 'training' consisted of the recruits in full combat attire and carrying military gear marching for twelve hours straight.
If you were a South Korean male, you were bound to experience this hell at least once in your life.
However, there was a hidden secret to this training.
Marching 40km in full combat gear was next to impossible for recruits and their weak stamina.
Understandably, instructors found themselves in a dilemma since their job was to oversee this impossible training.
Eventually, they thought up two ways to overcome this tricky situation.
One was to sneakily reduce the length of the course.
Alternatively, they could swap out the heavy military gear with fakes that weighed only a little.
Reservists straight out of the Recruit Training Center would often boast about marching 40km in full combat gear, but they were sadly mistaken.
Recruits could never be in 'full' combat gear, to begin with.
Heavy, expensive items like impermeable protective clothing and detox kits that were a part of the military gear wouldn’t be provided to the recruits, for instance.
However, even after items deemed unnecessary had been taken out of their backpacks and replaced by sundry stuff provided at the beginning of the boot camp, these recruits were still physically unable to handle the weight of their combined gear.
That was why the onus was on the instructors to reduce the weight even further and ensure that the recruits could somehow complete the 40km march—that was the secret behind the boot camp's 40km march.
This batch of recruits should have also benefited from this tradition, but a problem reared its ugly head before the march.
The brass suddenly ordered everything to be done according to the field manual since this batch seemed to be too prone to accidents.
The Battalion Commander did his best to oppose this unreasonable order, but the higher-ups were adamant about it.
As a result, the backpacks slung over the recruits' shoulders right now were stuffed full of gear that even the active-duty soldiers would have found too heavy to lug around.
“Medic! Over here!”
The sight of sweaty, heavy-breathing medics rushing here and there attested to how terrible of an idea this march was.
Over twenty recruits had to be taken away by ambulance already.
'I guess that story was real, then.'
The assistant instructor groaned inwardly.
He recalled a legendary tale of a newbie Battalion Commander forcing his active-duty soldiers to march according to the field manual, meaning everyone was outfitted with full combat gear and ammo.
Apparently, over one-third of the base's personnel had to drop out in the end.
The assistant instructor could now tell that the legend wasn't just a pack of lies.
Even the active-duty soldiers would find the 40km march in full combat gear difficult to pull off.
These kids weren't even soldiers but recruits with only around a month of basic training under their belt.
Even if the recruits weren't in full combat gear, the difficulty of this particular 'mission' should still feel about the same for them.
'Does that mean around one-third will drop out for real?'
The march had only reached the halfway mark, yet already twenty recruits had to be carried away in ambulances.
So about one-third of them dropping out seemed like a real possibility at this point.
“Ten minutes break!”
The marching formation stuttered to a halt, and the recruits began plopping down on their butts.
It was as if they were collapsing from exhaustion.
“Go to the side of the road! Do not sit down yet!” Instructors and their assistants loudly yelled at the recruits, prompting the latter group to figuratively crawl on all fours to get to the edges of the road.
The yelling continued.
“Don't lie down! Or you won't get up! Sit up! I said, sit up!”
In any other circumstances, instructors and assistants were grim reapers of the boot camp.
Their orders were absolute to the recruits.
However, their words were currently falling on deaf ears at the moment.
“Urgh. Bloody hell…” Ju Yeong-Gi looked up, thanking the heavens for the dark night sky.
The sky might have looked yellow to him if this had been daytime.
He pulled out his canteen and pressed it against his lips but found the damned thing totally empty.
He was dying of thirst here, yet there was nothing left for him to drink.
“Here, drink this.” Kang Jin-Ho behind him pushed forward a canteen.
“Thank you…” Ju Yeong-Gi sheepishly accepted it and immediately noticed how heavy it felt.
Unscrewing the cap revealed the water's surface sloshing near the neck of the canteen.
Ju Yeong-Gi could barely hide his surprise at the amount of water that clearly hadn't decreased by a single drop.
“What? You haven't drank anything?”
“Aren't you thirsty? Like, at all?!”
Kang Jin-Ho shook his head.
“No, I'm fine.”
Ju Yeong-Gi could only chuckle hollowly at that.
This guy shouldn't be wasting time in a boot camp.
No, he should be scouted right now by the HID or the Headquarters of Intelligence Department and sent to the training base on Seorak Mountain to become an anti-North operative or something.
In fact, a couple of months of espionage training should be enough for Kang Jin-Ho to assassinate Kim Jung-Eun and come back home in one piece!
Ju Yeong-Gi took a swig from the canteen, then asked while wiping his mouth, “Aren't you tired or something, Jin-Ho?”
How many times have you already been through the boot camp?”
“This is my first time.”
“Crazy son of a gun…” Ju Yeong-Gi returned the canteen to Kang Jin-Ho before laying on the ground.
“I'm telling you, this is insanity.”
How were mere human beings supposed to carry such heavy backpacks and walk 40 kilometers? Just carrying a sack of rice on your shoulder from the shop to your house would almost break your back in half, after all.
That sack would only weigh about 29kg, too.
“Recruit No.99! Get up, now!”
“Yes, sir…” Ju Yeong-Gi grumbled unhappily before he sat upright.
What the f*ck, man.”
Once the assistant instructor was out of earshot, Ju Yeong-Gi spat out a lengthy groan.
Some random brats that would be too scared to look him in the eyes outside were busy ordering him around disrespectfully.
However, that was what the military was like, and Ju Yeong-Gi had no choice but to go along with it.
He finally figured out why so many folks he knew were willing to cause ACL injuries to themselves or drop a brick on their shoulders just to get out of this place.
I don't think I can continue.
Imma just drop out and get evacuated or something,” said Ju Yeong-Gi with a groan.
“Sure, why not,” Kang Jin-Ho replied flatly.
Ju Yeong-Gi yelled back at him, “Hey, you dumbass! When someone says they can't continue, you are supposed to reply with—you can do it! Or, let's do it together! Stuff like that! Isn't that how it's supposed to be?!”
Kang Jin-Ho tilted his head.
“Have you ever interacted with people before coming here, Jin-Ho?” Ju Yeong-Gi directed a weird gaze at Kang Jin-Ho.
How could anyone be so clueless about interacting with other people? Unless they had been living alone on a deserted island, maybe?
Kang Jin-Ho flatly replied once again, “Forcing yourself to carry on will not be of any use in this situation, though?”
“Eh?” Ju Yeong-Gi let out a confused gasp.
“Not doing it when you're not feeling it is also a correct way.”
Before Ju Yeong-Go could say anything, loud yells came from various instructors.
“That's the end of the break! Everyone, get up!”
“Get up, everyone! Be careful not to fall over!”
Ju Yeong-Gi scowled deeply while pushing his body up.
“Jesus, I might really die at this rate.”
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow as he also stood up.
“I thought you were giving up?”
“No! I have my pride as a man, you know!”
Kang Jin-Ho chuckled softly at that reply.
At first, this Ju Yeong-Gi fellow came across as rather unlikeable, but his antics had become more entertaining as time passed.
This seemed like a similar case to what happened with Park Yu-Min.
The poor first impression could very well be the indicator of whether Kang Jin-Ho would become friends with that person or not.
Ju Yeong-Gi watched as the front row of the formation set off once again amidst his clenched teeth.
All of a sudden, he sensed his backpack being lifted up ever so slightly so that it would stop crushing his back.
Ju Yeong-Gi wanted to shout at Kang Jin-Ho and stop him from doing that.
However, he was fully aware that without this assistance, he would never finish this march.
“Urgh… That's gonna damage my pride, man.”
He would rather prefer doing a hundred bench presses than this.
Walking and sometimes jogging with heavy gear on his back just didn't suit his physique.
And that was why perhaps Kang Jin-Ho was sneakily assisting him from behind.
Ju Yeong-Gi tried to remember why he had such ill feelings toward Kang Jin-Ho in the initial stages of the boot camp.
Kang Jin-Ho hadn't harmed or inconvenienced anyone, yet he still got on people's nerves somehow.
“Recruit No.99! Get going!”
“Yes, sir!” Ju Yeong-Gi followed the recruits in front of him and began walking.
The blisters on his heels fired signals of stabbing pain into his brain every time he took a step forward, but he gritted his teeth and fearlessly stomped his feet down.
“A man has his pride, I tell ya!”
Kang Jin-Ho watched Ju Yeong-Gi stomp forward oh-so-bravely and faintly smiled.
The end of this march would also herald the end of the boot camp.
Everyone here would be shipped off to their assigned bases.
Which meant they had only just finished the tutorial.
However, why did Kang Jin-Ho feel this unexplainable sense of fulfillment already?
He silently raised his head and stared at the night sky.
But he could only frown at the sight of sparkling stars illuminating the darkness as if they were about to descend to Earth.
'I still don't like it.'
The one thing he disliked the most so far during his time in the military was those stars.
They reminded him of Zhongyuan.
No matter who, most people would've been moved by the beautiful ocean of stars above, but not Kang Jin-Ho.
He hated this spectacle as it only made him remember things he would rather forget.
Kang Jin-Ho lowered his gaze and stared at the military backpack on Ju Yeong-Gi's back.
Simply walking forward while concentrating on nothing else worked wonders in calming his mind.
The traffic light sticks wielded by the assistant instructors and the headlights from the distant lead vehicles ahead of the formation were the only sources of light banishing the darkness away.
'What is the point of this exercise, though?'
Kang Jin-Ho wondered while walking forward.
If the goal was to boost the stamina of these recruits, other exercises such as a consistent, steady jogging regimen or workout should be more efficient than this.
If this was done to prepare the recruits for a real war, then well…
A lukewarm march like this would never help in such a situation.
What an outdated way of training…
'It’s quite similar to the demon cult in that regard, then.'
Kang Jin-Ho had commanded tens of thousands of people before, so he knew that the best way to train an army was to employ modern techniques without holding back on the budget.
However, an organization that couldn't do that would inevitably focus on innate talents and the will of its combatants.
The leaders of such organizations would brainwash their followers with teachings like 'Our level of martial prowess may fall behind the others, but we shall overcome them through sheer effort and extreme training' until everyone believed it blindly.
Unfortunately, such brainwashing would only result in a tragic end.
It almost felt like the unfortunate outdated convention seen in Zhongyuan was still continuing to this day.
'Even though the world has advanced so much…'
Did this mean humanity was incapable of changing? Kang Jin-Ho suddenly felt displeased by the heaviness of the backpack he was supporting.
“Only a little further, recruits!”
“We're almost there!”
Just how long had they been walking for? After that water break, several dozen more recruits collapsed and had to be sent away in ambulances.
Some of those recruits were just putting on an act, while others were genuinely too exhausted to continue.
Whatever the case might be, it was clear by this point that this so-called training couldn't be completed with average levels of stamina.
Most likely, none of the recruits would have finished this march had it not been for the presence of their comrades walking alongside them.
'This concept of walking together…
Kang Jin-Ho found it rather mystifying.
It wasn't as if someone was walking for you or they were carrying your stuff.
Yet, the mere presence of others walking beside you compelled you to silently cover the distance that should have been normally unthinkable to complete by yourself.
Maybe living life was like this, too? Even if they didn't necessarily help each other out, humans must have continued to live on thanks to the presence of others walking alongside them.
Eventually, the lights of the distant boot camp entered their eyes.
“F*cking hell, we're almost done…” Ju Yeong-Gi muttered emotionally.
Kang Jin-Ho faintly grinned and looked up at the sky once again.
For some reason, the stars filling up the night sky didn't displease him that much now.
Maybe this march wasn't such a bad thing, after all.'
The seemingly-endless basic training in the boot camp was drawing to a close.
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