Service to their country is a win-win for North Surry High School seniors Kendra and Corey McKeithen. The twins have returned to the Greyhound ranks after completing their National Guard basic training this summer.
“Mark, my big brother went into it (the military),” said Corey McKeithen. “They talked about all of the benefits to it and I figured it would be a great thing to do.”
He said their father, Paul, also served in the United States Army so a family tradition had been established. Corey said he is hoping to get training in the mechanical field.
Both agreed basic training had no resemblance to what they had seen on television and movies. Corey’s training was at a facility in Georgia.
“Fort Benning was horrible,” Corey said. “I got yelled at. You have to get every aspect 100 percent correct. I was not allowed to talk for a month. We trained in the red phase first and moved to the next phase where we were trained with live fire and we got a little more freedom.”
He said the next training phase — the blue phase — was exciting because recruits were basically cleaning and getting the gear ready for the next class which signals graduation was near.
Kendra McKeithen, who trained at Fort Seal in Oklahoma, said she used her sense of humor as a way to cope with the changes of training for a life in the military.
“My brother (Mark) seemed to really like it there and it seemed a good way to spend a little vacation time for new opportunities,” said Kendra McKeithen. “They were so nit picky. You might have thought the way you were doing something was perfect and it wasn’t. Their perspective was what counted.”
The two quickly began sharing stories of how food and weather were different for each of them. Corey, for instance vividly recalls frequent rain and sleeping in a fox hole which was “like sleeping in a bowl of water.” Kendra trained in blistering heat. Both argue the other had more freedom in basic training. They said physical demands were more than they bargained for and often wondered if the conditioning exercises would work.
“They would get my hopes up by marching us back when it got too hot, but they would get us up early the next morning and march us right back,” Kendra said. “I learned how to fall asleep anywhere.”
Both said they were surprised how quickly they became used to their days being completely planned out. They said National Guard training is not different from active duty training and the dangers of being a soldier hadn’t crossed their minds. Once they returned, readjustment to civilian life took a little time and concentration.
“I feel like everybody moves so slow,” said Kendra. “I’m used to a certain pace now. And the terms. I still say latrine and not bathroom. The sleeping schedule is different.”
Corey said another change they noticed in themselves was in taking the initiative. They are now much quicker to act.
“You see something and if it needs to be done, you’re on it,” Corey said. “We also learned not everyone can be a soldier. I had to teach my platoon how to be nice so we could get things done.”
Kendra said military training had taught her patience. She said the phrase “hurry up and wait” really happens there. She explained that recruits have to be 20 minutes early for every activity.
“We had to be waiting on them (instructors) not them on us,” said Kendra. “I never thought I’d wait so long in line to eat. You burn off the calories so quick. I was not used to working out. Some of the running skills they taught really have a point to it. I knocked off three minutes on my two-mile time.”
Corey said the drive and initiative taught to them “makes everything a bit easier to do now.” They said they had learned to not over-think tasks and “just do it and don’t complain because they’re going to make you do it anyway.”
They said basic training had taught them to push through obstacles and they had learned to work with different people from different places, often developing friendships they never thought possible.
They said the shared hardships have made their rapport connect on even more levels than they had experienced as twins and they have a new perspective on life. Both are looking forward to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) which will be the next phase of their training.
At school, Kendra plans on continuing with shot put and discus and volleyball, while Corey is on the Hounds football team on the offensive line. Working as a team was a constant both knew from participation in athletics.
“You develop a lot of maturity with this. It’s like when one messes up, everyone messes up,” said Kendra. “It’s everybody’s mistake, but when they get it together, it’s wonderful. It’s so true they become your second family. You stay in tough with them.”
Corey said an unexpected benefit of basic is learning the ability to see people for who they are.
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-719-1952.