Archive for Thursday, August 23, 2001

Two Eudora High students discover summer break can be like boot camp and was

August 23, 2001

When high school students began school earlier this week, they probably shared stories detailing how they spent their summer vacation: sacking groceries or flipping burgers, taking road trips, going to parties and the usual teenage faire.

But two Eudora High seniors experienced a summer most likely quite unlike their peers.

Melanie and Melissa Claggett spent their summer climbing towers, navigating obstacle courses and learning firsthand why soldiers need gas masks.

The sisters graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C., before they have graduated from high school, as they will in May 2002.

"It was easier than we thought," Melanie said.

Their father's involvement in the Army Reserves piqued their interest in joining at age 17, which requires parental permission.

"We basically grew up with it in our heads," Melissa said.

The two agreed the mental training was more difficult than the physical exertion. Although they lifted weights at Sunflower Fitness before leaving, they said they didn't spend hours training.

"That probably would have helped, but we didn't," Melanie said, chuckling.

Going from their family home in Eudora to a military bunk meant getting accustomed to a new environment.

"We slept in a room with 60 other females," Melissa said. "There was a lot of yelling and screaming."

Everyone seemed to be on edge from the stressful day, they said. The Claggett's journey began on a flight from Kansas City with other area recruits headed for Fort Jackson. By the time they got to South Carolina in the wee hours of the morning, the twin sisters joined their separate companies.

"The fact that they split Melanie and I up was pretty tough, too," Melissa said.

Being at the end of the line and facing a long wait to receive their uniforms didn't help their nerves, either.

But once training was in full swing, the Claggetts kept busy with activities, some of which proved more fun than did others.

Melissa fancied the victory tower, a large contraption with ropes and cargo nets for climbing. Melanie was fonder of the obstacle courses, which required her to crawl though tunnels and scale walls.

A lesson in the necessity of gas masks proved a least-favorite activity.

"They take you in the gas chamber," Melissa said. "You take your mask off and say your name and social security number. Of course I forgot my social security number, so I just said a bunch of numbers."

In between scaling walls and climbing towers, the experience allowed them to form bonds with other people.

"You meet some really great friends you keep in touch with," Melissa said.

The effects of the gas wore off, and so have some of the routines of basic training.

"I wrote my dad and told him when I came home that I wasn't going to make my bed," Melanie said.

Coming from 4 a.m. wake-up calls, rising in early morning is a hard habit to break.

"I haven't really gotten the hang of sleeping in yet," Melissa said.

Melanie said, "Of course, to us getting up at 6 is sleeping in."

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