FORT LEONARD WOOD – The holidays are over, which means two things for Pfc. Katelyn Castro and Pvt. Rhys Bullington: it’s time to put on the uniform again, and graduation is right around the corner.
The two trainees returned to Fort Leonard Wood after spending two weeks with family at home. It was the first time they had been reunited with loved ones since arriving Oct. 28.
“I was actually kind of anxious, because I didn’t get to see them for a little bit so I was very excited,” Bullington said.
His mother picked him up from Baker Theater Dec. 20 for the holiday break.
“Since I’ve done this for a little bit - like I said, three years at the academy — she got used to me being gone,” he said. “She was happy to see me still.”
Castro’s family — mother, father, two brothers and her dogs — drove through the night from South Carolina and picked her up at the Main Post Chapel. Together, they then embarked on a six-hour drive to Arkansas.
“As soon as I got in the car with my family, I (said) ‘I just need 15 minutes to listen to my music, guys,’” she said.
But not everything felt familiar, she added.
“It was different to be around my family after being gone for so long,” Castro said. “But it was great.”
Indeed, in only two months of training, Castro and Bullington have changed, they both said.
“My perspective on a lot of situations has changed,” Bullington said. “I was a little bit more straightforward with a lot of conversations. I (had) a little bit more courtesy and manners than how I was before, as a civilian.”
He said he found himself devoting more thought before acting, and that since forming a stronger bond among other service members, he noticed an increased difficulty in connecting with civilian life.
“The camaraderie here has a (different) humor than when you go back home,” he said. “Not a lot of people understand certain military terms.”
For Castro, all the free time at home left her feeling anxious.
“(At training,) everything is set for you, every thought is thought out for you — it’s just routine,” she said.
Despite having personally grown since training began, Castro said she still loves her family’s home-cooked meals — namely, mashed potatoes and tamales.
She has kept a journal during her training, she said, which aided her in answering questions from family members about her challenges and triumphs.
“I wrote it down,” Castro said. “I thought it was so funny telling them the stories, and being able to look back and (think), ‘That’s what I did.’”
She said journaling her experience has helped mentally due to the nonstop training atmosphere.
“It’s great, because even looking back and reading some of the stuff, I forgot about a lot,” Castro said. “You do that (training) and then you’re like, ‘Alright, what do we do tomorrow?’ You don’t think about ‘Oh, we did that,’ especially because it was a while ago — it feels like it was a while ago.”
Her company’s second field-training exercise required the trainees to spend nights in the woods, digging foxholes and sleeping in one-hour intervals on the ground.
“Making it through that night at the FTX II — I think that was probably my night where I was like, ‘Wow, that was rough,’” she said. “Staying awake and being out there in the cold, and just having to sit there in silence. I thought in my head, ‘Next to me, some of these people are going to go on deployments one day.’”
During the final phase of training — called Forge — Castro and Bullington will endure hand-to-hand combat drills, live fire exercises, grenade throws, a 10-mile ruck march and the night infiltration course.
Castro’s journey will face a fork in the road after graduation Jan. 30, as Advanced Individual Training — where trainees learn their specialized trade — will take her to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
Bullington, however, will remain with his fellow combat engineers at Fort Leonard Wood for AIT.
“We’ll stay here, and we’ll just keep pushing,” he said.
(Editor’s note: The GUIDON will produce one more article in this series highlighting Bullington’s and Castro’s graduations from Basic Combat Training.)