Heads turn and eyes widen when they see Staff Sgt. James Secriskey toughing it out alongside the fresh-faced youngsters in Combat Basic Training. This Army veteran may carry the same rank as most drill sergeants, but he’s starting all over at 52 years of age.
In service from 1995 to 2008, he accumulated 11 years’ experience in the active Army and one year in the reserves. After a 12-year foray into the civilian work-world, he decided to rejoin the Army Reserve and is going through Army boot camp for the second time.
Secriskey went through basic training the first time at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. His military occupational specialty was broadcast journalist/public affairs. As a soldier he saw service at Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Campbell, Ky., and in Korea.
He didn’t do anything in the public affairs field while in civilian life. The longest position he held was as groundskeeper for the Catholic Church’s Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Blair County, Pa., taking care of five or six of its buildings. Nearby Lilly, Pa., is where he’s from originally.
His reason for wanting to serve the first time was that he had just gotten out of college and was mostly looking for some experience.
What made him decide to come back in?
“I wanted to continue to serve my country, plus I wanted to try to get to my 20-year mark, and I kind of miss being in the Army. So I just wanted to come back and try to pick up where I left off,” said Secriskey, a bachelor unfettered by either wife or kids.
When asked if he’s still got what it takes to go through boot camp again, he replies, “So far I’m doing OK. I’ve gotten some blisters, but otherwise, things are going well. I used to go to the gym when I was a civilian, before I rejoined. And I had to go through an over-40 physical when I went to MEPS (the Military Entrance Processing Station in Pittsburgh) and passed all the physicals at MEPS in the height and weight. So I figured I was in good enough shape.”
Secriskey arrived at Fort Sill on Sept. 1. Under the “2+8” model of basic training devised to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he spent the first couple weeks in quarantine conditions with his platoon, getting the classroom training out of the way first and doing PT in the open bay of his barracks. Once past the 14-day mark, his platoon was cleared to report to the 95th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion for in-processing and immunizations.
On Friday he was out on a weapons range with the rest of the trainees from Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery, practicing his marksmanship.
“I guess I’m enjoying it as much as you can enjoy basic training. I like getting reacquainted with the things I’m already used to – the weapons training. The physical training has changed a lot since I’ve been in. We have a lot of new and different exercises to learn,” he finds.
The Army Combat Fitness Test is also a change from the Army Physical Fitness Test that was in use before.
“There are six events now. There used to be just three. So that’s been a bit of a challenge, to learn the different ones, to try to pass that,” Secriskey said.
He’s already been through the gas chamber, where recruits get a dose of what’s called CX in the military, or tear gas to civilians.
“It seemed a little more intense the first time I did it. I didn’t have much of a reaction this time,” he said.
He’s also seeing things from a different perspective than before.
“Because I’m the same rank as most of the drill sergeants, I’m looking at it more as an NCO and watching what they’re doing, instead of just learning everything as I did the first time as a trainee,” he said.
The younger trainees ask him a lot of questions about the Army, about life in general.
“I guess they think it’s pretty cool. I’m getting along with all the guys,” he said.
Secriskey has just completed week five of phase two, the equivalent of week seven in pre-COVID conditions, and expects to graduate sometime around Nov. 9, if everything goes according to schedule.
Along with other members of the battery, he was sized and fitted Wednesday for the various parts of the new Army Green Service Uniform.
“The first time I came in I had the Army greens, and I got out right when they were starting to issue the blues, so I never had those. As far as the new ones, I like the look of them. I like the nostalgic feel of the 1940s. I would say that they’re pretty sharp-looking uniforms,” Secriskey said.
The trainees only tried on a piece at a time, so he can’t say what it’s like to have on the entire uniform to see how it looked.
“They seem very comfortable. They seem a little heavier than the green (dress uniform),” he said.
After graduation, he hopes to go back into broadcast journalism as a public affairs specialist for the Army Reserve. The unit he’s in only had a spot for a truck driver, but he thinks that once he’s in the unit the commander will reassign him to another position doing public affairs for the unit based in Johnstown, Pa.