Eighteen-year-old Galen Payne said he wanted “to be part of something big.”
As of a few weeks ago, that something big became the U.S. Army. “All my friends were like, ‘I knew it,’” said Payne, of Germantown.
Though he said he is motivated and armed with the support of his family, he faces some pre-boot-camp jitters. “I’m very nervous right now,” said Payne, who will leave for basic training on April 2.
For Montgomery County recruits and others around the country like Payne who are just beginning their Army experience — and still have weeks or months left before they leave for basic training — the Army offers a class to help them prepare for and learn more about what is ahead.
The U.S. Army Recruiting Station in Silver Spring is one host of the year-round Future Soldier Training Program, which the station recently switched from once a week to once every other week until attendance picks up in spring or summer.
At a recent Wednesday class, eight recruits ranging in age from 18 to 32 warmed up with sit-ups and push-ups before heading out into the chilly afternoon for a roughly two-mile run in the downtown area.
The optional class — which incorporates a range of topics from fitness to Army knowledge — is encouraged for recruits going through a situation that can make them “nervous and apprehensive,” program leader Sgt. Victor Diaz said.
“My job is to encourage, to mentor, to coach,” said Diaz, who joined the Silver Spring program about a month ago to take on a multifaceted role.
Diaz said he works with recruits on their fitness, talks about their goals, teaches them resilience training (pushing through when they feel like quitting) and reviews basic knowledge such as rank structure, drills and land navigation that the recruits also can learn about in various optional online classes.
The class also gives recruits an opportunity to meet face to face, he said.
“When they come together, they can meet each other, get to know each other,” Diaz said.
Payne, a Wednesday class participant, said he hopes to work on his mental preparedness and reach a point where he has “no doubts” he will make it through basic training.
He had only met his fellow recruits three times so far, but they already were helping him toward his goal.
“They definitely push me to do my very best,” Payne said.
Shmuel Silverman, 23, of Silver Spring, said that at points in his life, he has wanted to be a police officer or a lawyer, “but the military was always in the background.”
Silverman — whose grandfather served in World War II and dad trained in ROTC — said he considered joining the Israel Defense Forces, but eventually decided on the U.S. Army.
The class, Silverman said, is a part of getting accustomed to Army life — a serious task but one in which group members encourage each other.
“All you can do is prepare to the fullest,” Silverman said.
As someone who has never been into sports much but has always wanted to “serve the people,” Samuel Ndungu, 32, said he is attending the class to help him improve his physical fitness before he heads to Fort Sill in Oklahoma on March 19.
Ndungu’s preparation also will include his mental approach to the Army. “It’s all about knowing that nothing comes by itself,” he said.
With training in respiratory therapy, Ndungu said, his plan is to be a health-care specialist in the infantry.
“Every month, there’s a story” of a recruit who has lost weight, gained muscle or improved discipline, said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Guzman, the recruiting station’s commander.
Guzman said he hopes that, in the two to three months they take the class, recruits gain “one thing, two things out of it to make their day a little bit easier in basic training.”
Spc. David Parks — who once lived in Silver Spring and now is in an infantry unit at Fort Riley, Kan. — said he enlisted in March 2012 and took the station’s class for about four months. “It was nice to have some peers going through the same thing with you at the same time,” he said.
For Parks, a large part of the class was improving his fitness — including long runs and upper- and lower-body exercises — efforts he said he complemented on his own as well.
Basic training was stressful regardless of the preparation, he said, but it helped to know he was getting in better shape.
Parks said that when he arrived at boot camp, he saw others struggle and wonder if they would make it through the training. “You definitely feel more squared away than the other people,” he said.
For 18-year-old Angeleeca Staton, the class’ benefits include “a family bond.” “They treat me like I’m the little sister,” she said.
Staton recalled the first time she participated in PT, or physical training. She passed out.
It was the first time she had met any of “the fellers,” but a couple stayed with her to help her out. “That’s love,” she said.
Staton said military service runs in her family and that she hopes to take advantage of the Army’s education benefits to study nursing. The class, she said, has helped her gain “a glimpse of what’s to come.”
“I’m totally ready to get out of here and start this thing,” Staton said.