In Training (3)
Unlike the rollercoaster of emotions First Sergeant Choi was experiencing, Kang Jin-Ho was feeling something else entirely.
It was related to the hardship he was experiencing right now, which was to be 'on standby until further notice' after returning to his living quarters.
How long had it been since he received that order? It felt like he had been waiting alone for ages, yet no one came to give him further orders.
Despite being all alone, Kang Jin-Ho remained sitting perfectly still on his bunk.
Since he couldn't understand why he deserved this sort of 'special treatment,’ the current boredom felt especially excruciating.
A voice called out to him from beyond the doorway.
“Recruit No.100, Kang Jin-Ho! Sir!”
You're being summoned.”
“Yes, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho finally broke out of his standby mode at the assistant instructor's summoning and headed straight to the administration office.
He crossed the always-busy training ground and reached the office building.
When he opened the door and stepped inside, though, he was greeted by a barrage of insults fired by the 1st Platoon Commander.
“Hey, you dipsh*t! Have you lost your f*cking mind?!”
Kang Jin-Ho didn't feel the need to reply to that.
Not only did he not have anything to say, but he could also tell that the question was rhetorical.
Besides, it wasn't the 1st Platoon Commander who drew his immediate attention, but the sight of an assistant instructor currently planting his head into the floor.
Didn't this instructor's face seem familiar? Maybe he was the same person overseeing the grenade training back in Kang Jin-Ho's booth?
“Hey, recruit! Are you even listening?!”
“Yes, sir,” Kang Jin-Ho replied with an expressionless face, but his mind was still thinking about something else.
Specifically, the reason for the assistant instructor receiving this punishment.
The 1st Platoon Commander yelled at Kang Jin-Ho, “You dipsh*t! Just one small slip-up, and you would've died, too! Don't you get that?”
“I do, sir.”
“Who told you to be a damned hero?! You're still a lowly recruit! What if you got killed back then?! Do you really think your parents would be overjoyed and say you're a wonderful son or some sh*t like that?! You dumbass! You almost broke your parents' hearts with your recklessness!”
“My apologies, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho lowered his head.
He still hadn't fully figured out what all the fuss was about, but a corner of his mind acknowledged that the 1st Platoon Commander had a point.
He knew he wouldn't have died, but he could still picture his parents raising one hell of a ruckus if he got hurt from the incident.
“You ain't some noble saint or whatever, so why did you risk your life, recruit?! Who cares whether someone dies or not?! You should be worrying about your own life first, kid!” The 1st Platoon Commander continued to tut unhappily.
Kang Jin-Ho thought that a high-ranking soldier like the 1st Platoon Commander shouldn't be saying such things.
However, the concern for a recruit under his command could still be spied within his gruff words, so Kang Jin-Ho chose to keep quiet and just nod away obediently for now.
The 1st Platoon Commander glanced at the assistant instructor.
“Get up, you dipsh*t.”
The assistant instructor lifted his head off the floor and hurriedly got back up on his feet.
Judging from how flushed his face was from all the blood, he must have been maintaining that posture for a while.
The 1st Platoon Commander growled.
“So, what was your mistake, again?”
“Sir! I failed to properly control the recruit under my care!”
“You're supposed to be an assistant instructor, no? Your job is to look after recruits when crap is about to hit the fan! So why the hell were you trying to save your own hide only?! You dipsh*t!”
The assistant instructor looked down at the floor.
“My apologies, sir.”
“You got lucky that it didn't end up as anything serious.
If that recruit had died, you wouldn’t just end up in a prison cell, you dipsh*t! Be grateful that the heavens decided to help you!”
Yes, sir!” The assistant instructor deeply bowed his head.
The 1st Platoon Commander tutted again as if he was still displeased by this situation, then he turned his attention back to Kang Jin-Ho.
“And you! You think you did something bloody heroic, right?”
“Listen here, kid.
In the military, getting discharged with a functioning, healthy body is being a hero.
A real hero is someone who ends his service without any problems, not some idiot who kills a hundred enemies in war.
Get my drift?”
“You try to pull the same sh*t after you get to your assigned base, then I promise you, having nine lives won't be enough to save your ass.
Here's my advice.
Instead of thinking about killing yourself to become a hero, focus more on surviving first! You hear me, you punk?!”
“…Yes, sir,” Kang Jin-Ho flatly replied.
The 1st Platoon Commander frowned and shook his head after finding Kang Jin-Ho's calm demeanor not all that pleasing to behold.
He groaned, then dismissively waved his hand.
“The higher-ups will dispatch investigators later to find out what happened, so give them your testimony when you’re asked.
Until then, you're free.
Go get some rest, recruit.
As for you…”
“Sir!” The assistant instructor stood at attention when the 1st Platoon Commander turned his attention to him.
“Take this recruit to the infirmary and make sure he's not hurt somewhere.
“Our infirmary, sir?”
“I know what you want to say.
That quack doesn't know sh*t to save his own ass, but we still gotta do it by the book for formality's sake, no?”
As you command, sir.” The assistant instructor saluted, then grabbed Kang Jin-Ho's arm to drag him out of the office.
But then, the 1st Platoon Commander quietly raised his voice.
“Sir?” The assistant instructor stopped and looked back.
“Hey, Recruit No.100.”
“Recruit No.100, Kang Jin-Ho, sir!”
Thanks to you, a recruit was saved, and a big bro I care about is unscathed, too.”
Kang Jin-Ho bowed slightly in response to the 1st Platoon Commander's words of gratitude.
The commander wryly shook his head.
“Alright, you're dismissed.”
Kang Jin-Ho and the assistant instructor closed the office door and left.
Once the 1st Platoon Commander was sure that they were gone, he pulled open the drawer of his desk and pulled out a cigarette before mouthing it.
That really freaked me out.”
A serious incident happened under his watch.
Thankfully, no one died when the incident could have ended as a tragedy.
But an incident did happen, and the brass should go batsh*t crazy trying to turn this place upside down.
The 1st Platoon Commander would even see himself lose some promotion score points in the process, too.
However, someone dying during the incident would have made the situation so much worse.
Since there were no casualties while the majority of witnesses were behind cover to see anything clearly…
It might be possible to walk away with recommendations instead for casualty-free handling of the incident.
Of course, it was only possible as long as the parties involved got their stories right.
Sure, instructors hadn't done anything in this situation, but reporting the incident scene-for-scene didn't seem like a good idea.
'A recruit in the next booth jumped in, picked up the grenade, and threw it away in the blink of an eye to save others…'
The 1st Platoon Commander thought about the exact wording of the potential report and began to smirk helplessly.
'Who's gonna believe that?'
This story would definitely make the front pages of newspapers if they believed it to be true.
However, why would anyone do that? And the brass would surely want to sweep this incident under the carpet since no one died.
The 1st Platoon Commander didn't think it was a bad idea to repackage this whole situation into a heartwarming tale of comradeship, but…
The military leadership was doing its best not to expose anything that could potentially bite them in the butt to the media right now.
This wasn't surprising considering the high number of military-related incidents and cases of defense contract-related corruption being exposed left and right these days.
In that case, it might be wiser to leave Kang Jin-Ho out of this incident altogether.
Otherwise, things might get even more complicated.
'Let's not rationalize this.'
The 1st Platoon Commander shook his head again.
Honestly speaking, he just couldn't see himself submitting a report detailing how none of the instructors or the assistants lifted a finger as a mere recruit saved the day.
If it had been an assistant instructor, then the Commander might be tempted to say that his instructors had received excellent training, but…
How could he say out loud that a recruit handled that situation far better than experienced instructors and bear the shame of it?
“Fuu…” The 1st Platoon Commander took a deep puff of his cigarette to soothe his nerves frayed by a bout of self-loathing.
He figured that a trip to the battalion commander's office was in order after this brief smoke break.
You were amazing back there,” said the assistant instructor.
Kang Jin-Ho lightly shook his head.
“It was nothing, sir.”
“You know, I was frozen back there and couldn't do a single thing.
“Sir? Why are you apologizing?”
“It's my job to protect you in situations like that, but I got sh*t-scared and what I did was basically the same as running away by myself.
I'm not supposed to do that, you know? I've got no excuses even if you want to call me names to my face.”
“I won't do that, sir.” Kang Jin-Ho shook his head again, failing to understand why everyone was behaving this way.
All he did was help out a little when things looked a bit dicey.
Was that such a big deal?
Kang Jin-Ho used to defend against a storm of powerful weapons using his bare body back in Zhongyuan.
Compared to the danger he faced back then, this whole grenade incident was child's play—it wasn’t even worth breaking a sweat over.
He had even enveloped the grenade in qi just in case it exploded prematurely.
'Still, it could've been dangerous if the grenade did explode…'
He felt a need to reflect on his actions.
Even a box of grenades wouldn't have posed any threat to Kang Jin-Ho’s previous version.
But his current self still hadn't regained its former magnificence yet.
He had reached the summit in Zhongyuan through decades of harsh training.
Even if he trod the same path as he did back then but at a faster rate, it would still be impossible to get his old strength back in a mere three years.
'Still, some things would've been different had I focused on training myself.'
For instance, he could have reached a realm where a mere grenade wouldn't have threatened him one bit.
'I should take this as an opportunity…'
Since he knew that martial experts existed in this world, maybe it was time to stop being so laid back as he had done until now and cultivate more seriously.
His gut feeling told him that he should be more proactive in regaining his former martial prowess.
In that case, the military might be a good environment to do just that.
Later that evening…
After a brief physical check-up, Kang Jin-Ho was allowed to return to his living quarters.
Since he didn’t have much to do, he sat down outside the barracks and began cleaning his boots.
The military brass telling the recruits to maintain the shininess of their black boots after a day of running around in dirt was the very definition of nonsense, but that was what it was like in the military.
If the brass told you to jump, you simply had to ask “how high?” Besides, Kang Jin-Ho wasn't really dissatisfied with such a system, either.
Brush, brush, brush…
After using a brush to rid the boots of all the dirt, he applied the shoe polish and diligently wiped the exterior of his boots.
While cleaning his boots, he noticed that the other recruits carrying their boots were rushing over and started to crowd around him.
They also began cleaning their boots, however, cleaning didn’t seem to be the only thing on their agenda.
One of the recruits cautiously called out to him.
“Hey, Kang Jin-Ho.”
“It was you earlier today, right? The dude who picked up the grenade in the other booth and chucked it away.”
You really are crazy.
How did you even think about doing that?”
Another recruit butted in.
“What do you mean, he's crazy? You dumbass, he was really awesome back there!”
“I'll be honest, I could never do what you did, Kang Jin-Ho.
I mean, you're seriously amazing.
I figured you only have an S-class physique, but that's not true now, is it? How did you even think about charging straight at that grenade? I'm telling you, you're amazing.
Most recruits were shaking their heads as if they couldn't even imagine themselves imitating Kang Jin-Ho's actions today.
Even while doing that, they had similar thoughts in their minds.
'Yup, he must be really crazy.'
Obviously, they all knew that running toward a primed grenade was suicidal madness.
Even so, they still thought Kang Jin-Ho was one hell of a brave dude.
“I'm going back inside first.” Kang Jin-Ho finished polishing his boots, then headed back inside without saying anything else.
He's not shaken up at all?”
“Then again, think about how he usually is.
He's always composed, isn't he? He's just incredible, I guess?”
“I better not mess with him anymore.”
Kang Jin-Ho groaned under his breath while listening to the hushed whispers of his fellow recruits coming from behind him.
'Looks like it's too late to not stand out now.'
Fortunately, it would be impossible to stand out even more in this boot camp.
After the evening roll call ended, Kang Jin-Ho laid down on his bunk and pulled the blanket around him.
Once he got comfy, he slowly closed his eyes.
Three hours of sleep was all he needed, but what could he even do by staying awake at night? Everyone was asleep, anyway.
So he might as well sleep like everyone else.
While he was trying to sleep, a quiet voice came to him from his side.
“Hey, Kang Jin-Ho.”
Kang Jin-Ho opened his eyes again and glanced to his side.
Recruit No.99, Ju Yeong-Gi, was quietly staring at him from his own bunk.
Kang Jin-Ho cocked an eyebrow.
“What is it?”
Ju Yeong-Gi seemed like he had something on his mind, but he stopped himself from saying it out loud.
Kang Jin-Ho didn't urge the hesitating recruit, though, he simply chose to wait while staring back in silence.
Ju Yeong-Gi tried several times to speak only to falter.
Eventually, though, he managed to whisper a few words in a tiny voice, “Thank you for today.”
“You saved me back there.
Thank you,” Ju Yeong-Gi mumbled those words out.
That was all he said to his life's savior before quickly turning to face the other side of his bed.
He then wordlessly pulled up the blanket around him.
Kang Jin-Ho stared at Ju Yeong-Gi's back, then he silently chuckled to himself.
For some reason, he seemed to find people who weren't exactly normal more entertaining.
As proof, the sight of Ju Yeong-Gi curling up in embarrassment greatly amused him.
Besides, wasn't it the same with Park Yu-Min, too?
'I wonder, is Yu-Min doing well?'
Kang Jin-Ho suddenly began to think about Park Yu-Min.
That kid should be living his life commendably well, but it was still difficult to stop worrying about him.
What if something happened to him without Kang Jin-Ho taking care of it?
'I'm sure he'll be fine…'
Park Yu-Min was a resilient kid.
Plus, he had also experienced many trying events even after becoming friends with Kang Jin-Ho.
Those experiences should be more than enough to help him live his own life now.
Kang Jin-Ho recalled the faces of his family and friends while slowly closing his eyes.
And just like that, yet another long day in the boot camp drew to a close.
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