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Coast in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood

Army Sergeant Sandra Coast graduated from Basic Combat Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., last Friday at age 51. “Everybody in the world thinks I am a total nutcase,” she tells the post’s public-affairs officer. “I just want to support our troops. I love all of them.” The average age for an Army Reserve recruit is 23, making Coast 222% older than the average green reserve grunt.

Coast told Fort Leonard Wood’s Melissa K. Buckley that hand-to-hand combat training proved to be a challenge. “We had to slap each other in the face,” she said. “The poor guy that was up against me said, ‘I cannot do this. I cannot slap her.’ I told him I would pay for his counseling when we were done. I was slapping him — he finally slapped me.”

But it’s not all grueling. “The males, especially, have the utmost respect,” says Coast, who is bound for an Army Reserve unit (“I wanted to go active duty, but they are not taking people as old as me for active duty”) near her Marine son. “They will do little things that they probably aren’t supposed to do, like give me their seat on the bus and hold the doors for me. It’s the little things that mean so much.”