In 1992, I enlisted in the US Navy. I had no idea what I was getting into. And while I had no idea what to expect, I was intrigued by the unknown. I was very excited.
I remember going to MEPS in Buffalo, NY before flying to basic training. MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing. It was quite the process.
I remember a group of us young ladies in one room; down to our underwear. I remember the doctor wanted us to walk like a duck.
“Bend over and walk like a duck.”
Okay, I admit it. I was a little creeped out and I had my first doubts of my enlisting.
My duck-walking exposed that I had scoliosis; a mild form. He let it slide.
I remember the very intimidating, formal room with flags and officers; the room where I swore the oath. It was all becoming real very quickly.
Shortly after MEPS, I flew down to Orlando, Florida where I was being sent to basic training.
I don’t remember the ride to the base from the airport, but I do remember when we stopped. There was a lot of screaming.
The bus was full of us newbie’s.
About three people in Navy uniforms (the dungarees & pale blue shirts) boarded the bus with us and immediately started screaming; not yelling… SCREAMING!!!
When we got off that bus all we did was pretty much wait. We had to wait until all the recruits arrived to complete a full company.
At the time that I enlisted, they were just starting to integrate companies in boot camp. I’m not sure how well that worked out or if they even still do this. They were integrating males and females together. We ate together, trained together and sweat together. The only thing they separated was the sleeping arrangements. Females slept in a different bunk area than males did. My first company at basic was Company I036. It was the 36th integrated company in basic training in Naval history.
Though if you have been paying attention, you may have noticed from “The Fork in The Road”, on the pictures of the letters I wrote ‘I039’. I didn’t stay with I036. I was moved to I039. I graduated basic training in Company I039.
The first day, while we were waiting, we had to give urine samples. For a small town girl with a shy bladder, this became somewhat of an issue.
There were no doors on the stalls and the intimidating woman literally stood where the door should’ve been; with her arms crossed, waiting for my pee.
It wouldn’t flow.
I had no idea that they would be so persistent. They were very persistent. I never went to sleep that first night due to my shy bladder. They made me drink a lot of pop (that’s Coke for all you Southern folks) and they made me pace. I paced a lot. There were other pacers with shy bladders, pacing with me.
When the sun came up, I finally peed. I thought I would get rewarded with sleep. I was wrong.
It took between 2-4 days to get our company together and once that happened, they corralled us to our barracks.
We had two Company Commanders; one male and one female. I liked the man. He snuck us french fries sometimes. He didn’t last long though. Apparently he had gotten one of the female recruits impregnated. That didn’t go over too well. The woman I was not a fan of. She seemed angry; all the time.
There is a game that happens at boot camp. I’m sure it is all strategic. I’m sure it is planned. They try to break you.
I heard the word ‘privilege’ more in basic training than I have throughout my entire life.
Everything was considered a privilege.
Sitting on your bed was a privilege.
Sitting on the chairs was a privilege.
Talking was a privilege.
Calling home was a privilege.
Writing was a privilege.
Literally everything was considered a privilege; a privilege that we were told we were unworthy of. We were stripped of all ‘privileges’ when we arrived.
They were sticklers for perfectly made beds.
Some poor guy messed up his inches on the bed making technique one day. The Company Commanders made him stick his head in a garbage can; a steel garbage can that was empty. He had to scream something about inches for what seemed like an hour.
They used those steel garbage cans for something else. They used them to wake us up; sometimes at 3 in the morning. I considered this very rude.
Showers came as a surprise to me. I had never seen anything like that in my life; two or three poles sticking out in the center of the floor with multiple shower heads coming out of the poles.
The bathroom was referred to as the ‘head’.
Three times a day, a recruit would magically appear the second the last seat was filled at our tables in the mess hall and recite:
“You have 15 minutes and 15 minutes only to eat your fine, fine, navy chow!”
That’s all I remember, but I know it was longer; something about not talking and exiting over there….
We weren’t allowed to talk during those 15 minutes. Actually, we weren’t supposed to talk at all; only when given permission. I hated that rule.
Occasionally, I had my chits pulled for talking. I think they were called ‘chits’ or something like that.
Basically, it was this little notebook that we had to carry around in our back pocket of our dungarees. I am positive that it mattered which pocket the thing was in, but I don’t honestly remember.
The notebook contained chits or pieces of paper. You only had so many. Company Commanders pulling a chit basically meant you were going to be sorry. We paid a price for chits being pulled.
I remember the dentist, the gyno and the eye doctor.
If they found wisdom teeth in you, they yanked them in basic. Everyone wanted wisdom teeth because having teeth pulled meant ‘bed rest’. We all wanted a little bed rest.
I do not have wisdom teeth; nor have I ever. The dentist called me lucky. I just remember thinking I got jipped out of bed rest.
The gynecologist seemed to have an open door policy. He didn’t care too much who was lying on the table; people came in and out, in and out. He had the bedside manner of a porcupine as well. To this day, I’m not a fan of gyno’s.
I tried really hard to fake out the Optometrist.
You see, I have worn glasses since the age of probably 7. I have always hated wearing glasses. At 15, I switched to contacts. If you wear contacts, my script is something like a -6.75. If you have no idea what that means, well, basically I am blind without glasses/contacts. I can see about three inches from eyeballs, but beyond that it’s a blur.
It’s really hard to lie to an eye doctor. It’s basically a guessing game and I just hoped like hell I was right. I didn’t do too well. They issued me those thick-lensed, black glasses. They called them BC glasses. BC stood for ‘birth control’.
The day that the female Company Commander passed out glasses, I lied. I told her they were reading glasses. I proceeded to the trash and threw them out without her knowledge. There were a few of us I learned later on that attempted this, but not everyone got away with it.
I had to put my name on a list to wake up earlier than the rest of the girls so that I could put my contacts in.
I remember the day a girl two bunks down from me got busted with contacts. I felt my blood flow through my body that day.
We were standing on the line; at attention. We were all getting screamed at, again. The female Company Commander was yelling at the girl and all of a sudden, she noticed the contacts in her eyes. She flipped!!
She threatened us and before I knew it, she was inspecting every single one of our eyeballs for contacts. Mine were in my eyes. I was freaking out!!
I wanted to just pass out and avoid what was going to happen when she saw mine.
She got to me and I squinted, slightly. I held my breath. She moved on and never said a word. I couldn’t believe it! She never saw them.
Although, there was a small price I had to pay for this secret.
The gas chambers were coming up. This scared me because I had no idea if the gas would make my contacts melt in my eyes. I thought about this long and hard. I decided on the day we visited the gas chambers that I was going to go blind and navigate by utilizing the buddy system. It worked, but barely.
In Naval basic training, they give you a taste of gas. It is one of the freakiest things I’ve ever experienced and I will tell you that it’s horrific mentally and physically.
It was a large, cold building. We had to form lines inside that building. Our whole company went together. There were sprayers above us on the ceiling. There were no windows.
I had to have a buddy in order to get through this blind. I chose one of the girls that I had become friends with and semi-trusted.
Marching blind to the cold building really wasn’t challenging. I could see shapes and colors. I could make out people’s silhouettes; I just couldn’t see details like faces. Marching has a rhythm and once you pick it up, you can pretty much do it blind. I never missed a beat and I carried my flag there too.
We were lined up in rows inside that building and we all decided we were going to try to hold our breath so we wouldn’t be affected by the gas. It didn’t work. Nobody could hold their breath that long. I don’t know exactly how long it was, but it felt like eternity.
That gas burned everything! It burned my eyes. It burned my throat. It burned my lungs. It burned my nose.
Noses drained. Eyes cried. Coughing… Gagging… It was awful.
When they opened the doors finally, we stampeded out. My whole company spread out everywhere when those doors opened. I lost my buddy. I couldn’t find her because I couldn’t make out the faces. I almost panicked.
I must have gotten really close to people’s faces trying to see who was who. I finally gave up and looked for the color of my flag. I was a flag bearer and there were a few of us. I saw the blob of color on the ground and I just waited until I saw other blobs of color pop up in the air. It worked.
The colors popped up and I knew where I had to go; even blind. I made it back to the barracks and rinsed my eyes out with saline before popping my contacts back in.
To be continued…..
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