The Few, The Proud, The Misery
This past Memorial Day, I took the kids to a nice little circus (there weren’t any elephants. WTF!). There, the ringmaster spoke to the audience and wanted to thank all the active members and veterans of the United States military. It got me thinking about when I decided to join the military. Much to many people’s disbelief, I myself, am a veteran of the United States Navy. Crazy, right? There is nothing about me that oozes military. If this was comic about the military, I would be casted as the anti-hero. “Then if you are so not military, why did you join in the first place, B?” Thanks, imaginary person. You come up with the best questions. Here, take a gift card.
Well, I remember like it was yesterday. I was a college student, standing at the bus stop heading to class. There I stood, jobless with numerous thoughts running through my mind about ways I could support my daughter since her father was as useless as two dead flies squished on the bottom of my shoe, scraped off on the sidewalk (too much?). Searching for jobs and filling out applications were an endless and miserable cycle. The employers just wouldn’t bite. As my mind continued to wonder, all of a sudden, a voice spoke to me out of nowhere (no, I am not crazy), telling me to join the Navy. To be honest, the statement was not as random as you might think. My best friend and my boyfriend at the time were both heading to basic training for the Air Force within the next few months. Air Force was my first choice, actually. Everything seemed to check out. I had no record—both criminal and driving. I was basically clean. The only problem was that I was an unwed parent (surprise, surprise). The recruiter literally told me to fix the problem and then, come back. Sure, sir. Let me find some random stranger at the mall to marry. No problem (sarcasm).
What is there to do when Plan A falls through? Go straight to Plan B. The Navy was Plan B. It was the next best thing. I will be damned if I torture myself in the Marines and the Army. I am not built Ford tough. I am built Prius efficient. Looking online, I found a Navy recruiter across town. He spent a good hour trying to convince me that I indeed made the right choice even though I was doubted it myself. I came out with guns blazing.
“Look here, guy. I have a child. I am not married. What do you have to say about that?”
The petty officer second class assured me that all I needed to do about my “situation” was to give someone temporary guardianship of my daughter. It was easy and could be terminated at any time. Ok. Cool. But to whom? Her dad? HA! The best person for the job would have to be the best person I know, and that person is my mother. It was pretty obvious. My daughter would live with my mother during my time in boot camp and “A” school, and for every paycheck, I would have an automatic transfer of a few hundred dollars to her account. Easy. So, I went court, filled out a few papers, and voila! Everything was set. Now all that was left was taking the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and going to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). BRING IT ON!
The ASVAB wasn’t bad. It was mainly stuff I learned from high school and I preferred it over the SAT’s any day. 85, baby! Your face! In your face! Higher scores meant more options for rate (jobs). Oddly enough, I did quite well in the Mechanical portion of the test. Even better than English (BLASPHEMY). Next, bring on the MEPS. That is where I would pick my rate, receive the day I ship out, and be sworn into the few and the proud (like in the commercial). Easy enough, right? Wrong. F*in’ wrong! I went to MEPS twice, spending more than eight hours sitting in hard a chairs, waiting for my name to be called and for my rate to be chosen. The process was tiring and for a second, I felt like giving up. My recruiter was failing me. Maybe if he spent all the energy he used flirting with me into actually getting me a rate, I would have a freaking rate by now. I’m sorry, MC2, but in my Donald Trump voice (I hate that guy), you’re fired!
I was able to find another recruiter closer to my home. Immediately, he went into trying to get me back into MEPS and getting me a rate.! Miracles do happen, people! Finally! Because of my ASVAB scores and my weird excellence in mechanics (along with the lack of rates period), I was able to be an Aviation Structural Mechanic (yay?). Not my first choice, but a rate is a rate. Am I right? (I’m right. You don’t have to say it). They told me that I would be shipping out in January, 2011. That was in six months. Again with the waiting? Other than both my pregnancies, it was the six longest months of my life. What to do in the meantime? Spend more time with my daughter, my family, my friends. I started reading up all I could on the Navy and boot camp. Exercising was a huge thing, so every day I would walk with my dad on this long trail. Walk? Yes, walk. If you could see how fast my dad walks, trust me, it felt like I was running.
January finally came. I wasn’t as nervous as I was guilty for having to leave my daughter for two months. The night before we flew to Chicago, me and few other recruits from my recruiting station had to spend the night in a hotel. It was full of other recruits destined for other branches; us all awaiting our fates. I spent the night talking to Bobo (that’s her last name), a girl from my recruiting station. She too, had a daughter and felted just as guilty as I was for leaving her. We bonded because of it. My family came to see me before I left. My mom was crying (get it together, woman), my dad was being his normal funny self, and my daughter was oblivious to it all. Just the way I like her.
The next morning, everyone climbed into a bus and headed to the airport. Only five people—including Bobo and myself—were the only ones heading for the Naval boot camp in Great Lakes. We spent a few hours there, talking and watching television; giving our expectations on what was to happen. I expected everything to go just as my recruiter said it would and how the video on YouTube portrayed it. LIES, I SAY! Soon, we were on this small plane headed to Chicago. Am I claustrophobic? Yes. Was I somewhat panicking? You bet your sweet baby Gerber. But beyond the panic, a sense of nervousness ran through me like the burrito did to the guy sitting in front of me (Boy, did he stink!). All I could think about was how this could be the best or worst decision. Other than having a child, this was one of the biggest steps I have ever taken in my life.
It was nighttime when we reached Chicago. We met up with dozens of other apprehensive recruits from around the country who were either just as or even more freaked out as I was. They had us sitting in rows for a good hour (again with the waiting) before our shuttle busses arrived to take us to Great Lakes. I was quiet the entire ride, which only took twenty to twenty-five minutes. Up ahead, I could see the sign welcoming us and I could feel a lump form in my throat. As the bus came to a halt right at the entrance, the only thing I could think of was—REGRETS! B, what have you gotten yourself in to? That would be last time I listened to a voice in my head (I swear, I am not crazy). As we all walked off the bus, I noticed the look of dread painted across everyone’s face. It was too late. I could not turn back. Mama didn’t raise a quitter. My cornrows and I were ready.
Immediately, we were greeted with harsh commands and a bit of hostility. Seriously, like why are you so mad? We were yelled at to do this. We were yelled at to go there. It wasn’t long before I realized that yelling was a favorite pastime here. My shoes, my cell phone, and all nonessential belongings of mine had to be locked up. They gave us a few minutes to call our families for our last goodbyes before entering—what I would like to call—modern-day hell. We received all the items we needed and then it was to be placed in our divisions. Fortunately, Bobo and I were placed in the same division (THANK YOU, YAWEH!), Division 112. In between that time, I was told to undo my cornrows, leaving me with an Angela Davis afro for the next few days.
It was the start of what would be called, “P-days”. It was the first week where we could only wear our Navy yellow shirt and blue sweats. The first night was spent with our RDC’s yelling at us about stenciling our belongings correctly. Our chief berated a girl so badly for doing it wrongthat she broke down in tears, asking for her mother. She was processed out that night. Well damn. On the first night, though? We just got here! It was clearly a sign of things to come.
The first few days were an adjustment; a way to weed out the weak from the strong. Fortunately, I got over my extreme shyness and I was able to meet and become friends with some real cool people. Cool enough to even re-braid my hair (my chief was complaining). After the first week, it was time to take all of our things in a sea bag and march to our ships (another building) to finish off our time in boot camp. My theory was that marching to the other end of Great Lakes was supposed to be some character-building type crap, but unfortunately, I came during the winter season which made it just some annoying type crap. Thou shall give us a f*ing blizzard. I’m from Georgia and it is very rare that it snows. When it in fact snows, we barely get an inch and it barely sticks. In Great Lakes, there were feet of snow. Yay. We don’t have to march, right? Wrong again, damnit! Though there was a van to carry our sea bags, we still had to march our recruit aes through the harsh, blistering snow. Damn you, Jack Frost! I never thought I would hate snow so much. I could barely see the road ahead of me and it was colder than Hitler’s heart. What is the point of gloves if they can’t keep the feeling in your fingers?
The rest of boot camp was eventual, to say the least. When you don’t tidy your rack correctly and have to do intensive training as punishment; having your RDC’s tell you how big your head and hair is as though you don’t already know. Boot camp was scarring people mentally from left to right. People were sleepwalking and yelling in their sleep at night. I even developed to talent of sleeping while marching and even sleeping with my eyes open. The berthing was an open cesspool of germs and diseases. I could swear the shots we were receiving had hormones in them for there were too many girls with mustaches and no shave chits. Having to take a shower with over a dozen other naked females was not my idea of a fun, but for some it was considered a social corner. Please, ma’am, put on your towel before you talk to me. The yelling and shouting from our RDC’s created frustration between everyone from time to time. Of course when women live in small quarters with one another there is sure to be some cattiness. Sure, there were a few people I wanted to backhand, but it wasn’t worth it. Receiving letters from my family and friends were my only solace; the only things that got me through (along with going to the Buddhist chapel every Sunday). My first letter was on Valentine’s day from my dad. It was the same day I passed my prone float test…AFTER THE SIXTH TIME! The letter was all about how my daughter was doing and how my sister had my niece on the side of the road on Super Bowl Sunday (SAY WHAT?!).
By March, I was over everything (Graduation, will you hurry the hell up?!). I was ready to leave and get it over with. My patience was running thin and the next person to yell at me better chiggidy-check themselves before they wriggidy-wreck themselves. Battle Stations finally came, which let me know that this torture was coming to an end. It was a 12-hour interactive test of our Navy skills on a ship Hollywood made. By the end of it, I had a range of emotions from tired to accomplished. The week following was a breeze. Then came Graduation Day! Imagine standing at attention for a few hours and watching other shipmates faint from locking their knees, while still trying to impress your family in the crowd. Once the families were instructed to meet their sailors, a huge sigh of relief left me as though I was holding my breath from two months. My parents, my daughter, and even my no-good ex and his mother came (why? I don’t know). I immediately hugged my daughter for she was the one who got me through it all; got me through the hell.
The rest of my Navy years consisted of “A” school in Pensacola, FL, deployments, things I can’t un-see in Thailand, and providing for my family. Do I regret it? No. Don’t get me wrong. The Navy is a great thing; a great thing to be a part of, but the Navy was not for me. During boot camp, I met a lot of great people; many of whom I am still friends with to this day. Boot camp got me out of my shell and taught me how to deal with all different types of people in this world. When I used to avoid an a**hole in fear of confrontation, now I can face them head on. The Navy taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about myself. It was a great learning experience that I will never forget. And when my children grow up and ask me if it is ok for them to join the Navy, I can hold my head up high and say….