I just want to say THANK YOU to everyone who has served in the United States Military–past, present, future–and in doing so, take a walk down memory lane and share some memories that began my career in the Air Force.
I was 18, a few months away from my high school graduation, and “temporarily” living with my boyfriend, Zak. We had just finished making dinner and were about to sit down and eat when my best friend, Vicki called. Side note: Vicki moved to Pittsburgh our senior year of high school.
Vicki: Guess what I just did!
Me: While the endless possibilities do kind of excite me, my mashed potatoes are getting cold. What did you do–another tattoo?
Vicki: No, Re-Re (that was just one of our loving nicknames for each other). I joined the Air Force! And, you should join too. That way you can come visit me at least once a month when you have drill! Drill is referring to the one weekend a month that a reservist must attend for training purposes. Mine would have taken me to Pittsburgh.
With that phone call EVERYTHING in my life changed. Just 5 minutes before I had been talking with Zak about my acceptance to Ohio State University and how I did not want to go. See, my high school offered this program called Post-Secondary, which basically meant that I went to a community college my senior year instead of attending actual high school courses. So I was already colleged out and this phone call was offering me another way.. another choice. Plus, I’d get to see my best friend a whole lot more AND get paid for it! Win, win.
I talked it over with my parents, and even though my mother was not thrilled AT ALL, me being my stubborn self, went a month after graduation and signed my life away to Uncle Sam.
Even though I enlisted in July, I wasn’t scheduled to leave for basic training until January. I had about 10 lbs that I needed to shed before they would let me leave. So I worked out, I ran, and I lost those 10 lbs. Next thing I know, it was January 5th, my bags were packed, my parents were kissed goodbye the night before, and I was on a plane headed towards San Antonio, Texas.
From the airport, a bus picked all of us new recruits up and transported us to Lackland Air Force Base. It wasn’t long before I was cursing my mother for gene inheritance, or maybe its a learned trait, whatever the case, I know that I got the whole “doesn’t know how to pack lightly” gene/trait from her.
I scurried off the bus dragging my heavy luggage to form a line with the other recruits. T.I.s (Training Instructors) were screaming at us from the moment we set foot on the ground. Veins were popping out of their foreheads, spit was flying every direction–I was extremely aware that the very threat to the end of my stinking existence was upon me.
Advice that had been given to me by a former military person before I left for basic training was to “play the game” and to remember that the instructor’s job was to break you down so they could build you back up. The problem with this mentality though, was that I didn’t take a whole lot seriously… in the beginning.
T.I.s yelled, no, SCREECHED, at us to pick up our bags, then drop them. Pick up our bags, then drop them. Pick up our bags, then drop them. We proceeded to do this torture, err, I mean “breaking” method for the next hour of my life, all while my ear drums were about to burst.
The next week went by in a blur. Uniforms and boots were issued. We walked EVERYWHERE–for miles each day wearing canteens to not die from dehydration and carrying our military issued Star Wars light sabers during hours of darkness. Well that’s what they looked like to me. They were really just big flashlights with a yellow cone snapped on.
I learned within days that having a sense of humor was not a wanted commodity at basic training, which for me only added an extra challenge to this already challenging feat. I mean I laugh at myself ((daily)) just for making a funny face or noise. I laugh at people, LOUDLY, when they fall and hurt themselves. But I’m not supposed to laugh while people do or say stupid things at basic training??? C’mon, give me a break. When a T.I. says things like, “Alright, clown. Push some floor” or 40 women are told they all have a total of 5 minutes to take a shower (with only 8 shower heads). To me, that’s humor.
I made the mistake of laughing at my T.I. one day. He had made a joke at one of the new recruit’s expense and when he started to laugh (See?? He laughed first, it should be ok!) I just lost it–with a loud hyena pitch outburst. When he heard me, his laughed stopped so quick it sounded like he had choked, his smile erased from his face in a blink of an eye, and the next thing I know, he’s standing in front of me screaming, “You think I’m a dang comedian or something, you piece of fungus-licking turd??” What do you say to that? How do you not laugh? Or at least crack a smile; a wink even, just so he knows that you know it’s just a game and he really is funny.
Well, my smile cracking laugh to his comment got me 45 minutes of laughing–at a wall. And here my smart ass is all loud and proud staring at this blank wall shouting, “HA, HA, HA, HA“, thinking in my head, “Oh, I’ll show him. He won’t win”, which then later became a much softer, tired, and thirsty whispered, “ha, ha, ha, ha“, thinking in my head, “Ok, I get it. You win”. This moment became lesson number one for me. Guess who learned to control their laughter real quick after that?? That’s right, you guessed it. This girl.
A couple of days after my laughing incident, I woke up to reveille, and jumped up to get dressed–there were lots of morning chores that needed to be done. Beds and shoes to be aligned, every single room needed to be dusted, swept, mopped, etc. As I began making my bed I noticed a big red stain on my sheets. Yep, it happened. My period started. Guess who got the last laugh now mother fuckaa… baahahaha! Just picturing his face again when I told him–the look of disgust so evident… still makes me chuckle!
You can probably guess correctly that my T.I. was not very found of me after this situation. So it was probably to his relief that I got hurt and had to go to medical hold.
I was in medical hold for about a month in a half, which really turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The 319th Medical Squadron is where I learned how to do everything–shining shoes, marching, hospital corners, folding towels and t-shirts, military discipline–and it was all at a place where things were a little more laid back and a sense of humor was a little more accepted.
I met some great people and learned a lot about myself. There was one girl who had been a basic training; stuck; for almost a year because she had broken her back on the confidence course. The military feels that they need to return you home the way you arrived. So if you show up to basic healthy and without a broken back, then you will return home healthy and without a broken back. Can you imagine? You think you’re going somewhere for 6 weeks, you’re only a week away from graduating and going home, then you get hurt and now you’re stuck in your own personal hell for an entire year!
After they fixed me and I was able to return to training, I had to start over from scratch with a brand new group of girls. This time though I came in almost a week later. Bonds had already been formed and friendships had already been made. I was the odd man out. It didn’t help that the next day I was made their Dorm Chief and was put in charge of 43 females. I was 19 years old and in charge of people who were old enough to be my mother! This being my first position as a leader, I definitely made some mistakes, but we came out on top.
Being in the military has given me confidence, discipline, dreams, goals, resources to achieve whatever I aspire to do, family, lifelong friends, courage, strength, knowledge.
I learned a popular phrase while at basic, “Freedom Ain’t Free”. Oh, how true that is.
I thanked, in the beginning of this post, anyone who has served; past, present, future, but I would like to include those who have given the ultimate sacrifice–their lives.
I am proud to be considered an Airmen, a sister in arms, and a patriot and will continue to serve and protect the freedoms for those I love most.