My First Day at Navy Boot Camp
I shipped out to Navy boot camp on the 28th of October, 2010. Boot camp was an interesting experience for me. Not long before I signed up for the Navy, I took a college class on Sociology. In this class, they touched on military boot camp a little bit. They referred to it as "a total institution." The reason for this title is because it is a totally controlled environment. I learned in that class that while in boot camp, the military attempts to de-socialize a person, and then re-socialize them in the way they want. They do this by first stripping a person of any pride they may have had, and then slowly allowing that pride to return in a military fashion. Due to the fact that I took this class, I sort of had an idea of what to expect. So when I shipped off to boot camp, I paid attention and tried to understand the whole psychology behind the methods.
I will state right here that the day I went to boot camp was the worst day of my life. I was put up in a hotel the night before so I could be where they wanted me to be, when they wanted me to be there. I was awoken at 4:30 that morning, ate breakfast at the hotel and then boarded a bus that took me to the Military Entrance Processing Station, or MEPS. (you may have noticed the controlled environment has already begun) After arriving at MEPS, they went over my contract with me to make sure there were no errors, and that everything was still good to go. After that, I was sworn in. After a short goodbye to my wife and daughter, and with nothing but the clothes on my back and a small handbag with a few personal items inside, I climbed into a taxi and was off to the airport.
When I arrived at Chicago, O'hare airport, I was given directions on where all of the new Navy recruits were gathering. After finding the crowd, I noticed one recruit speaking to the rest of the group in an apparent manner as to be giving them instructions. I didn't want any second hand information so I located the Navy Petty Officer who appeared to be in charge and happily strolled up to him with my little hand bag dangling at my side. I looked at him and asked "What do you want me to do, Petty Officer?" He glared back at me and said angrily "You think you can just come skipping up to me with your little purse and ask me a stupid question like that? Don't you see what those other guys are doing?", pointing at the group of recruits. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe they are doing what you are supposed to be doing?"
At this point I kind of shrunk back, and with my tail between my legs I muttered lightly "Yes Petty Officer." But inside I was thinking "Oh hell! What have I gotten myself into?"
I went over and "did what the other guys were doing" and made sure my records packet was in order and then proceeded to wait for a bus to take us to Great Lakes, Illinois! Woo Hoo!!
While waiting, there was a couple of Petty Officers and a fresh Boot Camp graduate to talk to us and keep us occupied and out of trouble. They picked on some of us about anything they could find. Those of us who were older were called grandpa. Probably the most notable was kid who walked in sporting a mullet hairdo. He was immediately labeled Joe Dirt. Fortunately he wouldn't have to worry about it much longer because that hairdo was about to get shaved off.
After waiting for about two hours, the bus finally arrived. Great Lakes, Illinois is a town about forty five minutes north of Chicago, where we would become brothers in enduring the worst eight weeks of our lives.
When we finally arrived in Great Lakes, it was about midnight. (keep in mind, I had been up since 4:30 that morning) We got off the bus and were herded into a large building where we were to begin our in-processing. We were allowed a two minute phone call to our families to let them know we had arrived safely, and that was the last phone call for about three weeks. You may be thinking the next part of this experience involves being shown to our rooms where we would go to bed and be ready for processing first thing in the morning. After all, it was midnight, right? If so, you would be thinking wrong. We began our in-processing immediately. For the next nineteen and a half hours, we would be subjected to the most rude verbal and psychological treatment you can possibly imagine. Even though we had been warned about what to expect, nothing can quite prepare you for something like that. We were made to stand in a hallway, tightly packed and looking straight forward, petty officers yelling "NUTS TO BUTTS", while we waited for preparations to be made. If anyone looked around, they got chewed out. Half of the time, we didn't have chairs to sit on. We either had to stand or sit cross legged on the floor. But we were never allowed to lean against the wall, (or the bulkhead, as they called it).
During this time, we got all of our hair cut off. We were then given some hygiene items, and some new clothing and shoes to wear until we could be issued uniforms. We then boxed up all of the items we had brought with us, including the clothes we arrived in, and shipped them back home to our families. We were then given a duffel bag to carry all of our new stuff in and we were shown to our berthing compartment. It was called our "berthing compartment" because that is what they call the living spaces on ships. Our barracks building was even called our "ship" Ours happened to be named The U.S.S. Hopper.
By this time it was about 6:30 AM so we dropped off our stuff and went on to breakfast. We continued with our in-processing until early that afternoon when we were herded into a room full of desks. The room was dimly lit and the temperature was rather warm. We each sat at a desk for an amount of time I can't even begin to remember. I was so exhausted. If anyone started to fall asleep, a Petty Officer yelled "EVERYONE ON YOUR FEET!!!" We all jumped to our feet and stood there at attention until the Petty Officer decided it had been long enough. After being in the room for some time, a Navy Chief walked in and announced "Alright, this is your moment of truth. If any of you have enlisted fraudulently, or lied about any police involvement or your medical history, now is your last chance to come forward without facing criminal charges."
At that point, It would have been a safe bet to say that even those who enlisted completely legitimately were wishing they had an issue they could bring forward that would release them from that place. I was certainly thinking along those lines. A few people stood up and were quickly ushered into the next room where they stayed for a few minutes talking to the Chief. Afterward, they were brought back in and they sat back down. Unfortunately for them, their crimes weren't serious enough to warrant being discharged.
After the moment of truth, we were escorted back to our berthing compartment where we were educated on how to properly make our beds, or "racks", as we called them. We had two sheets to put on them, which had to have the creases in just the right places, and in just the right place on the mattress. The pillow had to be in the pillowcase the proper direction, with the seam facing the right way and laid on the bed in just the right place, again with the seams and the open end facing the right way. The open end of the pillow case had to be folded closed and a 45 degree fold on each side. We all were given one wool blanket that had to be folded up just right and placed at the foot of the bed, again, in precisely the right location between the sides of the bed and from the end of the bed.
After this education session, we went back to the galley for lunch. Meals in boot camp were about like a school cafeteria meal. We went to the galley and stood in the line. We had 12 minutes to eat after the last guy sat down. So whoever was last in line had the least time to eat. The last guy was usually the tallest person in the division because we lined up in order of height before going to eat; with the tallest in the back of the line. Occasionally it was mixed up though.
After lunch, it was back to the berthing compartment for an education on how to fold the clothes we had been issued up to this point and their proper placement inside our racks. After this, we put our names on our clothes along with our division number; and once again, this mark had to be in precisely the right place.
After this training, it was back to the galley for dinner. One thing we could depend on while we were there was getting three meals a day. If we couldn't make it to the galley for some reason, a bagged meal was brought to us.
After dinner, we went back to the berthing compartment where we were finally told we were going to bed. That was such a beautiful feeling. The lack of sleep had given me a splitting headache. It took a few days for the headache to finally clear up. I didn't want to go to medical about it because I didn't want to get medically disqualified. Looking back now, I probably had nothing to worry about. I was just a little paranoid due to the stories I had been told.
Once we had all climbed in our racks the white lights went off and some red lights came on. The guy in the top rack next to mine was laying right under a red light. He was a young man from Mississippi named Wilson. As soon as the red lights came on, he said, in his southern accent, "Oh man, this ain't gona work!"
After our RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders) had left us, the room fell completely silent. There was a somber feeling in the air. We had all been completely mortified. Anyone we had become acquainted with before was hard to recognize because we all had our hair freshly shaved off and we were all wearing clothes that looked the same.
While laying there in the somewhat dark room, I almost expected to hear people crying. Then suddenly, the silence was broken by someone on one end of the room shouting out, "Hey man, what ever happened to Joe Dirt?"
From the other end of the room there was an annoyed reply "SHYUDD UPPP!!"
"Hows it goin' Joe?"
After a good laugh, I finally rolled over and went to sleep.