Going to MEPS, What to Expect
Day 1: The ASVAB
Congratulations on your decision to join the United States Military! This is an important time in your life, and I'm sure you have questions. Here, you'll read the process of going to MEPs to take the ASVAB test and the physical testing afterwards. I'll try to be as detailed as possible to avoid missing anything. Essentially, your day should go similar to mine, regardless of the branch you're joining.
So the first thing you'll do on the day you head out is meet up with your recruiter. He or she will set a time to meet up at their office and do a MEPs briefing. You'll basically go over all of the paperwork you've been filling out for the past couple months. If you missed anything medical or legal, now is the time to come clean. It's much easier for your recruiter to patch things up from their end than to have someone at MEPs figure it out. You'll possibly be delayed for months. From there, your recruiter will drive you to the closest MEPs facility. Mine was only 20 minutes away, but some of the recruits I met had to travel as far as 3 hours.
Your recruiter will drop you off at the station with a packet full of paperwork, you'll grab your bags, and head in. You'll talk to someone at a desk who will tell you to put all of your belongings in a locked room, except your Social Security Card and a photo ID. Then you'll return to the desk and they'll take a computerized fingerprint of you that serves as a form of signature for essentially every document you'll sign these next 2 days. Then they take your picture, and send you down a hall to take the test.
The test isn't too difficult, but there are frustrating portions. There are 10 sub-tests. The first was a science, that I found incredibly easy, followed by a math, a couple english tests, another math, an electrical test, a mechanical test, and a "puzzle" test. If you've been out of school awhile, try to brush up on your math. There were things that I saw from high school, but completely forgot how to do them. A fifteen minute refresher on the FOIL method should get you where you want to be, as that was most of what the test consisted of. I remembered how to FOIL, but I couldn't remember how to reverse it. It didn't screw me by all means, I got an 82 overall on the test, I just had to take a bit longer to figure it out than I should have taken.
The hardest part of the test were the mechanical and electrical portions, since I've never had experience working on cars or currents or whatever. I don't know what part of the car does what, and I don't know which type of current an alternator produces, so I struggled there. Seriously, I didn't think I got a single mechanical or electrical question right, but somehow I still managed to score pretty well. So don't sweat it. The most frustrating part of the test was the "Put Stuff Together" part, which is the last one. You look at diagrams of shapes and you'll get 4 choices of how to put them together based of the diagram. It's not "hard" per se, but it is time consuming and frustrating.
After the ASVAB, you'll actually do another test or 2 based on your branch. I went Air Force so I had 2 other tests. One was a personality quiz that was easy, you can't really get it wrong, just answer honestly. You'll get 2 statements that reflect your personality and you have to pick one. It sucks when you had 2 statements that reflect on you negatively, but you'll have to pick one that describes you best. The other test was about computers. I'm not too computer educated but I know a few things, and it'll ask you about Firewalls, and networks, etc. It's not too hard and if you know nothing about these things, just answer to the best of your ability. I think I fared pretty well on that portion.
So, then you're all done. You'll get your result right away (at least I did in Cleveland). It took about an hour and a half to 2 hours, but you have about 3 hours to finish the tests. Then you'll go to the waiting area, and they'll let you grab your belongings, then wait for the bus to take you to the hotel. I had to wait a good hour, but I spent the time texting my recruiter about my results and he was giving me the heads up on what jobs I'll qualify for depending on the physical. Yes- we were allowed to text on this day, but there was no talking. I didn't know if this applied to talking to other recruits or on the phone, so I just kept quiet.
Our hotel was actually pretty sweet. It was the Embassy Suites in Cleveland. We arrived and some guy told us to take the elevator to the fifth floor and follow the MEPs signs to a room. The lady in the room gave us papers with the rules. No drinking, what time to eat, what time to wake up, what time to go to bed, and don't get into trouble. Pretty simple stuff. I can't remember if the rules said we couldn't leave the hotel, but no one wanted to anyway, since there was plenty to do and we were all tired. She then gave us the keys to our rooms, and the night was ours to enjoy.
This was when we got to be social with the other recruits. We went to our rooms, put away our bags, met our roommate, and once we got back to the hallways, we were ready to eat. The food wasn't bad, but the way the hotel looked, I expected it to be much nicer. After we ate, we spent some time out on the large balcony of the hotel and talked about what jobs we wanted in the military and why we're joining, etc. The people who smoked, did so, and then we were ready to go work out. We all went to the gym, swam in the pool, relaxed in the hot tub, then went to catch a movie in the recreation room. It was a good time, and I met some really cool people. Then it was time for bed. 11:00 was our curfew.
Day 2 was when we got our physicals. This was a long day. We woke up at 4:30 in the morning, showered, and headed out to breakfast, then went downstairs in the hotel to wait for the bus. The bus took us back to MEPs and it was a bit more strict this time around. We had to remove our belts for the metal detectors, place our bags through an x-ray machine, and lock up everything. Afterwards, we signed in and we all split off to go to our branches liaison. These were the people who are basically your job counselors. They, then, give you more paperwork, ask you what you want for lunch, then send you over to the medical area. You're pretty much constantly moving, here.
The first thing I did in the medical area was the vision test. I'm blind as a bat without my glasses, so I was worried here, but I'm correctable to 20/20 vision with glasses so it wasn't a problem. You basically do the standard "what does this line say?" and color vision test, and then you move on to the depth perception test. I heard horror stories about this test, but it seriously wasn't bad. Just take your time, and if the person administering the test is pushy, ignore him. This is your future. My guy wasn't bad at all, and I took my time and did fine. It's hard to describe the test, but here's a small tip, if you can't see the circle that sticks out, just google "magic eye" and learn to do those, then use that same technique to do the circles you can't see. Like I said, it's hard to describe, but you'll know what I mean when you get there. Lastly, for the vision test, they did one more machine where, I assume, they are checking for physical abnormalities in your eyes. They didn't tell me what they were doing, but I put my head on there and looked at pictures for a minute, and read a couple letters, and it seemed too easy, really.
Then you move on to the hearing test. You'll put on head phones and click a button when you hear the beeping. Simple enough.
After this was some sort of briefing. We sat in a room for a good 45 minutes or so filling out paperwork. It was all yes or no questions, and the guy who briefed us (the same guy who does my urine test later) was pretty cool. Essentially, the only thing you need to know is that YOU DO NOT MAKE MISTAKES FILLING OUT PAPERWORK. If you screw something up, put a single line through it, put your initials next to it, then the date. Seriously, do it right or you'll catch hell. The briefer walks throughout the room and has some ungodly sixth sense for catching the tiniest mistake and making you feel like crap because he only explained it 100 times how to correct something.
After that we went to get our vital signs taken. For me, this... freaking... sucked. I never had high blood pressure before, until this day. I sat down, thinking there wasn't going to be a problem. All of a sudden, the blood pressure cuff deflates, and the lady goes "Now, baby, why is your blood pressure so high?" so I was shocked. They won't let me in the military with a BP of 160/105! I told her it's never been high before, I may just be nervous, and I can come back to get it repeated after a little while, and she agree'd. I went and did a few more tests, came back, and my BP was still high! She said give it a little more time and we'll do it again. I then started thinking about why... and later, during the urine test, it came to me... My pee was way too dark. I'm freaking dehydrated! So after I finished all my tests, I sat at that water fountain and drank, drank, drank, until I couldn't drink anymore. Finally, I was textbook. 127/72. Thank god. So, moral of the story? Drink plenty of water!
After that, we went into a doctors office one by one where all he asked was "You ever smoked pot?" I had done it before in high school, like 10 years ago, so I said yes. He asked when and I answered. And that was it. I think he asked about other drugs as well, but I was in and out of that room in about 20 seconds.
After the doctors visit, we went into a big room with a guy who was kind of mean. I'm assuming an ex-marine because he seemed to give them preferential treatment. He told us to strip down to our boxers, hang our clothes on a hook behind us, put our shoes against the wall, and put our paperwork on a bench. Then a doctor came into the room to watch as we did a bunch of stupid squats and stuff. This is where the infamous duck walk comes into play, or the underwear Olympics, whatever you want to call it. It essentially took about 20 minutes to do a bunch of easy movements. I was the idiot who raised my left foot instead of my right foot, so I got chewed out for a second, but it was really easy. DO NOT STRESS OUT ABOUT THESE TESTS. They are simple enough, and nobody struggled with them. Google the duckwalk, as that is the hardest one, and ever that one isn't so bad. We then got our height and weight measured, then were shipped into the doctors office, again.
The doctors office involved a simple physical. Drop your shorts, turn and cough, you know the deal. He'll listen to your lungs, heartbeat, shine a light in your eyes and have you follow it. Again, I was in the doctors office for all of a couple minutes. There were 2 doctors at MEPs that day, and one was kind of slow and taking his time (I could tell by how long it took each recruit to come out of the room), the doctor I had was very quick, and I appreciated that seeing as you're asked to bend over and spread 'em. We also had to do some test where we had to pop our ears, which basically involved plugging your nose and blowing your cheeks out. I didn't feel mine pop, but the doctor said they did, so I'm fine with that.
After that is the urine test. The guy who was in charge of it was actually really cool (the briefer guy from earlier). He was a dick (pardon my french) when he needed to be, but he was really down to Earth. It wasn't so bad doing this test. I was gun shy for about 20 seconds or so, but seeing as how I was dehydrated, I'm shocked I got as much urine as I did.
From the urine test we went to the next area for a blood test. Easy enough. I had the same awesome lady who took my blood pressure earlier. She was a stereotypical black lady, and she was hilarious. She tried to be intimidating, but she kept making me smile. I really appreciated her being there because she truly made me feel relaxed.
After that... we were done! Well... done with the medical part at least.
After the medical portion, you go meet with your branches Liaison and it's basically a waiting game. First you go in there, and hand them your packet of paperwork (which you carry around with you the entire time you're there). Then they tell you they'll call you in a little bit. So you go wait. And it's boring. At least before you were constantly getting some sort of test or moving around. Now you don't do anything until you hear your name called. At least now is the time you can be social.
Some of the recruits were waiting for a ride home, due to some sort of disqualification. There was an Army hopeful, for example, who didn't make weight. He was already in the reserves, and was trying to go into active duty, but the weight restrictions are much higher, I guess, when you're trying to do that. There was a Navy girl who needed some sort of "consult." I'm guessing it's a doctor consult, but I'm not too sure what was wrong with her, and I really didn't want to dig into her medical problems if she had any. There was another Navy guy who disappeared for a couple hours during the medical portion, then returned. I asked where he went and he said that they took him to see a specialist because he had a lazy eye. I thought that was pretty awesome that the MEPs people took care of that for him, seeing as the specialist was 30 minutes away. But he came back OK.
Finally I got called into my Liaison's office. He asked me to lift some weights over my head, he said it was 100 pounds, and so I did, it wasn't so bad. Then I talked to the job counselor who was in the same office. He showed me a 3 page list of jobs that I qualified for. He told me to pick 6, and select an aptitude area (General, Administrative, Mechanical, Electrical). Since I did so well on the ASVAB the day before, I had a lot to pick from, and since I have crap vision, some of the choices weren't made available to me, which is fine because I didn't want Security Forces anyway. I didn't want to stick to only medical jobs, but I had about 5 or 6 medical job options on my list. So I only did a couple, but I didn't "just" want to go medical. I think my list went something like, Diagnostic Imaging, Cardiopulmonary Laboratory, Physical Medicine, Contracting, and Public Affairs, then I picked the General Aptitude area. So that was it! I heard horror stories of people who want to go medical were told only pick 2 medical jobs, and things like that, but I was told I could pick all 6 medical if I wanted, but it's a hard job to get into, and I would have to wait longer to ship out.
After picking my jobs, the Liaison person had me sign and initial a bunch of paperwork, basically stating that everything I said was true. Then I went back out to the lobby to have a seat and wait to be called upon again.
It should be noted that the job selection of the Air Force is different than the job selection of the Army, Navy, Marines, etc. From what those recruits told me, they picked their job and that was that. There was a young girl who wanted to be in the National Guard as an EMT, and they were working their butts off to try to make phone calls to get it for her, but she eventually had to settle for something else. But remember, if that were to happen to you, you don't HAVE to sign, and you can walk away. Yes, the needs of your branch will come before the needs of you, but if you're going to be miserable in the military, you shouldn't be there. I felt bad for the girl, but she seemed in high spirits about it, so hopefully that all turns out OK.
Finally, I was taken to an interview room, where I was asked again if everything I said was true, and I was asked if my recruiter asked me to lie, and a few other questions. It wasn't an interrogation by any means, they have a standard list of questions they have to ask. The interviewer went over some of the details of my contract, letting me know that it was a 4 year enlistment (I don't even think they asked if I'd do 6, come to think of it, which is fine because I only wanted 4 anyway) but I was obligated to do 8 if needed. I signed an initialed a few more pages of paperwork, and I was done. I was then sent back to my liaison, who made me use the fingerprint scanner for a couple more documents, and I was all finished!
After waiting for a little bit longer, you're called up with a group of people (most of my Air Force comrades and a couple other recruits) to swear in. They put you in a briefing room where you watch a video that states "don't go AWOL or America will kill you" or something like that, and then you're taken into a swear in room. A person will come in and show you how to stand at attention, and how to be at ease. It's simple enough, but fairly awkward. He then says that an officer will come in, and we are to answer "Yes sir, no sir" to him and we'll repeat the oath as he says it. The officer came in, and again, he was a pretty cool guy, who was cracking jokes, and really easing tension, seeing as we were about to sign our lives away to America.
We all took the oath at the same time, I believe there were 8 of us in the room. It's kind of awkward because you state your name in the oath, so since we all did it simultaneously, it came out as a bunch of jumble at first. Either way, you're all done. The officer will have you follow him to a computer area, where you'll fingerprint yourself one last time, and he'll print out your contract. You're done!
Congratulations on being in the military! Now that you're all pumped up... let's just hope you have a recruiter that won't take forever to get you back home.