I don’t know how many of you have ever been to boot camp. If you have been, I’m pretty sure you didn’t come back with a huge, exhausted grin on your face, telling your fellow sailors, “That was rad. Send me back.”
Which concerned my chief and petty officers to the point where they patted me on the back and asked if I needed to go visit the corpsman for a hydration check.
While this was back when Reservists only had to attend boot camp for 17 days, as opposed to the 13-week hell they’re afforded now, it was still 17 days of really hard time. Being a San Diego girl, I was used to sunshine and Coppertone and the smell of the salt air at the beach. I was not used to January weather in Chicago. I was not used to waking up at 0h-killmenow-thirty in the morning to a fire siren directly over my head, followed by a “GETTHEHELLUP! Today’s uniform will be…(lists everything we own). Have a good day!” Then we had approximately 15 minutes to pee, brush our teeth, struggle into 13 layers of heavy clothing, and make our beds to perfection. With corners.
Then we headed outside. This was back in the day when I wore glasses. Because of the sexy ski mask, my glasses immediately fogged up. This led to much hilarity and inner cursing as I struggled to not crash into my shipmate in front of me, and to stay on my feet while cruising over ice-slick surfaces. I had the giggles more times than I can count. I was sent to the infirmary for cough drops because I would pretend to be coughing to cover up my laughter.
Those of you who know me know that I am not a runner. I’m pretty sure my parents nicknamed me “Turtle” behind my back. We were required to run 2 miles on an underground track on this oddly spongy surface that reminded me of running on someone’s crushed dreams. The only reason I did not throw up during my running test is because I was transfixed watching the seemingly-buff guy across the track puke his guts out in the nearest trash bin. My senior chief ran alongside me for much of it, hollering in his salty, 12-pack-a-day way, “C’mon recruit! MOVE those feet! MOVE ‘em! I’m not getting any younger running beside you!” God. I loved him. I wanted to pack him in my suitcase and bring me home for those days where my self-confidence could get a little too high.
We got to shoot guns. While I’m pretty handy with the smaller firearms, I am not handy with a rifle. Thankfully, we were supplied with air rifles as opposed to being supplied with real bullets for the handguns. Still, I elicited a soft “Oof” from the petty officer behind me, followed by a loud, “Recruit! Excellent shot! You just hit your target in the balls! I can assure you, Recruit, he will not be firing anytime soon!” This, of course, resulted in much laughter, which was naturally followed by “RECRUITS!!! YOU ARE NOT TO LAUGH IN MY FIRING RANGE!!” As I said, I loved our senior chief.
It was not all hilarity. One cold day we were standing outside, when our division “leader” messed up the pins on one Lieutenant’s shirt and called him “Chief”. That resulted in our senior chief being notified immediately, and we spent the rest of the afternoon in IT (intensive training). Without going into a lot of detail, we were taught to drop to the floor as a group. There were about 100 of us. Dropping in unison is not easy. My hip was a very interesting shade of purple at the end of the day. (Note: the training I received in my reserve duty prior to boot camp was excellent, and I was appalled that someone could mess up those pins.)
Memories abound of boot camp. From jumping off a high tower into a freezing pool fully clothed, trying to lead my division with laryngitis, coming home with walking pneumonia, having the girls screamed at in the pool bathroom because someone had left a very used maxi pad attached to the back of a toilet, and of course, OF COURSE, being gassed in what is so wrongly called “The Confidence Chamber”. Because I swore to the Navy that I would not describe in detail “The Confidence Chamber” or our final test in boot camp, I won’t, but imagine your entire face being ripped off after being submerged in boiling hydrochloric acid.
That cute guy you're standing next to isn't so cute anymore, with snot and drool dripping everywhere. Keep in mind that you're dripping, too.
I did come out of the Navy a changed person. I was stronger, I was more apt to follow orders without a whole lot of “Screw you, man.” I was taught to lead, and I led. I still do. I learned a lot about myself and about others. More than anything, I learned how to have a sense of humor when faced with things that would normally make me shrink down in a corner.
And that, my friends, is why I loved boot camp.