It’s been 8 years since my discharge from the Army. Today I thought I’d share a piece that I wrote a few years ago about my experience:
I’m often asked, “What made you do it?” Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking. I wish I could say it was some profound sense of patriotism, but I think it was probably boredom. when the Recruiter called I was looking for something challenging. So I did it. I enlisted in the US Army in the midst of The Global War on Terrorism.
I can still remember Sergeant T, dressed in his Army Greens, metals and all, knocking on my apartment door. He sounded like a used car salesman; he talked fast, used big words and made it sound like my life would hit the fast track if I enlisted. Not to mention serving my country, learning new skills and finally the killer jab to my unchallenged self: adventure.
I took the Aptitude Test and scored high enough that I was allowed to choose from any of the non-combat jobs. And it was one of these jobs that finally captured me. The US would send me to language school, give me a large cash bonus and put me in a position where the CIA highly recruited. In exchange I would simply sign away the next five years of my life.
Next I had to tell my family. The shocked silence that transmitted over the phone line was deafening when I told my Dad; my Mom’s fearful look despite her encouraging words pierced my heart; the concern of my friends and coworkers remained with me through the months that followed. I spent the majority of my time before shipping out waffling between fear, excitement, alarm and euphoria.
Well, four months after my decisions I was in LA going through final processing. I filled out what must amount to at least ten tree’s worth of paperwork, signed away my frist born, peed in a cup as a nurse watched, performed awkward exercises in my underwear and had a complete physical. And I do mean complete. Having passed I was given orders to ship.
So in the dead of winter, I, the Southern California Girl, shipped to the middle of Missouri. My journey from the Military Entrance Processing Center in Los Angeles to Fort Leonard Wood, fully gender integrated training facility, began at four in the morning on 18 January 2005. The first twelve hours was spent between plane rides and layovers in Arizona, Oklahoma and finally Saint Louis.
The last three hours of travel was a bus ride. I sat next to Private M. She was a black girl from the South and spoke constantly about all the items she had packed, ranging from a silk nightgown, cosmetics and “hair care products.” She said “hair care products” in the most amazingly slow southern drawl I’ve ever heard. We ended up bunking the same sleeping bay during all of basic. Each morning her battle buddy would yell and scream at her to hurry up because shi did everything in the same slow manner as she smoke. Drill Sergeant A constantly said that she must have Ice Cream music playing in her head because she always had a silly smile plastered on her face, along with the hair that was plastered to her head with the hair care products that lined the top shelf of her metal locker. Her obsession with her hair always shocked me. She would stay up after lights out at 2100 to fix her hair despite the fact that each morning began at 0400. She also must have had an unusually large amount of testosterone in her body because she grew a semi-goatee on her chin and had the most leanly defined muscles I’ve ever seen on a girl.
In the pitch dark the bus continued giving me the sense that we were going to the middle of nowhere and even should I attempt to escape there was nowhere to go except into the deep void of the night.
As we pulled up to the base entrance, the bus stopped and the driver passed out black garbage bags to collect contraband. I tossed in the piece of gum I was chewing along with the rest of the pack. Others got rid of cigarettes, chewing tobacco, mouth wash containing alcohol, playing cards and almost anything else you could imaging ranging from bongs to Walkman.
We drove on. Out of the darkness rose an enormous illuminated building. From this building came an equally enormous black man. His drill sergeant hat evident as the light silhouetted his body. The shape of that hat put the fear of God into my soul, and still does.
He jumped into the bus opened his mouth revealing a gold front tooth and began screaming, “Get off my bus. Get off my bus right now! Line up. Line up! Females on the left. Males on the right. Get moving. You think I’m joking with you, Private? When I say move, I mean now!”
“You better move. Get into a straight line. You think that’s straight? STRAIGHT! You: face the other way. Now! Yes you. You see anyone else facing that way?”
Once we were in a somewhat straight line we filed into the building. All I could think was “Whew I made it through those five minutes without any of his attention focused on me.” I decided that for the next ten weeks I would try to make myself as invisible as possible. That didn’t really work out for me. On day 0, I was given the name “Private Retardo” by the meanest, shortest woman I’ve ever met. She made it her mission in life to make my life miserable. Thankfully I had no idea the she existed and so I continued on with excitement for the adventure that was about to start.
Tune back in for part 2 tomorrow.