I joined the Navy almost right out of high school. Even though I went to a college prep high school (I lived in the district), college was not even on my radar. I didn’t even consider it to be possible for me..
I’d been living with my grandparents after leaving home when I was 17. I’d decided to get my own place and I found one. My grandparents took one look around the apartment and invited me to come live with them.
I’m sure I was a trial. I was going to school and I had a job for spending money, but really, I was a little idiot who had no idea how to manage my life. I wasn’t saving money. I was doing drugs. I was chasing men. I had no prospects. I was very fortunate to be taken in by them. Very fortunate.
I joined the Navy for 2 reasons: I wanted to see the world and I had no idea what to do with myself. I was a train wreck rushing towards my own demise.
When I walked into the recruitment office, I expected to be packed off right away. Soon I’d be on a ship, swabbing decks and singing sea chanties. It wasn’t that easy.
They made me take the ASVAB. I did well. Maybe a little TOO well. I got a 100% on it. They sprung the test on me again and I got a 99%. Shipping out today and swabbing decks was not in my future.
They offered me one of three choices: Data Processing (Computers), Nuclear Engineering, or (if I’m remembering correctly) Electrical Engineering.
I choose Data Processing.
Surprise! They didn’t have an opening for Data Processing for a year. I signed all the papers and they told me to go home and try to behave myself. Back to granny’s house I went.
I graduated from high school and I just stayed at my grandparents. The only thing I contributed to them was as a source of entertainment and I suspect that was why they didn’t just kick my butt out. I certainly didn’t help with bills. Did I mention I was a little idiot?
I worked as a manager at a twin theater. Since I was an idiot, they didn’t pay me what they should and I had no idea I was being cheated anyway.
About a month before I shipped out, I went to a Fun Run (a Harley biker camping party), and met a man named Rick. My friend Diane, who was the one who invited me, had wanted me to meet a friend of hers that she thought I’d enjoy. Boy was she surprised to find us sitting on a blanket together, having found each other without her help!
He wanted me to back out of the Navy and come live with him. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
Off to bootcamp I went. Orlando, Florida in the summer. 80 of us in a long room with rows of bunkbeds. It was pretty close to the stereotype. We marched all over the place, did a lot of physical exercise, and were terrorized by the company commanders. (Drill Sergeants).
They liked to come into the room in the middle of the night, rousting us to “hit the line” and do push-ups.
We learned about the Navy and our place in it. We trained with weapons. Yadda Yadda, all pretty standard stuff. Here is some of things you might not have heard about:
80 women with only 10 stalls and only 5 minutes to get all our business done. And we had to do it on a schedule. (There’s a reason that even after all of these years, if I SEE a bathroom, I think I have to go). There we are, in a line, with our pants and undies already down, so we can all go to the bathroom in the time given.
“You have 15 minutes and 15 minutes only to eat your fine Navy chow.” Oh, they fed us. They fed us a lot! A lot of carbohydrates and fried food. I know they’re getting away from that now, it takes a long time to make changes in a huge bureaucratic organization, but man… And it was hard for me since I have food issues and if it’s available, I need to eat it. Not good.
If you think going to sleep is a respite, think again.
I remember waking up on more than one occasion doing pushups in my bed. One time one of the COs was standing there watching me do it. That really confused me. Was this a dream? Or should I continue?
Every couple of days someone would yell “Attention on Deck!” in their sleep and 80 sleepy women would be at attention on the line looking confused because the COs weren’t even there. The woman who yelled it still asleep.
People getting up and marching around in their sleep. Making their bed in their sleep. It was madness.
Everything is hard and everything is a test.
We were drilling, marching around with our weapons, when the one of the COs told us to stack our weapons in order to do another type of drill. I was given the responsibility to GUARD those weapons. Off they went, leaving me behind. The other CO comes up and tries to take a weapon. Now I’m in a quandary. I mean, she is the CO and you’d think she’d have a right to them. But I’m in bootcamp, and I’m supposed to guard them. So, I guarded them, against her. I really played it up, following her around, stopping her from touching them, giving her suspicious eyes. I guess I did the right thing. No pushups! 😊
Everything has to be done just so. Perfectly. Making the bed, shining shoes, folding shirts, everything. Well, I was having a problem folding my shirt. I just couldn’t get it. So many pushups! Finally, I asked to see a counselor. Now, I’m sure they thought that I wanted to see a counselor in order to leave the Navy. All I wanted was to ask a question: “Why do I have to fold my shirt perfectly?” She gave me a spiel about learning how to pay attention to detail. That was all I needed. No more problems with my shirt. It was a big clue about my personality. I need to know WHY.
We learned how to roll our watch caps into tight phallic shapes and the COs told us “you better feel this watch cap because it’s the hardest thing you’re going to feel in 2 months.” We were teased so much about the absence of sex that even the virgins were having withdrawals.
One of our group discovered that she could open a vent and crawl over to one of the men’s companies. Off she went while the rest of us remained behind a bit scared and a lot impressed. What she got into with those 80 men is anyone’s guess. Probably nothing really, but we had fun imagining all sorts of hijinks. The next day maintenance came in and bolted that vent to the wall.
Sometimes I think that the purpose of all this sex stuff was to get the women sailors acting more like the male sailors. Yes, the stereotype of sailors being unwisely sexual is very true. And that includes the women. Too much time at sea, too many hours working, they need a release. Better everyone screwing than fighting. Although a lot of that happens as well.
Orlando, Florida is a pretty scary place to be in the summer. Lots of rain and lightning strikes. You can get killed just going outside. There was a story the COs told us about a company of recruits who did not take care. They took us to another barracks room like ours. On every bunk hung a rain jacket. They told us that the entire company had gotten electrocuted and died. The barracks room is no longer used as tribute to those recruits. Now, I don’t know if that story was true but at the time it freaked me out and I was paranoid about getting struck by lightning for the rest of bootcamp. Actually, I still haven’t completely recovered.
Sometimes people just can’t handle all the crap they put you through. So, one of the main duties of security on the base is watching out for “baby booties on the loose.” People trying to jump the fence and go AWOL. You sign up, you don’t get to leave. You NEVER really leave. Read the contract.
No one from my company tried it, but there was a group of older women there who had escaped and after many years, turned themselves in to face the music.
A Bit of Fun
It’s not all drilling and exercising and being terrorized. Once we’d been there long enough that they were sure we weren’t going to try and escape they let us have a “controlled liberty.” We went to circus world!
And graduation weekend we got some time to do things with people who came to the graduation.
Hard, but “Loving in the end” COs
Yeah, no. Our COs hated each other and they took it out on us. When we finally got on the bus to go to the plane after bootcamp, there were no kind words, no congratulations, no “good job”. They were just happy to see the end of us. Where the hell was Louis Gossett Jr? Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman” had it nicer!
Yeah, it was hard. And it’s not for everyone, maybe even most. But it was where I started growing up and into myself as a person.
I learned to be a part of a team. If one person made a mistake, we all paid. It created a unit that was self-policing. We held each other to high standards. We helped each other overcome difficulties. We each became less selfish.
Yes, they break you down, in my case I needed it, it’s part of why I was there. And then you come back, stronger, with more confidence in yourself, ready to be a part of a team that has a mission. There is nothing like that feeling. Nothing at all.
My grandparents came all the way down to Orlando for my graduation! They gave us a day off base and we went to Disney World! I was so happy they were there! All the way from Omaha!
Then, after graduation, they put us on a plane to our next destination. For me it was San Diego, where I went to A-School to be a Data Processer. Remember I choose that in the beginning? But A-School is another story.