Basic Training 1st Night

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Do you know what’s NOT the best part of basic training? That first night! October 12, 1994 was a very long day indeed.It started innocently enough. I woke up in a Howard Johnson’s hotel in Sioux Falls, SD. A taxi took me and a few others to the MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station). So far so good. We signed some paperwork, took our oath of enlistment (done by a Navy O-3) and went into groups based on the service we were entering. Some of the people entering the other services managed to get in trouble and ended up doing push-ups. Not us Air Force people, though. Everybody also had the joy of a going away drug test. People love filling up a bottle in public with others watching. Not as bad as the “Underwear Olympics” of our entrance physicals some weeks before, though.

When we took off for the airport I was put in charge of our AF group. Basically I was given a big manila envelop with everybody’s info. I was the oldest and was also going in as an E-3, so I was technically the ranking person.

I had never flown commercial before that day. I’d been up a few times in small planes, but nothing big. The Sioux Falls airport only had 4 gates, so there wasn’t much chance of getting lost. Our connecting flight was through O’Hare. Just a little bit bigger…

We arrived in San Antonio fairly late. We formed up in the hallway and were marched to waiting buses. Then we got to “enjoy” the ride to Lackland Air Force Base… Basically a bus full of nervous people wondering if they’ve just made the biggest mistake of their lives.

When we pull up to the dorm (the 320th Training Squadron, aka Alcatraz, for me) the driver gets out and talks to the TI’s. One of the recruits has been giving him shit and he points him out for their benefit. They haul him out and ream him up and down. Quite a bit more wondering about what the Hell we’ve gotten ourselves in to.

When we’re all out they line us up. This is mostly done through yelling. No lie – one of the TI’s has the last name of Bully! He was born for this job! We’re all standing there, luggage in hand. They tell us to set it down. Nope – too hard! Do it softly! Nope, you guys did it wrong again. And over and over. And you learn that every sentence is to be prefaced with “Sir, Airman (your last name) reports as ordered!”. It could also be ma’am, but these were all male TI’s. It’s amazing how hard it is for some people to get the phrase right. You continually hear an extra “sir” on the end. There is a small possibility that nerves contribute to this.

Up in the dorm is much more fun. We’re assigned lockers and beds. Apparently this can only be done through loud yelling and threats. Who would have guessed?

Everybody has to shave. But apparently we’re on a tight schedule, so there’s no time for shaving creme! So a painful dry shave for everybody.

Everybody has to shower, too. You have to have shower shoes on, but no time to get them out if you brought them. So basically you have a line of 60 naked guys, all wearing nothing but their shoes, hurrying through the showers. No time to really wash, just enough to get your shoes soaked. Of course they later get all packed up while still wet, so 6 weeks later when you leave they’re in terrible shape.

Most of the first few nights blur together. Lots of yelling, very little sleep. The first night we were up extra late, and they got us up an hour earlier than the other flights that had been there longer. At that stage you’re considered a “rainbow”. Rainbows stood out because they still had all their hair and they were still in civilian clothes.

The first time through the line at the chow hall you have no time to pick what you want to eat. I end up with fish, which I loathe. Then again, when you get about 2 minutes to eat it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference what you have. It’s in your stomach before it hits your taste buds.

At some point we also did  mass in-processing. It may have been before we even got to the dorm. It’s all a bit hazy after 20 years. I remember lots of voices cracking when they called out names.

They also sent people in to verify that we had no food with us. Sneaking in food was a major no-no. I had to dispose of my pack of gum. They go through all your stuff looking for contraband. Considering that all your luggage gets shoved in a closet you can’t access I don’t really see what good sneaking anything in would do. You even end up wearing Air Force issues socks and underwear (tighty whities  of course). You also end up having to pay for your own haircut when they shave your head a few days later. That was a crock!

Basic Training Memories…

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It’s funny how even in a stressful environment little things can make you laugh or smile.  Or maybe it’s not funny at all – when stressed you need that release most.  One of my most vivid memories of basic training: we were in the dorm, practicing making our beds as teams of two, and failing miserably.  Well, mostly one person was.  He was being yelled at in the other bay (the dorm was divided into two bays).  He gave a reply to something – we couldn’t hear what he said.  And Sergeant Barry replied “Well Holy Shit, Batman!” and we all lost it.  It would have sucked to be the poor kid in there, but that moment made our week.  Small things…

I remember somebody remarking to me that I was probably the only person there who he hadn’t heard fart.  I can’t remember his name, but I know he was going to be a lineman (as in climbing up telephone poles, etc.), was from the northeast (Maine, I do believe), was married with kids, and was one of the few people who didn’t opt in for the GI Bill.  Why do I know these things?  Who knows?

Whenever somebody received food in the mail they were forced to become the Chow Runner.  The Chow Runner would enter the chow hall first, and ask permission for the flight to enter.  Easy?  Maybe. Except for the fact that he had to ask permission from a group of TI’s (training instructors, or drill instructors if you’re Army).  A lot of TI’s got off on making people nervous and scared, so they tended to give the Chow Runners a whole rash of shit.  We had one airman in our flight that apparently had a friend who knew this tradition, because he kept getting food in the mail every few days.  The sad thing is that you can’t have any outside food in basic, so he’d have to throw it out.  One time Sergeant Barry let him run down and eat as much as he wanted in a minute.  Homemade cookies probably never tasted better!

One day we had to do lawn maintenance.  I got to mow.  In the Air Force you had to wear ear and eye protection to mow.  Gets a little hot!  We had a guy, Airman Zatorski, who told them he “didn’t want the responsibility” of weed eating or mowing, whichever they gave him, so they let him switch.  I think this memorable to me only because of this – he was going to Security Forces.  As in, he was going to be a cop.  Carrying an M16, or possible a 9mm.  But he “didn’t want the responsibility” of running a weed eater?  Lord save us!

One time we were at the shoppette (has little things to buy, and snacks and stuff).  Huber was all nervous because he had dared to buy a Three Musketeers.  Nobody hassled him, and he broke it into thirds and gave two of us a bite.  Best candy bar ever!  He later got recycled (sent back two weeks in training), but it nothing to do with that incident.  On our last day Sergeant Barry was talking about the people who didn’t make it with us, and said Huber probably didn’t deserve to be recycled.  I ran into Huber once at tech school.

Most of us gave blood during the blood drive.  Any time away from the dorm was a mini vacation.  And we got Coke and cookies after!  We would have given blood every day if they’d have let us…

Every Sunday we had the option to go to church.  Just like the saying that there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no atheists in basic training.  The familiarity of mass felt good.  Being out of the dorm for a few hours felt great!  A lot of people went to the Muslim services because they gave them pizza afterwards.  Maybe I should have converted.

Before I left for basic I recorded myself reading a few books for the boys.  Apparently they loved listening to them.  That was easily the hardest part.  On those rare occasions when we could call home it felt so good to talk to a family member.  It felt crushing when you got the answering machine.

Airman Carey gave the driver shit about something on the bus ride from the airport to basic.  The driver told on him when we got there, and he caught Hell.  That first night sucked!  Lots of yelling, lots of disorientation, lots of threats, lots of verbal degradation.  We only got a few hours’ sleep that night, too, so the next morning was brutal.  And the first few days don’t really count as training days.  Bunch of crap that was!