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!