In the Clink: Day Three

If you are just now joining the story, this is part three.  Check out part one first: http://newnavywave.com/2015/03/30/in-the-clink-night-one/ 

I’m not going to bore you with how boring it was in jail. It can be summed up as: people were brought in. people were taken out. It was cold. The food was horrible and sparse.

My primary source of entertainment was my imagination, which was racing with all the horror stories the kindly old jail-birds had so freely shared.  The horror stories fell into two categories: Prison and Navy Jail (the brig).

I’m not sure which type of story was worse.  The prison stories were undeniably horrific.  Come to think of it, the brig stories were far worse, because they were deniably horrific.  Nobody in that cell had actually been to the brig, but everyone had a solid opinion about it.

I had no idea which destination awaited me–prison or the brig.  When the officers arrived to take me to court, I had already been well-wished and assured that I would return to the cell later that day, with tales of adventure.

Handcuffed, shackled, and with my handcuffs linked to a heavy chain around my waist, I waited in yet another very crowded, very small, block cell with many other women.  A long line of male prisoners were marched down the hall, past our window, and the women crowded the window to shout encouragement and various compliments at the men.  Their enthusiasm was returned in kind, which was quite heart-warming, really.  You can’t stop love.

At last, everyone had been removed from the cell except me and one young woman from Los Angeles.  We were there for hours, so we talked about everything under the sun.  I learned she was terrified of hippies, describing them as “really old, crazy people who will fight anybody for no reason.  But they do love their music.”  I agreed with her.

“My dad was a hippie.” I told her.

“Man, that’s scary.” She said. “Which prison is he in?”  He was free, as far as I knew, but he did love fights and music, so I recognized the wisdom of her opinion.

She, like everyone else in jail, was completely innocent.  Yes, she HAD been caught smuggling drugs into a federal prison.  But she was convinced that she had been arrested because of racism.  Hence, innocence.  I agreed with her.

She expected to be released that day, as soon as she had a chance to tell the judge that she did not deserve to be there.  I agreed with her.

“I don’t want to go to prison.” She said, in a miserable tone that belied the jocularity we had managed to keep up all day. “I’m really a nice person.”  I agreed with her, and actually meant it.

“If you get out,” she added, “And I don’t, you have to drink a cup of coffee for me, okay?”  We would have shook on it, but we were kind of tied up at the moment.

Eventually, I made it into the courtroom.  I felt like nobody could possibly look at me–in a jail uniform with shackles and my hair tied back with a sandwich bag–and not assume the worst.  I looked like a criminal.

I scanned the audience for a familiar face.  There were none, but there was a familiar form of dress that set my heart pounding.  Starched khakis, rows of ribbons, and shiny gold anchors on the collar.  Somebody was there for me.

The judge informed me that I was being charged with felony assault.  He informed me that I would be kept in jail until my trial in a few weeks.  Horror completely overwhelmed me, and I have no idea exactly how Chief got from his seat to the podium–whether he was invited or just invited himself.  Yet, there he stood, facing the judge.

His speech filtered through the chaos in my brain, and I’m sure he said some fine things.  But the gist of it was: Ours. Give back now.

The next thing I remember is sitting in the chief’s nice car in the parking lot, in the ratty civilian clothes I had been arrested in a few days before.

Two overpowering emotions surged through me.  They were: Shower. Coffee.

More kinds of emotions, thoughts, and realizations were later to follow, but, at the time, those two were as much as I could handle.

“Am I going to the brig?” I asked.

Chief let me know that we would return to the base, where I would take a room in the barracks until everything was settled. Nobody would post me.  I would return to work the following day, quietly, without talking to anybody about anything or being asked any questions.  My restrictions were that I was confined to the base until further notice (which turned out to be a long time), that I must not hit people (which seemed reasonable), and that I was not to touch alcohol for any reason.  He had promised the judge that he would be personally responsible for my actions.

“If you do end up getting sent to prison on a felony charge,” he said, “At that point, our hands are tied.  But, until then, your command is behind you.  Now let’s get something to eat and get you home.”

Home.  The word had just changed forever.

I’m glad to wrap up this three-part blog.  Now, I can get back to my usual style of writing–sarcastic, fun, and a little messed up.  However, I needed to write this, so I did.  Last night was the one-year anniversary of my arrest.  I’m glad now that it happened.  I learned so many valuable lessons and became a better person.  Also, I’m lying.  It was a stupid, useless experience that put me through months of nonsense.  But life went on.  And it’s turning out great.  I’m telling the truth about that one.

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In the Clink: Night Two.

Names have been changed. If you are just joining the story, I recommend you read part one first. Read it here:http://newnavywave.com/2015/03/30/in-the-clink-night-one/

After a dismal night and day in the county lock-up, I was shackled and taken out of my cell, along with a couple of other women, and moved into a smaller cell down the hall. This one felt more like a phone booth than a cell. I wondered briefly if we had been placed in a time travel machine, and I might wake up in Victorian England, the Catacombs, or (at best) the day before my arrest. We might have done some time travel in there, but without clocks or windows, there was no way to be sure. I hoped that wherever we landed, I would be alone, since the idea of being trapped in the Catacombs with a bunch of criminals was not my preferred method of travel.

I still suffered under the delusion that I might soon be taken to court or released, but that was not to be. After an indeterminate length of time, we were removed from that cell and taken on a walk to somewhere.

It was a van with cage-like dividers inside.

“They’re moving us to the main jail,” a woman whispered to me. It turned out the cell where I had spent the night was a kind of holding pen, and the real thing was yet to come.

We waited in the van until it was full. I noticed that different prisoners wore different colors of jumpsuits, when they put a couple of men in black-and-white stripes into the cage in the back of the van. The stripes marked them as particularly dangerous, violent people, and I felt somewhat grateful for the cages and all the chains.

When we drove into the main jail, through the fences topped with loops of barbed wire, I began to wonder if and when I would ever get home. Was I still in the Navy? Did they know where I was? Was anybody trying to get me out, or had I been dismissed as a worthless piece of trash? Was my husband trying to get me out or trying to keep me in? For a member of our modern, plugged-in society, the total absence of information was maddening.

Inside, we went through more processing, more waiting, more standing by to stand by.

At last, we were divided into cell blocks. I was escorted, with two other women, into a cell that seemed like a very sparse dormitory. There were no windows, and the concrete walls were lined with metal bunk beds. In the middle of the room were a couple of built-in table/bench sets, and I saw, to my great relief, that there was an actual bathroom instead of a toilet in the middle of the room, like in the last cell. There was glass in the bathroom door, to prohibit total privacy, but it was better than an open toilet.

The guards removed our shackles and left. The cell was completely full, and all of the women stared silently at us newcomers. We stood–all awkward and nervous–for their wordless scrutiny. Nobody moved.

At last, one of the women cracked her knuckles and demanded, “Which one of you is the Navy girl that beat the devil out of her abusive husband?”

What were the odds? There were TWO of us? I glanced at the other two newcomers, but they just looked uncomfortable.

Making the snap decision that timidity was not my best friend here, I raised my hand and said, “That would be me.”

A raucous cheer rang throughout the concrete box, and the next thing I knew, I was enveloped with warm applause, claps on the back, and orders from the apparent ringleader for somebody to move and give me a seat at the table. They surrounded me–all smiles and introductions.

“Tell us the whole story, and I mean EVERYTHING,” ordered the Main Woman. “Don’t leave anything out. We’ve heard all about you, girl.”

I was stunned that somehow the lockup underground had already carried my story from the holding pen to the cell blocks. As is standard with gossip, by the time the story reached these prisoners, it had been dramatically enhanced. They seemed to be impressed with a delusion that I was a serious, hard-time, big-deal, Ninja-type female with mad fighting skills. I saw no reason to burst that particular bubble, especially since I still had no idea how long I would be one of their company. Besides, I foresaw that I might benefit in the way of snacks or some writing paper, if I didn’t go out of my way to explain that I would have a hard time punching my way through a paper bag, let alone an attacker.

I was not wrong.

The one thing that disheartened everyone, including myself, was the certainty reached by the group that I would not be released, but would only be taken to “Navy Jail.” Someone had a sister, who had a friend, who had a boyfriend, whose brother’s cousin’s roommate’s lover had been locked in Navy Jail, and that woman impressed us with her knowledge of the horrors which awaited me.

“You better hope they leave you in here with us,” she said. “They starve people in Navy Jail. And they beat them. And the jail is in the bottom of some boat somewhere…”

It sounded worse by the minute. Except the boat part. I like boats.

The old jail-birds advised me to roll my socks around my ankles before being taken to court. “The shackles really hurt,” said one, “And they’re going to hurt no matter what you do, but the socks help a little.”

There was a cardboard box of paperback books in the cell, and I took one to bed and tried to read. I wished I could shower and make myself presentable for my upcoming court day, but the women informed me I wouldn’t get any soap until after court, when I would be returned to them. That I could send a letter to my family, asking for some commissary money for toiletries and Ramen noodles, but, until then, a shower must remain an unfulfilled desire. Also, there was some kind of shower schedule, of which I was not yet a part.

I tried to feel upbeat, remembering something my grandpa Charles often said, to encourage optimism: Two men looked out through prison bars. One saw the mud. The other saw the stars.

No windows = no stars, but still.

To be continued.

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In the Clink: Night One.

Names have been changed. 

About a year ago, I found myself in jail.  By “found myself,” I don’t mean that I had a grand spiritual awakening there, which changed the course of my life and led me to flee the Navy and set up a basket-weaving tent in Dubai.  I only mean that I was pretty surprised to be there.  I wasted my one phone call, calling the person who had called the cops on me in the first place, so chances of being bailed out were pretty slim.

The cops were pretty nice, and one of them reassured me, during my professional photography session, saying, “Don’t worry. There are lots of people in here way worse than you.”  I felt comforted, knowing I would be the nicest person in my peer group. Maybe I would win a certificate or a “Miss Congeniality” trophy.

I was given the mandatory opportunity to perform a striptease, as well as the chance to trade my boring outfit for a set of scrubs and a t-shirt, sized XXXL, which seemed to have been donated by a sloppy eater with a broken washing machine.

I waited around in my cell, which was freezing cold but extremely well-lit, wondering what kind of people my new roommates would be. I crossed my fingers in the hopes they would be quieter than my shipmates in boot camp, with less tendency to complain all night.

A shriek rang through the halls, and I heard a woman screaming, “Get away from me! Don’t you touch me! You have no right!”

It seemed a maniac had been picked up by law enforcement and was being escorted to a cell.

Please, God, I prayed, Don’t let them put her in here with– 

Clang.  There she was. Welcome home, roomie.

Her eyes darted madly about, and she backed away from me until she was against the wall. “Are you with THEM?” She gasped.

“No,” I said, “I’m with us.”

She relaxed visibly and started setting up her living area.  By “living area,” I mean she put her mattress down on the concrete floor.  We each had a thin mattress in a plastic tub, a change of socks, an extra t-shirt, and bedding.  I found out later that I should have been given a plastic cup and a spork, but neither of those items ever came through, and I went without a drink until the next day, when the lunatic–I’ll just call her Meth-head Mandy for now–offered to share her cup with me.  I asked the guards every time they came around for a cup, but they seemed to be suffering with short-term memory loss, and I got pretty thirsty before long.

Many other women joined us, until the floor was completely covered with mattresses.  Much to my surprise, every single one of them were innocent of any wrong-doing, claiming misunderstandings, framing, or police error.  I was pleased to be in such outstanding company.

For a bunch of upstanding citizens, they were pretty quick to fight, and I worried about Meth-head Mandy when she stole another woman’s mattress while that woman was temporarily away with the officers. Despite the overwhelming evidence against her, such as having two mattresses stacked atop each other, she decried her accuser until fists were raised and the victim and her crony had Mandy pinned against the wall.  Only then did she surrender her extra mattress.

The worst thing about being locked up was having no idea how time was passing.  With no window, no clock, and the lights always on, I lost all track of time.  The only indication of any time having passed was being fed through the slot in the door.  I have occasionally complained about Navy chow, but the galley is a five-star bistro compared to jail. The first night, we each got a baked potato covered in spaghetti sauce.  Possible to eat with your fingers, but challenging.

At some point, we decided it was night and lay down to sleep.  “Wait,” said an elderly lady “Nobody has said prayers.  I’ll start.”

I closed my eyes and bowed my head, and the lady began, “Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you for bringing us all here together…”

All the oxygen emptied from my lungs.  I bit my cheek with all my might, willing myself not to laugh and possibly offend this congregation of innocent and quick-tempered church-goers.  The laugh escaped as nothing more than a choking gasp, which led to one comment of, “That’s right, sister, just depend on Jesus. He knows you’re innocent, just like me.”

“We can’t all sleep at once!” said Meth-head Mandy. “The cops will come in here and strangle us all to death, if nobody is awake to see them!”

Great, I thought, Even in jail, I can’t get out of standing watch.

“Don’t worry,” one woman said, “They won’t try anything with her here.” Much to my surprise, she pointed at me. “She could probably beat up everybody in this room at once, so we can all go to sleep.” I have no idea how I gave that impression, but it achieved the desired effect.

I don’t think we slept very long, but who knows? A woman was taken away. A woman was given back. A woman was taken away. A different woman was given.

She came in breathless and excited. “Did you hear?”

She had just been moved from “the cage” down the hall, where a woman who had been in the news for shaking a baby to death had been deposited. She said the guards put her in there, remarked on her crime, and went away on rounds. I am grateful to this day that I was NOT involved in that situation. The prisoners, who are known to be innocent of all crimes unless accused of harming a child, had all taken turns beating that woman, shaking her now and then, too, in a sense of fitting justice for her crime.

I kept expecting to be released or turned over to the Navy, but when “breakfast” was served the next morning, I was still there. Attitudes were very positive at breakfast, as each woman hoped to be taken to court, heard, and certainly released on grounds of innocence. Only Meth-head Mandy was pretty confident of being kept in jail, since the cops had wired the room, her mattress, and possibly her hair for surveillance and mind control.

At breakfast, I succumbed to thirst and shared a cup with Mandy, as well as her spork. Everyone wanted to know if jail was better, worse, or the same as boot camp.  I explained that the food in boot camp was better, but jail seemed much more relaxing.  They were pretty proud of that, having been in jail often enough to consider themselves somehow owners of the place, and they pointed out that they assumed they were pretty nice company–certainly better than a bunch of violent military people. Meth-head Mandy said they weren’t always nice, and she shared some prison stories which curled my toenails.  However, everyone agreed that the company of convicts was far to be preferred over the company of cops or sailors (except me).  I agreed with them, as I did about everything for as long as I was there.

Much to my surprise, I was NOT taken to court and spent the day sitting on my mattress on the floor, being witnessed to by the church lady and reassuring Mandy that there were enough of us to take THEM if THEY tried to sneak in.  I learned valuable life skills, such as how to put my hair up with a sandwich bag from lunch, and heard a lot of interesting stories.  I had apparently established myself as the most interesting story-teller, and one woman remarked how glad she was to be locked up with me, and that she hoped it happened again, sometime.  I was less hopeful.

In what turned out to be afternoon, the police opened the door and motioned to me.  I was going somewhere.  Home? To court? To the base?

Not at all.

(To be continued)

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Mandatory Fun

Joining the Navy introduced me to a lot of terms I had never used before–terms like “bulkhead,” “swab,” and “muster.”  The most perplexing term, however, was introduced to me at aviation A-school in Pensacola, Florida.

“Mandatory Fun.”

The first time I heard this expression, I thought it was a joke.  We were all standing still and not speaking, which is the culmination of much of our early training.  A Very Important Person announced, “Tomorrow will be mandatory fun.  You will be there, and you will have fun for a minimum of two hours.  Petty Officers will be walking among you, in civilian clothes, to ensure that everyone has fun.  If you are caught not having fun, you will be posted to the Petty Officer in Charge of the barracks, and disciplined.”

The following day, I showed up for mandatory fun and was introduced to another deeply held naval tradition–complaining.  They say the only happy sailor is a complaining sailor, and, if that is true, we must have all been nearly out of minds with bliss.  The galley was closed, so we all had to eat “fun” chow at the bar-b-q.  There were flies.  Picnic tables had been set up for our convenience.  They were hot.  It was a clear, sunny day on the coast in Florida.  There were ants.

The first acronym a sailor learns–before DRB, MAF, SDC or anything else–is N.A.V.Y.  Never Again Volunteer Yourself.  The idea is to maintain as low a profile as possible, refrain from making eye contact with anyone, and move throughout the crowd in such an inconspicuous manner that nobody would ever be able to swear for certain whether you were actually there.

I spent the first hour of my two mandatory fun hours skulking through the crowd, practicing these evasive maneuvers.  Suddenly, my roommate appeared out of nowhere (which proves she had mastered the technique), grabbed my arm, and hissed, “Move.”

She spirited me into the center of the crowd, where we tried to look invisible as she told me, “They’re starting a three-legged race, and they’re taking volunteers!  You almost got taken.”

The United States Armed Forces lend a whole new meaning to the phrase “Taking” volunteers.

In addition to the occasional mandatory fun day, sometimes they will have a fun day for PT.  You would think we would all be happy for a chance to play some kickball or baseball, instead of doing bear crawls or a sand run, but most people crank up the whining to level ten on these days.

I must admit, there is an added level of difficulty to playing a sport where both teams are wearing the exact same outfit, but to hear us whine, you would think we were being lined up for an annual “shoot your puppy” event.

One pleasant spring day in C-school, we were all driven onto the field, sniveling and complaining, for an hour of kickball. The rules were changed several times, mid-game, by the petty officer in charge, which did nothing to alleviate the discontent.  We were standing on the outfield, making occasional half-hearted motions to avoid being hit by the ball, when one player pointed out the obvious.

“Those guys in the infield are a bunch of Blue Falcons.” She said, “If they cared about their shipmates, they’d throw the game, so we could leave.”

We concentrated all our efforts on staring down the guy up to kick.  He received the message and kicked a wild foul ball that ended the game.  The day was saved!

A couple weeks later, after a similarly motivated game of touch football, I texted one of my Marine buddies to complain. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Just got out of PT. It was awful!
Him: Mine, too! We did a ten-mile desert run in full gear, then an obstacle course.
Me: They made us play touch football!
Him: Wait…they let you play football for PT?
Me: They MADE us play football.  There’s a difference.
Him: Whiners.
Me: For HALF AN HOUR!
Him: …

The commands never seem to understand that it is impossible to mandate fun.  That no matter how fun something should be, the minute you add the word “mandatory” is the moment of its death.  If they want us to have an hour of fun, they should give us an hour of liberty.

It sounds good, but our culture of complaining would possibly latch onto that in two seconds flat, and you might begin to hear things like “I can’t believe I’m getting this hour of liberty… this is awful… I wish they’d just make us all run three-legged races instead.”

…yeah, probably not.  But we’re not likely to ever have the chance to find out for sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m on liberty, and I want to go enjoy myself as much as possible before I’m required to start having fun again.

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SIQ Daze

Everyone who enters the United States’ Armed Services is medically screened at a processing center, long before he or she is shipped off to boot camp.  It may be assumed that the government is so picky about choosing healthy young people, because they want people who can withstand the rigors of the battlefield.

It turns out the reason they are so meticulous, is because a sickly person will never survive the allergens, pathogens, viruses, and general crud which is passed around at boot camp.  Pink Eye sweeps through the barracks like an avenging ghoul, and a vicious virus known to recruits as “The Double Dragon” strikes without warning, sometimes knocking out up to half a division in one swoop.

I escaped the claws of the Double Dragon for the first month of boot camp, but one evening, after a particularly rigorous afternoon of standing still and not talking, I succumbed.  The recruit who slept in the rack next to mine ended up in the emergency room with me, and it was there I discovered that being sick in boot camp is a far cry from being sick at home.

When a person is sick at home, they might expect sympathy, rest, and cure-all chicken soup.  In the waiting room at the E.R., an old veteran approached us to comment, “In MY day, we had to really SHINE our boots.  I see they’re not doing that anymore.”  If you see a sailor in the emergency room, I’m sure the natural response is to rush over and critique his shoe-shine.  I’ll keep that in mind, for future reference.  So much for sympathy.

As for chicken soup, the closest thing a recruit may expect is a pack of Saltine crackers from the galley.  Going to the galley was pure torture.  The sick recruit is rudely awakened, given five minutes to get into the uniform of the day, and marched to the galley with the rest of the peons to stand in line, get crackers from the salad bar, eat them in the ten minutes allotted to chow, and marched back to the compartment to crawl back into bed.  Even if the recruit is too sick to eat, going to chow is not optional.  Taking crackers, or anything else, away from the galley is strictly forbidden. 

At the least, I expected to get some rest.  The doctor had given me a S.I.Q. (sick in quarters) chit, which is a piece of paper stating that the recruit is to stay in bed for the allotted time.  I was given seventy-two hours.  It seemed like a dream, at first.  Seventy-two hours to sleep, undisturbed?  Heavenly! 

Not exactly.  The watchman wakes the sick recruit once every hour to check on her, make sure she has taken her medication, and order her to hydrate. 

Hydration is the magic potion of boot camp, so any injuries or illnesses which strike are blamed on dehydration.  Caught the Double Dragon?  Hydrate!  Pink eye?  Hydrate!  Fallen off your rack and broke your leg in seven places?  I guess you should have drank more water, you moron.

Chief Brawn, our burly recruit division commander (RDC) was the kingpin of hydration.  It’s hard to believe the man wasn’t receiving subsidies from the water department.  We, the fallen, were made a grim example of the evils of dehydration to others. 

“Recruits!” Chief Brawn roared, gesturing to my lifeless form, “THIS is why you must drink more water.  Everyone hydrate right now!”  Ninety-five canteens raised in unison, to pour the life-giving potion down ninety-five throats, along with the grisly example set before them of my untimely demise.  The water seemed to do its job, as I observed signs of brain-washing in their watery eyes before lapsing back into unconsciousness.

I was awakened by the repeated opening and slamming of a metal locker, two feet from my bunk.  There stood Chief Brawn, clattering into my oblivion by banging the door of the locker, roaring, “This cutlass locker is FILTHY!”  I stared at him, uncertain whether he addressed me or not. 

“Not YOU!” He roared at me, “WHY are you awake?  You are supposed to be asleep for seventy-two hours.  GO TO SLEEP!”  Bang.  Crash.  Slam.  “Get WELL!”

The medication proved more powerful than the noise, and I relapsed, only to be startled again by Petty Officer Flinch–Chief Brawn’s second-in-command.  “Recruit!” Shouted P.O. Flinch, “You look dead!  Are you still with us?  Hydrate!”  Touched by her concern for my well-being, I sat up and chugged half a canteen of water, which instantly sent me tumbling out of my rack for a mad dash to the bathroom.  “Hydrate when you come back!” She gently screeched.  Never underestimate the tender nature of the feminine gender.

I fell into a dream of being poisoned in a gas chamber.  It woke me up.  Reality proved as bad as the dream.  A team of recruits, wearing goggles and elbow-high rubber gloves, were scrubbing my rack with bleach.  Tears burned my un-goggled eyes.  “She’s awake!” cried a shipmate, “Hydrate.”

At least, I thought, night would bring true repose.  In my delirium, I had forgotten about the nocturnal pow-wows which took place every single evening, in the female compartment, after taps.  The call over the loudspeaker to “Taps. Taps. Lights Out.  All hands return to their racks and maintain silence throughout the ship.” was immediately followed by all hands tumbling back out of their racks to air the grievances of the day.  The grievances were as numerous as recruits, and were aired one at a time, by someone standing in the middle of the compartment and complaining loudly, until she was overtaken by the next speaker. 

I put my pillow over my head and prayed for an earthquake to jostle them all senseless.  At last, I fell asleep. 

“Psst.  Hey, shipmate,”  a timid voice intruded my dreams, “Hey, wake up.”  My eyes opened to the sight of the night watch, gently tugging on my pillow.  “Sit up, come on,” she said, “Hydrate.”  I wondered briefly what the punishment might be for pouring my canteen over her head.  Probably not worth a moment of joy.  I turned up my canteen.

“Hey, what is this?” Did my eyes deceive me, or was my water unusually blue?

“Power-ade,” said the watch.  “Your chit says you’re allowed to have it.”

I had suspected from the first day of boot camp that I was drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid; alas, it had become reality.  I focused on the night watchman’s face and observed a suspicious red color, creeping over her right eye.

“You have Pink Eye,” I whispered.

“No, I don’t,” she said, turning quickly away, “I do not.”

“Your right eye is bright red.”

“I better go hydrate.  Get some rest,” said the watch, “I’ll be back in an hour.”

Morning arrived like a banshee.  Miserable, sick, and sleep-deprived, I rolled off my rack, got into uniform, accepted the plastic bag issued for illnesses of my type, and went to chow.  No sooner had I sat down to nibble on my Saltine crackers than Petty Officer Flinch appeared, looming over me with a sunny smile.  She dangled a piece of paper in my face.  “Look who forgot to carry her S.I.Q. chit with her to the galley!” She kindly gloated, “Guess who I’m going to kill, as soon as I get clearance from medical to do so!  Enjoy the rest of your time sleeping, recruit.”

After seventy-two exhausting hours of respite, I was marched to medical for official renunciation of my illness. 

Medical was just as harsh as the illness, with germ-infested, bald teenagers sitting at attention in neat rows on the concrete floor, awaiting their turn to be suspected by the corpsmen. 

“Do you feel well,” asked the corpsman, “Or do you need to remain S.I.Q.?” 

“I’m perfectly well,” I insisted, “I’m ready to get back to training.”

He looked at me, and said, with all the gentleness of a medical professional, “I’m making you S.I.Q. for one more day.  If you had requested it, I would suspect you were faking, but since you really want to get back to training, I’m sure you need more rest.”

NO!  What was this alternate reality into which I had tumbled?

Eventually, I recovered from my battle with the Double Dragon and re-joined the haggard youths for daily training.  That’s when I discovered that Petty Officer Flinch’s memory was not terrific.  That’s why she wrote my name up on the white board, to remind her to destroy me at some undisclosed date.  She waited until the day before graduation.  Some may observe that this was to keep me on edge, awaiting my punishment.  But I recognized it as the gentle remonstrances of her nurturing nature.  A female could not be so cruel to one of her own kind.

If you are ever at MEPS, being screened for every affliction imaginable, remember that you, too, are far from invincible.  You may be hearty enough to tackle the rigors of war.  But first, you must survive the biological warfare of boot camp.

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Airman Squeaky

 

October, 2013

October, 2013

 

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Boot Camp–the Beginning

Names have been changed.

There are a lot of misconceptions about boot camp.  Some are generated by war movies, which depict boot camp as similar to a POW camp, and those who survive are stuffed into a helicopter and dropped off in the desert with a rifle the day after graduation.  Most misconceptions are spread by the horror stories of previous generations.

Believe it or not, the Navy has changed.  They’re not allowed to punch us in the throat anymore, or even tie us to the yardarm and flog us with a cat o’ nine tails.

When I told my mom I was joining the Navy, she said, “You’ll be sorry when you’re hiding in a foxhole in the jungle, with a machete.”

I have good news.  They’ve decided not to send any more sailors to ‘Nam this year.

I worried about boot camp, though.  Could I handle long-distance running, hours of calisthenics, or the challenges involved with being required to do more than three push-ups at a time?

“Don’t worry.” My recruiter said.  “Boot camp is 90% mental.”

He should have said, “The people in CHARGE at boot camp are 90% mental.”  Maybe that’s what he meant.

For one thing, each RDC suffers under a delusion of owning the entire Navy.  An RDC is a Recruit Division Commander.  If you’re unfamiliar with the Navy, that’s a Drill Instructor or Drill Sargeant.

“My. Navy.” Our burly RDC, Chief Brawn, snapped.  “If you don’t shape up, I’ll kick you out of my division, out of my fleet, and Out. Of. My. Navy.”

By “shape up,” he meant, “stay awake and stop whining about your stupid blisters.”

They also change their minds far too often to be considered fully functional human beings.

“Sit down!” Roared Chief Brawn. “Stand at attention!  Fold your blanket.  Unfold it, and throw it on the floor.  Motivate each other.  Shut your mouths!  Fold your blanket.”

By the end of the first week, the confusion and sleep deprivation have worked together to temporarily erase most of your personality, leaving a nearly-blank slate for the RDC to write on.  Your personality will gradually return after boot camp, but for eight weeks, you look just like everybody else, you say exactly what everybody else is saying, and, before long, all that is unlikable about all of you will surface and blend in one giant, sticky mess of sweat and shoe polish.

Chief Brawn could not possible be everywhere at once, as much as he would have liked us to believe he could.  So, he appointed a few minions to carry out his will.  The minions had it worse than anybody, so, if you’re headed to boot camp, resolve from the beginning that you would rather scrape boot polish off the deck with your teeth than become a minion.  Blame flows both directions to pour over the freshly-shaved head of the minion.  If the RDC hears someone talking in line, the minion is punished.  Several minions are appointed to fill out everyone’s paperwork–which takes them hours to do and often keeps them awake long after taps.  However, all the recruits see is that the minion is sitting on a chair in the office, while they are all sitting cross-legged on a concrete floor, with their hands on their knees.

I, fortunately, stood very little chance of becoming a minion.  I knew too little about the Navy, and I had a nearly uncontrollable smirk that manifested at the worst possible times.  Other recruits were so savvy, you would have thought they had already spent years in the military.  On the first day, while standing in formation, Chief Brawn barked, “Half right FACE!”  Everybody pivoted somehow and were all sort of facing the wall, so I (who had the misfortune to be in front) sort of faced the wall, too.  I willed myself to be invisible, but Chief Brawn was soon standing in front of me, scowling.  “WHAT are you doing?  Something weird–that much I know.  What IS that?”

My response?  “I’m doing the half-face thingie…Sargeant…”

It’s not my fault nobody had told me there are no Sargeants in the Navy.

Somehow, I managed to blunder my way through boot camp and graduate.  I’ve been in the Navy about eight months now, and I’ve decided to share a few of those experiences through this blog.  I want you all to have something to remember me by, when I’m hiding in that foxhole with my trusty machete.

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