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.