After p-days, you start week one. Your recruiter may “accidentally” leave that part off, telling you how boot camp is only eight easy weeks long. It is nine, punk! Actually for me it was twelve, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Week one begins with being yelled at (scratch, make that continuing), now accompanied by bizarre and long exercise/torture sessions. Have you ever had to do group sit ups, locking arms with 80 of your closest friends? Mountain climbers? Eight count body builders? Lest I not forget, the famous ground arms position. It was kind of like a variation on the yoga triangle pose. Not so bad unless you’re sick (after the immunizations, most have now acquired the dreaded Ricky (short for recruit) crud, meaning you cough up phlegm balls and snot leaks continually out of your nose - using the laws of gravity, you can imagine keeping your head below your waist for any length of time would lead to some really astonishing drainage issues. Rock! Lots of running in circles in an indoor high school gym-looking auditorium, so that at some point, the front of the group, catches up to the back of the group, and it’s just chaos. Sometimes you get to get beat (exercise) in your PT clothes (blue shorts, white tee, and tennis shoes), but usually it is in full uniform. Let me break that down for you, starting at the bottom and working up: White socks covered by a pair of black socks, black boots (weight approximately that of a dead, wet raccoon - each boot) called boondockers, dungarees (bellbottom jeans) over a pair of blue silky shorts, over a pair of underpants (white and with your name stenciled on the ass region). Long sleeve blue button down shirt over a white t-shirt over a sports bra (white and again with your name!). Sometimes a baseball hat, but usually they would make us put on our watch cap (black stocking cap). Billy Blanks has nothing on these fools.
Aside from that, the first week, if I remember correctly, involved lots of stenciling. Ha, you didn’t know the Navy was so Martha Stewart-ish, did you? You have to stencil your name on every piece of clothing they give you, and they give you lots of clothing (which comes out of your first paycheck, so look forward to gross earnings of around $3 that first time). To keep it interesting, they give you a black and a white paint pen. These things are not easy to use at all and randomly blow up. How the RDC’s wait for this moment! Not that they really need a reason to yell at you, but there you go. You even have to stencil your towels. Last name, division # and last 4 of social security.
I may get things a bit out of order here, it has been about 10 years since I’ve been in boot camp, and the brain cells don’t always want to work together as a team. Some want to take a nap. Just go with it.
The first four weeks are lots of classroom trips where you learn about things. What things? Rank and recognition, knot tying (seriously), stuff like that. Pretty basic. You have to take tests on it and if you fail, you get rolled back – this means that if you are on week three of basic training, you go back to another division that is on week one and start from that point – thereby increasing your time at Great Lakes. There’s still the usual amount of yelling/exercise ratio.
You also learn how to fold your clothes. Yes, really! I swear I could probably make my entire wardrobe fit into two drawers thanks to the kick ass folding skills I learned in the Navy. Just splendid. You get drilled on these things constantly. You are timed on how quickly you can fold your towel into a perfect sandwich shaped item and how fast you can make your bed.
Oh, the bathrooms! There are no doors on the bathrooms. Somehow they think that would case us to not work together as a team I suppose. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the stall, I just don’t want to be part of any team. So the first two stalls are just RIGHT THERE, so the other girls waiting in line can stare at you. No one actually does (I don’t think), but still. The other 5 stalls are kind of around the corner, the last stall of course being the most coveted. Showering is in one big room, eight shower heads. No hot water while I was there. They call it the Ricky Car wash. In and out in under five minutes. No shaving the legs either, razors are forbidden, lest we try to slit our wrists with a Lady Bic razor blade.. As are Q-tips. Why Q-tips? I don’t know, but I really missed those things, I really, really did.
Lots of marching. If you are going somewhere, you are marching there. The girls and guys march together. Depending on which side your bed is on in the compartment, that determines which guys from the brother division you will march with. You get in line by height and then you number off one through six, then run down the stairs and out the door and get in line one thru six. Someone inevitably always forgets their number, gets in the wrong line, throws off the whole thing, and much yelling/exercise ensues. One guy (or girl) at the back sings cadence so we all stay in step. At first, this will be a problem, especially the first time guys and girls march together, lots of stepping on each other, even a few shoes fell off. Every time you come to a street crossing (and it is 5 blocks to the galley), you have to stop and wait for a road guard (anyone in your division who is under 5’2” is eligible for this crap job) has to run from the back of the group, all the way to the front, and stand with their hand in the stop position while we cross the street. I was thankful everyday for my 5’9” tall self. The sidewalks there, at least I believe, are jacked up just to make you trip and give the RDC’s a chuckle. Throw in some ice and snow and you are looking at some delightful marches. March to class, march to the galley (food), march to the drill hall to practice – wait for it – marching.
The other thing about boot camp I haven’t mentioned yet are watches. At any time, two people from your division will be on watch in the ship. What are they watching for? No one knows. Maybe that someone will steal a really crappy sixty year old building? Anyhow. One person stands at the front (the aptly named Forward Watch) and the one at the back of the compartment (the Aft Watch). Anytime an RDC comes in the Forward Watch has to shout “Attention on Deck!” and everyone has to stand to attention. Until the RDC says at ease, and sometimes, depending on the mood, this can take a while. The watches are two hours long each, except during they day, there are four hour watches. The night ones are the worst. Think about it. You get undressed and go to bed at 10. You get woken up at 11:45 and have to get dressed in full uniform and be on watch by midnight. You stand around in the dark for two hours watching for darkness. At 2:00 a.m., you get relieved by the next watch, get undressed and go back to bed. At 4:00 a freakin’ m, you get up, get dressed, and go for a nice relaxing run. By the way, I totally blame my addiction to naps on the Navy. Sometimes I’m not even tired, but I can’t resist the urge to take a nap, because of the fear that I never know when I will get another one. For serious.
Sometimes when you are on darkness watch, random RDC’s come up to you in the middle of the night and ask you to repeat an order of the general sentry. There are eleven of these orders, so they might just be asking you randomly to repeat number seven. The only one I remember is #11. Let me share: To be especially watchful at night and, during the time for challenging, to challenge all persons on or near my post and to allow no one to pass without proper authority. Be jealous of my skills.
One time I was on watch in the back (ha, aft) of the compartment. You have to wear a big giant gold nametag that says Aft Watch, ok? So this RDC comes up to me and says, “Toastcrumbs are you feeling particularly stupid tonight?” Now is there ever a really good way to answer that question? More importantly, a way to answer it that will not involve me doing push ups? So I say, “No Petty Officer, not particularly.” Of course he then points out that my giant ass nametag is on upside down. Push ups follow this exchange.
Other than the compartment watches, in February they have this fun thing called snow watches. Instead of just standing around in the dark in a barely heated room, you are outside in the elements shoveling snow for two hours. After you get the sidewalk cleared, just at that very moment, a snow plow will come by and completely cover all the work you just completed. This is what happened to me on Week 3 of basic training anyhow. I am not in the best mood and thinking this place blows gigantic chunks of monkey ass. I get back to the compartment in time to see the Aft Watch sneaking out to the shared lounge area between the compartments. She tells me to come with her, and naturally I think sure, what could go wrong? Some of the guys from the brother division had gotten some cigarettes. Ah yes, hello old friends! Welcome to flavor country. Nope, nothing could go wrong with this well thought out plan.
Except possibly for the Forward Watch (Piroudis was her last name – I’m still mad at her by the way! Maybe I should let that go . . .) straight turned us in! What followed was much yelling, exercising and moving. Yes, moving! We were all rolled back to another division that was in – wait for it – p-days. After completing almost 4 weeks of boot camp, I was back on day one. Son of a . . . maybe smoking is bad for you. There’s probably a lesson to be learned somewhere in that whole mess.
To be continued….
2005-03-18 at 11:00 p.m.