After the humiliation of being told that “The position of attention does not require looking at me!”, we were delivered to our barracks. It was a huge brick building fronted by a giant overhang, where we would later line up before meals, and before we went absolutely anywhere. The barracks were upstairs, and exactly what you would expect. Rows of tiny iron beds, each with a locker and two locked drawers. The rest of the building contained the “latrine” and a day room. Which from what I could tell, was mainly where we gathered to receive our mail.
I chose a bunk to the side of the room, already trying to make myself as unnoticeable as possible. Each locker had a padlock hanging from it, with a key and a long chain, since we were to wear the keys around our necks at ALL TIMES. We were screamed at that we had a few seconds to unlock the lockers NOW. Of course, me being the lucky person that I am, had chosen a lock that didn’t work. The TI came barreling toward me, screaming at me for being slow and not following directions. When she realized that it was broken, she relented a bit, before yelling at me to find an unoccupied bunk and locker. I sneaked to the very back of the room and ended up bunking next to a red-headed girl from Kansas. We clung together in terror as we awaited our next round of instructions.
Next up was a “shakedown” in which we were to empty all pockets, purses and wallets. Apparently I’m not the best at following orders, because I neglected to take everything out of my wallet. This caused more anger from the TI. I was so scared I couldn’t think straight, and it was beginning to show. Just when I thought things couldn’t any more embarrassing, I was told that we were to shower. Which meant a group shower. Naked, with a horde of strangers. We all stood there looking at each other, when finally a girl said, “Screw it” and began to disrobe. We followed suit, and took our allotted three minutes in the group shower.
After that, it was off to bed. I was relieved to be doing something familiar, but I didn’t know that the same routine we had just been through was to continue all night long, as new groups of girls were shuttled in. I tell you what, the next morning came all too quickly, and the reality of what I was in for hit me all over again.
Our first mealtime was something I’ll never forget. The “flight”, as we were called, formed outside under the overhang. We then said the Pledge of Allegiance in unison. Every morning after that, we would also sing the Air Force song, but we hadn’t learned it yet. We weren’t allowed to brush our teeth or anything before we ate, and I will tell you that if you thought morning breath was bad before, you obviously haven’t experienced it from over a hundred different people at the same time.
We proceeded through the cafeteria line, and each person had to go to the first available seat at the next 4-top table. Standing at attention until the fourth person arrived, we finally sat down to inhale the disgusting cafeteria mush we were served. No talking. Three minutes to eat. And three minutes to drink your three glasses of non-carbonated, non-caffeinated beverage. If you didn’t choose water, you were forced to drink lukewarm Gatorade.
After breakfast, we marched over to the clinic, where we drank pink goop and had six or seven injections. One of them was the flu shot, which of course meant everyone got sick. The shots were all given via air gun, and my arms have never been so sore.
Uniforms were next, which was good, because we no longer stood out as “rainbows”, which is what a new flight is called. Camouflage was at least familiar to me by this time, having worn it for six different drills prior to arriving at Lackland. What I wasn’t prepared for was the PT uniform, which consisted of a pale gray Air Force t-shirt and some matching gray shorts that went below the knee. I was least excited about the white K-Mart running shoes that were three sizes too big. I thought longingly of my brand-new Asics that I had bought specifically for this purpose, locked away somewhere in my giant suitcase with wheels.
After uniform issue, it was off to exercise. Now, I mentioned earlier that I did not exercise in high school. If I was halfway intelligent, I would have started running months before. But I figured I could do it; after all, we only had to run two miles. I think I made it around the track once before I had to stop and walk. That led to me being yelled at. Again. At the end of the timed trial, I was in the bottom-performing group, the D group. Talk about humiliation. To top it off, I wouldn’t even be allowed to run on the road with everyone else until my time improved. I was relegated to running on the track with the other out-of-shape losers for several days. During those days, I learned that one should never eat bacon before running. Grease and exercise in the summer heat of San Antonio do not mix. Vomiting on the side of a track while other people watch is not fun. Trust me on this.
I ended up surviving the run. Later that night, our TI doled out different chores for everyone. I was designated “The Mouse” which meant I would do whatever random thing the TI told me. I suppose my days as a Girl Friday started way back then. I only got in trouble once that night, for referring to a new friend by her first name. “Last names ONLY!”
After a few days of hell, we were permitted to call home. Thank you, Jesus! I was so excited to talk to my mom, I could barely stand it. While lined up at the pay phones, we were informed that the purpose of the call was to tell our loved ones that we were indeed, alive, and to give them our address. We had three minutes to make a call. My heart sank as I realized that it would take the entire three minutes to connect, wait for my mom to find a pen and paper, and sob through my nine-line-long address.
I completed my call, and through my tears, blindly stumbled back to my place in line. The TI came up to and yelled, “What’s the matter, May? Never been away from home before?” Well, overnight slumber parties and weekend trips with friends didn’t really fall into that category now. “Not like this, Sir,” I managed to say before he told me to stop my sniveling and stand at attention.
A few days later, my boot camp experience improved immeasurably. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you why, in the next segment of Teen Barbie at Boot Camp.