I was a “band geek” in high school. When I was in sixth grade, I transferred to a new middle school, and my mother enrolled me in band. Having never attended a public school before, I had no idea that it was considered “nerdy”. As luck would have it, after a false start with the clarinet (I sounded like a dying goose), I switched to the trumpet. And as it turned out, I had a fairly decent musical talent. I stayed with band all through junior high and most of high school, finally talking my mom into letting me drop it for my senior year. I won her over by telling her I would take college courses instead. I really just wanted to go to football games and not wear polyester, orthopedic shoes, and a hat with a feather in it. Anyway, before I enlisted and set off for boot camp, someone at my base gave me this piece of sage advice, “If they ask you if you play an instrument, tell them you do, even if you don’t.” Okay…
After a few days of being “The Mouse” (which is slightly ironic because my ears stuck out, and I later earned the nickname “Fievel”) the flight was formed up outside under the overhang, when a man approached and asked if anyone played an instrument. Conflicted by the advice I had heard previously and the new knowledge of “NAVY: Never Again Volunteer Yourself”, I slowly raised my hand. That was the best decision I made throughout my Air Force career. (Other than the one where I enlisted in the guard, and not for active duty.)
Those of us who had raised our hands were told that we would be moving barracks, and forming a new flight. It would be co-ed (what?!), and we were to be the only co-ed flight. (This isn’t the case anymore; all flights are co-ed these days.) We moved to our new barracks, which were not boy/girl, by the way. The boys lived in the barracks across the hall. Instead of being with a group of girls that were at the same level of inexperience, we were with girls who had been there for two weeks already, and girls who had been there for four weeks. It was like having a bunch of mothers to help us find our way!
Things in the Drum and Bugle Corps (or “Beat & Blow”, as it was affectionately known on base) were surprisingly easy. We could shower for as long as we wanted. We got our nametapes on our uniforms several weeks early, as well as our dress blues, so we didn’t look quite as clueless. And the best perk? We never had to mow the lawn, and we never had to work in the kitchen. Why? We had rehearsal!
We were issued instruments at our first rehearsal. Along with some ridiculous Mickey Mouse gloves (flashback to
marching band) that looked completely silly with our camouflage. But everyone looked dumb, so I guess that’s okay. We had rehearsal several times a week, and practiced marching for parades that never happened.
One of the reasons for forming Beat & Blow was for the band to perform at graduation ceremonies. Our first ceremony was rained out. We performed at the second one, on the huge graduation field at Lackland. It went off without a hitch, other than the fact it was hotter than the desert. The third one would have been our own, and was canceled due to lightning.
I made one of the best friends I’ve ever had in Beat & Blow. She played the bells in the band. Her name is Lucy, and although I haven’t seen her in years, we still remain in touch, thanks to the magical world of social media. My father was an excellent pen pal, and when he heard about my new friend, he began writing letters to her, as well. Every time I talked to him, he asked me how “Airman Lucy” was doing. Their friendship continued via mail until my dad passed away in 2006.
Lucy and I bonded over the fact that we had both left high school sweethearts at home, and we both missed our cars terribly. When Sundays rolled around, and the church service that I preferred was always full (due to everyone else preferring it, too), Lucy took me to her church. This also had the benefit of being in the afternoon, so we basically had the barracks to ourselves in the morning, and didn’t have to deal with everyone in the afternoon. It gets really old living with a hundred girls.
Going to church with Lucy had another benefit. A male airman that was stationed on the other side of the base had a bit of a crush (or call it a case of stalkerism) on Lucy. He would always ask if there was anything he could bring us. Being young girls, and being deprived of junk food, we immediately asked him for Snickers bars. He faithfully brought us a Snickers and a Sprite at every service, and we would sneak to the bathroom and shovel them in. Ah, bliss.
After boot camp graduation, Lucy and I went our separate ways. I was to stay at Lackland for my schooling, and she was sent to Sheppard Air Force base in Wichita Falls, Texas. I went to visit her once, and we had a blast.
All in all, Airman Lucy and I survived boot camp. I couldn’t have done it without her. We were two teenaged girls from the midwest, lost and scared, when we entered. And when we left, we had a million memories, and a great respect for all that we had been through. And Lucy, this is for you:
Motivated, dedicated, never ever duplicated!
On fire, good to go,
Outta the way, we run the show!
Thank you to all of the men and women who serve in our nation’s military. I was lucky enough to travel, but very lucky in the fact that I was never put in a dangerous situation. Thanks for all you do, and for keeping me safe.