Tomorrow marks the day I went to Air Force Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tx – 7 years ago. I was terrified.
When you fly out to basic training you have a tiny little bag with your things, you are (or should be) dressed in something that doesn’t draw attention to you, and you hand carry this gigantic manilla envelope that has all of your documentation in it. People in the airport must recognize this, because they look at you and KNOW where you are going. Some say things, others just look at you as if to say, “poor sucker.” Then prance off gleefully because they know they aren’t about to be tripping over their own feet and mumbling in approximately 10 hours.
After leaving Cheyenne on the pack of gum with wings on it, and a change in Denver, I got to the airport in San Antonio and decided that I was in no rush to get out of the terminal. They take people to the base all night, right? Plus I was super early- like 4pm kind of early. So I made multiple stops worth of airport culinary delights. Kinda surprised I didn’t give myself a case of Montezuma’s revenge. (How awkward would THAT have been? Sir, Trainee McClure reports as . . . I have to poop!” ) In any event, finally, I mustered enough courage to take my bloated, stuffed belly and face my future.
New recruits have to head to the USO desk where they check you in and make you sit in a hallway with everyone else until it’s time to herd them into the busses. There were two TI’s standing there, barking at a few people; “Tuck in your shirts!” “Tie your shoes!” “Get your hair out of your face!” Nothing too severe. After I checked in I settled into a bench and proceeded to watch all the other helpless victims arrive. Some got yelled at, some not– and I thought, “hey, if it’s like this, it won’t be so bad.” Stupid me.
One kid came down the hall with long frizzy hair down past his shoulders. He was wearing a “cool new person” Myspace shirt. We (the collective group) cringed. This kid never saw it coming. The TI’s came down on him like sharks on a seal with no iceberg to get to. If only there had been real blood. . . The upside though was that no one else was really paid attention to the whole night. Thanks kid- whoever you were. I hope you survived and the scars weren’t too bad.
Once on the bus headed towards the base, everyone tried to laugh a bit, and point out things like Target, Texas Roadhouse, Walmart, etc. It was a last desperate attempt to feel like everything was ok. Our feeble attempts would not save us.
Getting off the bus is a little blurry to me. I know we had to take our bags and quickly get into lines, some people were yelling, people were tripping and falling, and it was dark. From there we went inside the in-procesing building to sit for what would seem like an eternity. Except you couldn’t fall asleep. If people did, you had to wake them up. It got all lord-of-the-flies in there–fast.
Groups started disappearing; their TI’s would come to pick up their flights, the screaming would begin and they would be gone. Soon there weren’t many people left. Our group just kind of looked at each other, wondering what would happen to us? Maybe there wasn’t room? Maybe they’d send us back? Maybe we’d be eaten?
About then, the doors flew open and in flew the she-devil, kicking chairs and hissing as she flew across the ground. I think a kid pooped himself. Or it might have been me. I can’t remember. Then I started praying, “Please dear lord, anyone but her.” I must have repeated this prayer in my head about 1,000 times while they called out names from the group of people I was with. Suddenly they were all gone, and I was not. She marched them outside and that was it. The power of prayer works, people!
Except it totally didn’t.
About two minutes after they went out, my name was called and I was told to get my bag and go with the group waiting outside. My heart was in my shoes. I tried to put on a brave face praying it was a different group and went out the door, only to have my soul crushed. It was her group. It was her. I was going to die.
After being shuttled to our dorm, we were rushed in and told we had to shower. 60 girls, 8 shower heads, 2 minutes. The Red Bull guy who jumped from space doesn’t have anything on that scenario. You were supposed to have shampoo on your hair, toothpaste on your brush and towel in hand. Most had toothpaste on their hair, and shampoo on their toothbrush and towel fallen on the ground, but whatever, we made it work.
I miraculously hadn’t burst into tears yet. That would come the next day. For this part I am pretty proud of myself. Lord knows I can cry with the best of them. (The ASPCA animal comercials get me every time.) But once we were in the day room the she-devil showed us how to make a sock bun, and assigned everyone random jobs. Then she laid it on us: She was not our TI. Our TI was male and couldn’t be in our dorm after lights out, so she had to pick us up. And she was not happy about it.
I could have yelled for joy, done a happy dance and sung a song. But out of fear of instantaneous death, I did not. So, inside I smiled so big that my whole body hurt. Think of the time you had to pee the absolute worst, and then how relieved you felt when you finally got to go. It felt like that. I could conquer the world.
Then- we got told to go to bed. And I would have, except all the sniffle babies kept me awake.
End of day 1.
P.S. Later in life I met the she-devil on the outside, and you know what? She’s totally not a she-devil. She’s a pretty badass chica. Even if I was terrified of her the entire time I was in training- it just means she was doing her job well.