Monday, November 24, 2008


In the comments of my last post, Tammy asked whether being written up for a broken speedometer was a legitimate write-up in the Army. Sister, you have no idea. Yes, they can write you up for a broken car. Their theory (from what I was told) is that if a soldier has a car, they are required to keep it in working condition. Soldiers are supposed to be fine, upstanding citizens who set the example - they don't want soldiers getting tickets or causing wrecks.

Just as there's 101 ways to get out of the Army, there's also about 502 ways to get put out of the Army. My favorite is the inheritance one. If a soldier inherits (or wins) a lot of money (I believe the cutoff number is somewhere around $100,000), they will be put out of the military with an honorable discharge. The thinking is - with that much money, they have no incentive to put up with the bullshit one has to put up with in the military.

Your family also needs to be example-setting, upstanding citizens. I had a friend who was put out because his wife was a complete F'up. They were living in base housing and she was a pothead. She'd get loaded and go to the Shoppette (military version of 7/11). One time she went for her munchies and apparently reeked of weed badly enough to have the clerk call the MP's on her. They pulled her over on her way home and she got busted for DUI. It was the last straw for the soldier's CO. Soldier was put out. It was my understanding it was a sort of "You can take this honorable discharge and get out or we'll put you out with a dishonorable discharge" situation. Sucked for him because he was actually a really good soldier who just married wrong.

Usually, if you're a good soldier, they don't much care what your private life is like. That's where the cop out of "don't ask, don't tell" often comes in to play. Of the 15 women on the Women's Medac Softball Team at Ft. Huachuca, I was one of 2 1/2 who were straight. (Evelyn's theory was, "Why limit yourself?" Why indeed, Ev.) The Army does not care. But if they need a reason to put you out....

Ditto for writing bad checks. And having a car that doesn't work. And failing the college courses you chose to take. And being consistently late. And a hundred other ways if they feel you're not up to par.

Have I ever told y'all why I joined the military? It's a long story involving borderline homelessness and a severe lack of college money.

So there I was....

We'll stick with the second reason for now. I was going to Fresno State as a Dance Major. I was in Dance all through high school and that's what I wanted to do with my life. I was running out of money and had no real options. I called one of my best friend's from high school, David, and asked him about the military. (He was an officer in the Army. Still is - he's currently a Major in the Armor Division and just came back from Saudi Arabia this past July.) The first thing he said was, "You're going to hate it." (I wasn't exactly known for conformity.) I said, "I know but what choice do I have??"

He came over and schooled me about the military. He said the first thing I had to do was take the ASVAB. I don't know what it stands for but it's sort of like SAT's for the military. He said after the ASVAB, the recruiter would take me to a computer where I'd pick my job. He told me that recruiters have quotas they need to fill and they have certain jobs they need to fill more then others. "This," he said, "means that They. LIE. A lot. Use your head and see if what they are saying makes any sense." He insisted that I pick a medical or dental job. He said, "Medical is not real Army. Not as much in the old days, but there's a higher level of education and a much more laid back feel." He also told me about Basic Training. He told me about Shock Treatment (we'll cover that in a moment) and then he said I'd be fine. "Ruth, they can't lay a hand on you. All they can do anymore is yell at you and try to make you feel like shit. It's all a head game - just don't play." Once he told me that, I knew I could handle it. They can yell all they like, it ain't gonna bother me as long as I know they can't hit me. What do I care if some stranger I'll only have to deal with for 8 weeks yells at me?

I took the ASVAB. There's a lot of "school learnin' stuff" (as the recruiter told me) but there's also sections where they test for different skills - I remember a section with pictures of gears and you had to figure out which way they were going to turn. It's impossible to get 100% on the ASVAB - it's designed that way. If I remember right, I was told it involves the code section, it's too long for anyone to actually finish. If someone gets 100%, they know that person cheated. I got 97%.

The recruiter said with a 97% I could choose any job I wanted. Then he starts showing me cook and truck driver jobs. I looked at him and said, "If I can choose any job I want, why would I choose cook or truck driver? Let's see the medical jobs." He pulled up medic. Dave warned me about the medic job. It's one of the crappiest jobs in the military (albeit, one of the most important). It's shift work and shit work and blood and cleaning bed pans. I don't do blood. I'd rather not deal with bed pans. But it was a short school and since I was only joining to be in the Reserves, I wanted as short a school as possible so I could get back to "real" school as soon as possible. They had a slot for me in Basic but nothing in AIT (that's where the Army teaches the job you picked). So we moved on and the recruiter pulled up OR tech. OR. Operating Room. I looked at him and said very slowly, since obviously he wasn't getting it, "I. Don't. Do. Blood." He said, "Oh, no, it's not like that. You're no where near the table. You mostly sterilize the instruments and if you are in the OR, you stand about a foot away from the table and just hand the Dr.'s the instruments." I looked at him incredulously, "97%, remember? I'm not stupid. What else do you have?"

So we eventually settled on Optician. Short school, I'd be back by Fall semester. Had I known my very near future, I would've picked a better job, like Pharmacy Tech or something. I didn't. I had a delayed entry so I could finish out the Fall semester I was currently in. Fall semester - 1990. I was to leave for Basic training the following March.

Fall 1990. Ringin' any bells? The day after I signed my final paperwork for the Army is the day America invaded Kuwait. The Gulf war. I couldn't believe my luck.

It worked out OK, though. With my delayed entry, by the time I graduated Basic Training, the Gulf War was over. phew!

So Basic Training. (For avoiding-carpal-tunnel-while-typing, I'm going to call it BT) First they send me to the wrong place. I was flown to Ft. Dix, NJ. The other recruits and myself were trundled off to Reception. When we got there, the drills were looking at me as if they'd never seen a woman before. Apparently it had been awhile since Ft. Dix hadn't taken female recruits for the past 3 months. The Army changes its mind a lot - coed Basic Training, not coed. Not only was Ft. Dix's BT no longer coed, they weren't training any females on the entire base! The only females on base were active duty soldiers doing there jobs. I spent the night there and at dinner that night and breakfast the morning I left, all eyes were on me. The drills kept barking at the soldiers to look at their food. Awkward.

I was then flown to Ft. Jackson, SC. So happy to leave Ft. Dix. I got there and left there when it was dark and holy crap was it cold - in March! At BT, you spend a week in reception. They process you with paperwork, paperwork, shots, paperwork, physical, paperwork, get your uniforms, paperwork. Oh, and then there's the paperwork. But it's a party! There's drill sgt.'s but they're all laid back and you have a regular sgt. who's assigned to your squad and takes you everywhere. They practice a little bit of marching but it's just to see how lame you are at it, nothing real serious.

After that first week, they put the recruits on one bus and their duffel bags stuffed full of brand new uniforms, boots, canteens, etc. onto a separate truck. Once you get to where your actual barracks/training site will be, the bus stops. Then the Shock Treatment begins. As I said, David warned me about this so I wasn't shocked and found the whole thing pretty funny.

A drill sgt. comes on the bus and starts shouting at everyone. It's a huge cluster fuck from there. There's drill's shouting, you have to run from one end of the barracks sidewalk, where the bus is to the other (about a city block), where the truck is. All the duffel bags were being dumped onto the ground. You have to find your duffel out of the hundred or so on the ground, find where your squad is (there's 4 in a platoon with about 25-30 women per), find a place in line then stand still while the drill's tear into you. The girls who were crying got reamed. The girl next to me apparently found it as funny as I did and started laughing. The drill came and was screaming and spit-yelling in her face. Literally. The brim of his drill sgt. hat was touching her forehead. I could smell his breath from where I was standing. Ew. She stopped laughing. I was trying so hard not to bust a gut, I almost peed.

I've got so many memories of Basic Training but this post is getting over long as it is. Again. Maybe I'll start a Military Monday and write some memoiries (not misspelled - I like making up new words).

The point of all this is here...

The Army is the irony of my life. I joined to get college money for my Dance Major. In Reception, they gave me boots that were a half size too small and told me they'd stretch. They didn't stretch, they just caused nerve damage. When I went back to school, I couldn't go on toe anymore and had to give up dance. When you think about it, it's actually kind of funny! It's the only reason I went in and then I couldn't do it anymore because I went it.

Of course, it wasn't funny at the time. I was 21 and it was devastating and all very dramatic. I went back to the Army and said I wanted to go Active Duty (I'd only joined the Reserves, remember) - I figured I needed time to develop a new plan for my life and if I went Active Duty, I'd get twice the college money in half the time. I obviously wasn't thinking too straight since "half the time" also meant full time - Army 24/7. I said I wanted to get as far away as possible, so wanted to go to Korea. I'd been to Europe on a trip with some classmates the summer between my Junior and Senior year and figured I'd seen it in the 6 weeks we were there. (What a schmo I was!) The recruiters told me all they had for my job was Germany. I sighed and snapped, "Fine." Yeah, fine - I had the time of my life while stationed for 2 years in Germany! They made me take the ASVAB again, since they'd lost my test scores from the year before. I got a 98% and those idiots were all impressed. I reminded them, "I just took this a year ago. It's. the. same. test. Not like I memorized it but, come on!" After that, I was on my way to the next 4 years of my life.

The way I found out about the nerve damage was pretty funny, too. I was gimping down the hall and the drill saw me. She was the only female drill in our platoon and was small, wiry and hard as nails. She said, "RIGGS - get over here." I was in my pajamas (in BT, that's your PT outfit) and said, "I gotta go to the bathroom." She was at one end of the long hall and the bathroom was at the other. I was in the middle. She yelled, "Come here." I knew she was wondering why I was limping but I wasn't about to tell her. If you have to go to Sick Call for too long, you get "recycled" which means you have to start Basic Training all over. From the beginning. It was week 4 of 8 when she spotted me. I said, "After I pee." and started run-gimping down the hall. She was chasing after me and quickly overcame me.

Drill: What's wrong with you?
Me: Nothing.
Drill: Don't lie soldier, is it your leg?
Me: No
Drill: Soldier, I ain't here to play 20 questions with you.
Me: (finally breaking and bursting into tears. It's the first time I've cried during BT) My feet.
Drill: (looking alarmed at my tears) Let me see them.
Me: No. I'm fine.
Drill: I'm not going to ask again.

I took off my socks and showed her my feet. She actually gasped. The bottoms were completely black and blue with bruises. The tops of my toes were also bruised. "It's really not that bad," I lied. She asked what the hell happened and I told her I didn't know but I suspected it was from my boots being too small. She asked why I hadn't told them the boots were too small. I said, "I did ask for bigger boots at reception. When they gave me my pair, I told them they were too small. The guy said to stop complaining and that they'd stretch. I guess they haven't." She laughed and said, "I guess not. I'm sending you to Sick Call."

I almost started crying again and begged her not to. I told her it wasn't so bad and if she just got me boots that fit, I was sure they'd heal quickly. She reluctantly sent me anyway and, so I wouldn't get recycled, I lied like crazy to the doc's when I was there. She got me proper fitting boots. The bruises healed but the nerve damage never has. To this day, if I wear shoes that are too tight around the toes, the nerves in my toes crack and it feels like they are being electrocuted.

Don't feel bad for me. When the subject comes up and people hear this story, they get all sorry for me. Shit happens. I don't regret a thing in my life. I had the best time in Germany, I had the crazy Major at Ft. Huachuca, I ended up in Tucson where I met my husband and had my kids!

That's just the way it goes, Ruth!


Anonymous said...

please, please, please write more about this! i have to admit, i was completely engrossed in this entry, and want to hear more. :)

ellipsisknits said...

Love the army stories.

(On second thought, love almost all your stories. You have a gift)

That inheritance thing sounds like a mess! If the military is your job, 100k is hardly enough to live a life of leisure on the dividends.

sophanne said...

Seriously- I read every word of that post. More. More. More. Military Mondays!

As someone with no immediate connection (family or otherwise) with someone who's been there, it's like visiting another planet

Nell said...

Whoa! That's really crazy!!! I love these stories though.

Tammy said...

Wow... I'm impressed by your tenacity. I'm a wimp and would've never made it through day one.

I too vote for more Military Mondays!

Anonymous said...

Miltary Mondays sounds interesting! I still have old friends in the Military, sad never hear from them that much they say it's hard to relate to civvies when you are in. I learnt my lesson in cadets and decided that it's not for me. Things worked out in the end, they always do.

No pity here, shit happens and we deal. It makes us who we are.

Just waiting for one more thing to show up in the mail then your first secret pal package will be flying to you. Have a great week and knit on!

SP 13 pal

Turtle said...

i remember when hubby got seriously sunburned (his poor irish skin and the hawaiian sun) they joked about writing him up for "destruction of military property" as it was bad enough to almost admit him. sadly they seriously could have written him up for it.