As a rule, I don’t think people give a rat’s butt what my kids did today, or even what I did today for that matter. So, I generally try and refrain from blogging my day-to-day. But, I have had a few interesting times in my life. I’ve done some things most people (relatively speaking) have not, and if nothing else, I think that long after I’m gone, all these things we’ve put on the net, will still be out there and maybe my kids will read it and think, “Hey, my dad was pretty cool after all.”
So I thought I’d do something a bit different for a while. I’m going to blog about my life. A sort of poor-man’s memoirs, if you will. Sorry, old girlfriends are off limits (though that WOULD be some good reading); but most everything else is blog-fodder. And to kick it off, I thought I’d blog about “Boot Camp.” It’s fun, a bit raunchy, and it’s really where my life began so it’s a great way to start.
Air Force Boot Camp Part I
My dad was in the Air Force for nearly nine years before he got a hardship release so he could take care of his aging family and their farm in North Carolina. My dad believed that a military tour of duty was what every young boy needed to make him a man. Growing up, it was silently implied that both my brother and I would go the military route and then IF we decided to go to college, then our Uncle Sam would take care of it. I guess once I turned 18 I had a choice, but after living for so many years with no plans other than joining the military, it didn’t feel then, that had any other choice. Certainly, my dad never pressured me in that direction, but he never had a, “Are you sure?” talk with me either.
When I was 17, I enrolled in “Early Enlistment.” It’s kind of like a Letter of Intent. It’s not binding legally, but it’s the military’s way of getting its claws into you before some university does. And let’s be honest, most kids going straight into the military aren’t Rhodes Scholars anyway, so it’s a gamble that paid off more often than not. But, for enrolling early, I was able to lock in my preference of career fields. I locked in “Electronics,” since I figured that was a career field with growth opportunities. It was one of the few good career moves I’ve made in my life.
Soon enough, in the early summer of 1991, I graduated from Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, AL. I notified my recruiter that I was officially out of school and I quickly received my “shipping out” orders. I had approximately one month after graduating before I was out of the house and into the world. I spent it as you might imagine an 18 year old boy might, all stories for other posts.
The day I left was a typically hot July day in Alabama. My mom gave me a quick, though warm goodbye and quietly went in the house while my dad and I packed my few meager belongings into his truck. I was to learn later that my mom had never wanted me join, but she never said a word and I didn’t learn until later how much my leaving would affect the family.
Every enlisted person’s first stop before Boot Camp is a central processing facility called MEPS. MEPS stands for “Military Entrance Processing Station.” At the MEPS, they give you a fairly basic physical, you fill out some paperwork and you “officially” swear in. Nothing is for sure until that final swearing in. Our central station was a place in Montgomery, AL., so I had to catch the Greyhound bus there from Mobile. Dad and I arrived with time aplenty and as we sat waiting on the bus, we engaged in that same small talk that we’d been doing for ten years. He gave me some last-minute advice about just keeping my head down and plodding through it, and I nodded obediently and promised I’d write.
Soon enough the bus came and I stowed my luggage away and climbed aboard. I remember looking back at my dad and thinking how small he looked through the bus window. All my life I’d lived with him and though he’s not a tall man, he has a quiet, solid presence that makes up for his short stature. But, looking at him at that moment, emerging from beneath his shadow into adulthood, I saw—perhaps for the first time—that he was just a man. He had a strained smile on his face, and for just a moment, I felt a fondness for him that had been missing for some time. My dad was never much of a hugger growing up. He didn’t casually say, “I love you,” or outwardly express his emotions. But every now and then, you could see it in a gesture—or a smile.
It was a good “last thing to see” as the bus pulled away.
Now, though Montgomery is only about three hours from Mobile by car, by Greyhound, it takes about six hours thanks to the roundabout way the bus goes to a dozen or more small towns between the two cities. We didn’t arrive in Montgomery until late in the evening. Once there, myself and a few others from other cities around hopped into the van-taxi that was to take us to our hotel for the evening before processing in the morning. The hotel the U.S. Government put us in (The Capitol Inn Hotel) might best be described as an old hotel that had been moderately kept up, and which catered entirely to those whose bills were paid. Meaning, it no longer catered to people it needed to impress. No, it was strictly utilitarian, completely lacking in personality. Exactly what you’d expect to find in any government-funded facility funded by the slow, bureaucratic wheels of a non-specific behemoth budget cycle.
It wasn’t great, but I was only 18 and didn’t know much about these sorts of things. All I cared about was that the rooms were clean, if sparse. The food was really just not good; but, in its defense, it at least had an after hours bar down some stairs and around the back where the lights were dim, the pinball machines were aplenty, and the music was loud.
And this is where most of us flocked to spend our last night as free men and women.