There is a reason the military has a cut-off age for acceptance that’s somewhere in a person’s early 30s and it has little to do with their ability—either physically or mentally—past that age and it has everything to do with a person’s moldability (their ability to mildew? Wha?). Looking back, with the experience and knowledge I now hold, I can see the absurdity of boot camp and there is NO WAY IN HELL I would put up with it now. And thus, the reason for the age cut-off.
But then, I was 18. And I still had a genuine respect for unproven authority. And they exploited the heck out of that…
Our plane touched down in San Antonio around dusk and we were quickly herded onto yet another waiting bus and driven over to Lackland AFB—home of the Air Force military training base. Again, we were a quiet bunch. Arriving at nightfall, we weren’t quite sure what to expect and any guesstimates we might have had, were soon to be proven incorrect.
Around eight thirty, the bus delivered us to a large, low-slung covered asphalt area. The covered portion was well-lit, but the bus pulled up along the periphery where the shadows still left the details uncertain. Above the asphalt court was a concrete and brick building—tan and squat—with absolutely nothing to belie its use. All around us were similar structures, but ours was the only one that showed any life at this time of night. It felt, then, as if we were the only ones for miles.
We filed off the bus, with our bags in our hands where a camouflage-clad man waited and told us all to form up in lines four rows deep and approximately six across. Compliant, we obeyed and then stood waiting as yet another similarly dressed person came over. Still dark, the Training Instructors (or TIs) started walking up and down the lines, looking at each of us. Still not saying anything, their oversized, wide brimmed hats cast even more shadows across their faces and the fact that we were looking into the lights of the court, left us little to see of who it was scrutinizing us.
“Welcome to the United States Air Force Military Training Facility. I am Tech. Sgt. Aleman. I will be your Training Instructor for the duration of your stay here. When I speak to you, you will be expected to respond with a “Yes Sir!”
Continuing, our new TI said, “Now many of you may have seen movies and you THINK you know what Training Camp is like, but you do not. For one, I do NOT like “Sir Sandwiches!” When you respond to me you will say, “Yes Sir!”, not “Sir Yes Sir!”
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
We all responded: “Yes sir!”
“Good. Now, pick up your bags!”
As one raggedy bunch we all picked up our bags.
“Not good enough! Put your bags down!”
“Now pick up your Go**amn bags!”
More quickly now, we all picked up our bags.
“Put ‘em down!”
“Pick em up!”
This went on for a while. Each time, our TI would vary the amount of time between the request so as to prevent us from anticipating his next command. Throughout this initial expectation setting time, a few of us were selected for even further humiliation—usually something to do with our hair, or how we were dressed, and perhaps even for how scared we looked. Who knows? Somehow, I was passed over—that night anyway.
To say that any movies we had seen would not resemble our time in Boot Camp is not quite true. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the movie “Full Metal Jacket” then you’re pretty familiar with the way trainees were verbally harassed and even abused. There was never any physical abuse, but there was the threat of it a-plently.
That night we “Rainbows” (the name given to new recruits who come in wearing colorful street clothes) were given our first taste of life for the next six weeks. And after about an hour and a half of standing at attention down on the court and quickly becoming scared s*itless, we were filed upstairs to our new home.
Our dormitories were a space about as large as half a gymnasium. The ceilings were fairly tall, and the windows were up high looking towards the sky. The floors were that same white linoleum (highly polished) that you find in public schools across America. The door to the dorm was a heavy steel with a reinforced window about 10” tall by 8” wide. Walking in, you could either take a quick left into the first “Bay,” or keep going down the hall towards Bay 2 on the left, or the bathrooms on the right. At the end of the hall was a “Day Room,” a special place that I’ll discuss at length later.
The two bays were divided in the middle by a cinderblock wall; each wall was lined with footlockers—one for each bed in the bay. Each bay held approximately 24 beds (12 on each side). The beds were exactly what you’ve seen in the movies; thin mattresses over metal springs; the linens tightly pulled down around the corners and the covers turned down with the pillow on top. Were the surroundings not what they were, it would have almost been inviting.
That night, beds were assigned randomly, but that would change throughout our time there depending on rank and who needed additional help etc. But that night, we were instructed to put our stuff away, use the restrooms and hit the beds. Compared to the first half of our arrival, our second half was relatively uneventful as we all silently and quickly settled down.
We were to discover that night, that our TI didn’t go home most nights. In the middle of the two bays, he had an office with a bed. And that’s where he spent most of our nights in camp. From there, he could keep an eye on us and also spring special surprises whenever he felt the time was right.
But that night, were all exhausted and within minutes of turning out the lights, we were fast asleep. It’s a good thing too because we had a busy day ahead.