Six Years: Boot Camp Stories

The first memory I have from boot camp is sitting in a hallway with dozens of other people. It’s probably close to two or three in the morning. We have been given our smurfs and our seabag full of miscellaneous items. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make the shoulder straps connect, something I’m not sure I could do in seconds today, let alone half asleep in a hallway midst organizing mayhem, ears full of cursing. Someone fixed it for me, enough so that I could carry it. I am grateful to whomever that may have been, they saved me an ass chewing.

I am a few inches below average height for an American male, which meant that in my division I was among the shorter half. The shortest guy in my division was a full head shorter than myself. When marching in formation a division is put into what is called a height line: shortest in the front, tallest in the back. At the front of the formation are flag carriers, led by the guidon who carries the number of the division on his flag, in my case 082. Sorting by height means that the shortest in the division end up carrying the flags for the division. We were called “sticks.”

It wasn’t much of an honor being a stick as it meant more work when it came to drill since all eyes were on us. If we screwed it up it was obvious within seconds. The flags were significant for things we had accomplished as a division in boot camp: Scholastic, Athletic, Inspection flags, Drill. There are also the Battle E flag which designates divisions that scored above a set average and the best in a graduation group (usually seven or eight divisions) received the CNO flag.

082 was a disgrace of a division. It almost got to the point where we were all ASMOed due to not performing well as a team. As I said before, most of the people in my division we idiots. I think we had four flags total, which is nothing because every division has at a minimum two: the guidon and the division flag. I carried the Athletic flag for my division since I was the furthest right (that’s starboard in the Navy) when the division was in formation.

Carrying flags was brutal on your fingers. You can try it if you’d like: go find a dowel or something about and inch think and place it between your index finger and thumb while keeping all of your fingers straight. The muscles in your hand hurt after a while.

I also designed one side of my division’s flag. Most of the division had no aptitude for art and while they had good ideas I was the one who took them all together and translated it into something presentable. We created our flag one Saturday and it was later turned into t-shirts and sweatshirts the parents and family could buy during graduation. For the life of me I cannot remember what was on the other side, some sort of animal I think.

There isn’t a better picture of our division flag, unless there is one in among my boot camp “yearbook” which is 2000 miles away in a box in New Hampshire.

Football is the most beloved sport in the US (sorry baseball, you just don’t stack up anymore) and in the south it’s almost a religion and in Texas it’s everything. A guy in my division played high school football in Texas. He played at Katy High School, which is just a few miles from where I now live in the greater Houston area of Texas. It’s funny how things work out that way.

Many years later I realized that he played football on the same team as Andy Dalton and while we were in boot camp Dalton was named starting quarterback for Texas Christian University and would later go on to become the starting quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals.

There is more to say about boot camp and football but I will save that story for later.

I  only have one story I tell when it comes to boot camp being “brutal  and demeaning” to the recruits. There was a man in our division, who was, I think, in his later twenties to early thirties which is much older than most people who join the military. He had issues with following direction, but that was only one piece of his many problems.

RDCs tend to form pairs to become a “good cop, bad cop” routine. One of them will often be the mean one who beats the recruits. Not literally. Beating means the physical training part of boot camp. When they’re screaming at you to do push-ups, that’s beating.

The good RDC is there to make sure the recruits don’t feel alienated by their instructors, as that is counter-productive when you’re trying to train people. When the good RDC is administering the beating you know your division has screwed up above and beyond the status quo.

Our “mean” RDC was in a foul mood one night since he was standing quarterdeck watch for the ship, which is what the buildings the division’s compartments and classrooms were in. During a talk that evening this recruit, let’s call him Bob, had a case of gas. Bob thought it was hilarious.  Mean RDC did not. After warning him not to do again Bob proceeded to let her rip. Mistake.

Since our RDC was on quarterdeck duty he wasn’t allowed to stay in an individual compartment for long. He was meant to stand watch downstairs. So he took Bob downstairs to the quarterdeck for a one on one beating session. Our compartment was on the third floor. The elevators in the building are next to the quarterdeck, while the stairwells are on either end of the hallway several hundred feet away. Our compartment door was also near the elevators.

Once he was done with a round of beating our RDC made Bob race him back to the compartment. Bob had to take the stairs. Our RDC took the elevator at his leisure. The first time Bob didn’t make it in time so back down to the quarterdeck for another round they went. The second time Bob beat him by seconds, crawling into the compartment on his hands and knees, wheezing for breath.

Bob didn’t last much longer in the division. He wasn’t just ASMOed. A week before live fire he was processed out of the Navy for mental instability.

There are three major academic tests you take during boot camp. They are rote memorization for multiple choice tests. I aced them, I think my final record was 98, 100, and 100. For the last two I was told I would be given additional phone calls home. That never happened.

Because my personal scores for inspections, academics and PT were stellar I was in competition among the graduation group to be promoted coming out of boot camp. My contract already stated I would come out as an E-2 but meritorious advancement would have made that E-3.

After Battle Stations was over my Chief took me into the RDC office to show me some paperwork. In the competition for meritorious advancement I came in second. She wanted to tell me herself because she felt it was her fault I didn’t come in first.

The one inspection I received a sat on (the one they refused to let me stand due to my wisdom teeth) is what kept me from having the highest individual score.

During boot camp you learn to operate on little sleep. Lights out is at 10:00 PM and on a typical day you wake up at 5:30 AM if not earlier. That doesn’t account for having watches in the night, which last for two hours or waking up when it’s your scheduled time to use the irons. Yes, you iron your clothes in the dead of night. There’s no other time for it.

Unless you’re like my division and just sign your name saying you ironed when you didn’t. I estimate half the division did that, and we all got beat for it. I told you my division sucked.

Also after Battle Stations I have eye witness accounts of the following: showering, changing clothes, getting into the proper height line to go downstairs for breakfast, eating breakfast and then returning to the compartment. The problem with this is I have zero memory of any of that since I was asleep the entire time. That’s how automatic boot camp becomes.

Boot camp is easy if you follow three rules.

  1. Do not think for yourself.
  2. Do what you’re told, when you’re told.
  3. Do not half-ass anything.

If you follow those you can make it through boot camp in your sleep.

I did. Literally.

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