Boot Camp Screw UpA Story by Rain
You never know how life is going to go. Sometimes even screw ups get a break.
When I was in the service, I was kind of a Sad Sack, especially in boot camp. I went in the Navy on the "Buddy System". That meant that my best friend, Bradley Dummitt (yes, that was his real name) and I would always be together. Where ever we were shipped, they would keep us together.
We were both seventeen, and neither one of us had ever been away from home. We had our choice of boot camps. We could go to Chicago, or Calif. Now, where would you go ?
When we arrived in San Diego, Calif they picked us up in a big old gray bus. There were probably thirty of us, and it was like two am in the morning. Everybody was tired, but excited. We stayed excited until we unloaded on the base. Then the excitement changed to fear real quick. We had people yelling at us from the four corners of the earth. They all looked mean, and they talked so fast, or I should say yelled so fast you got confused. It wasn't a good idea to get confused. I never seen so many guys have to dive down and do pushups in my life. I knew right then I had made a mistake going into the Navy. But, it was my only way off home arrest.
I was called so many names in the first hour I almost forgot my real name. I was "Apple Knocker".."S**t Head".."Piss Ant." They even talked about my mom, but I was too scared to get mad. We finally got to bed around four, I think. I'm not sure I even got to sleep when the lights came on.
Sargent Melton was his name, and I never heard anyone use words like him before. I think he made up half the things he yelled at us. He kicked a barrel clear across the dorm, then shouted at everyone to stand at attention at the foot of their bunks.
"You clowns ain't been here four hours, and you already got me in a high state of pissivity. Did he say PISSIVITY ? See, that's what I mean about making up words. You couldn't do anything right in his eyes, and I was just a born f**k up by nature...so me and Sarg Melton was always having conflicts.
Bradley and I both agreed we were not meant for military life. This was in 1961, way before Viet Nam. You only had one chance to get out, and that was when you saw the base Shrink. You had to convince him you were not capable of enduring military life. The day we were scheduled to see him the line stretched outside his building.
I was pretty sure I could convince him I was crazy. Hell , I hadn't done a thing right since I'd been there. So when it came my turn, I went in there and did my best "I'm too looney" routine. I told him I was having nightmares, and that I was thinking of charging the barb wire fence and making a break.
He just mumbled something about "That's normal" and sent me out. Bradley went in after me. About fifteen minutes later he came out with this big smile on his face. Bradley had an eye twitch. He'd had it since we were kids. It was nothing , but it was enough to get him out. That was a sad day for me. My best friend was going to come home, and I was going to have to do this boot camp thing all by myself.
They have these things they call Bag Layouts. It's where you have to have your bunk sheets made so tight you could bounce a quarter off it, plus you had to stack all your clothes a certain way, your socks had to be folded the right way , you had to have your tooth brush, tooth paste, all your shaving gear in a precise order. If you screwed up just one little bit, all hell would happen. They would usually make you do your Bag Layout, then take you out marching while someone inspected it. I remember once, we had a Layout and were lining up outside to file in. Everybody was always nervous.
No-one wanted to be the screw up. I was in the middle line to file in. The first guys were already in , when I heard someone from inside say ,
"Damn, Neighbor's s**t is all over the place." "They got his stuff hanging from the rafters!" When you're seventeen, homesick , and know you're basically a screw up, your heart just drops to the ground when you hear words like that. They ended up throwing all my Navy whites on the floor by the door, then taking the whole company out for a march. When we were done , they made the whole company march back in, making sure they marched over my whites.
I had tried to tell them I was a f**k up, but they wouldn't listen. I have always been a f**k up. I can't follow orders, when I do I'll find someway to screw up. But, they thought they knew me better than me. When you screwed up during the week , they had what they called a "Marching Party" on Saturdays. It was pure hell.They would take you to this place that looked kind of like a high school football stadium. There, they would make you take your piece(rifle) and run around this track. But, you had to hold the piece over your head. The rifle would get so heavy it would come down and keep banging you on the head. There was always a lot of people there. I don't think I missed a Saturday.
I guess that's what made me do what I did. They ALWAYS made three laps, then stop you by the podium for drills. At the far end there were some bleachers that had a lot of tall weeds underneath it. One Saturday on the second lap, I was trailing the pack, and I just decided to drop into the tall weeds. I figured when they came back around I would jump up and join the group, and all would be cool. I never thought about the possibility they would only run two laps. They ALWAYS ran three. But, when I heard the drill instructor yell into his bullhorn..
"Pull up and line up, men!"
I laid there wishing I had some live ammo. Oh God. All I kept thinking was "They are going to kill me." I had no choice. I had to get up and run up to where everyone was standing. The drill instructor stood on a podium. For as long as I live I will remember these words...
"WELL...what have we got here ?"
I can't describe the feeling I had running all by myself, rifle over my head , and EVERYONE watching me. The drill instructor had me go up on the podium with him. After humiliating me for what seemed like an hour, he made me lead the rifle drills, which is a series of calisthenics, where you used your rifle. It was a nightmare because I didn't really know the drills, and everyone is supposed to know them. Because of me they kept us out there an hour longer.
Somehow I made it through to graduation, and Sargent Melton actually shook my hand. Then they handed us our orders. Everyone one was ripping them open...Guam...Virginia...Philippines, then I got to mine....
I wasn't sure what to think. Hawaii was the prime station, but what was this Special Services ? I envisioned myself having to leap from a helicopter and planting explosives on the bottom of enemy ships....like being a Navy Seal...the meanest of the mean. Finally, someone told me Special Services meant you worked at all recreational facilities on base.
After all the screwing up and embarrassment, I got the best assignment of them all. The day we left, a big gray bus pulled in and all these young guys filed off. We could hear the drill instructors doing their thing. Somewhere in that mass of fear and confusion, there was a me. I wish I could have found him, just to talk to him a minute. I would have told him he couldn't screw up half as much as me, and that I was on my way to HAWAII...and though I didn't know it then. I would end up Head Life Guard, a job I took serious and DID NOT screw up. Only two of us from our platoon were being shipped to Hawaii. I think all the guys who used to laugh at me felt just a slight twinge of resentment.
Hey, being a Life Guard in Hawaii isn't all fun and games. Once I had to treat an Officer's beautiful daughter who got stung on the breast by a jelly fish. Knowing how to rub ointment on a sting is a perfect job for a screw up.
© 2009 Rain
Added on January 9, 2009
About"Having lived a bit has altered my thoughts of this coming new year from all those that have come and gone. Life is so bizarre that in some ways, my diagnosis has been a blessing. "I'm not sure why.. more..
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