this describes ten weeks I spent in Navy boot camp.
|The first day of boot camp pretty much sucked. It seemed so unreal that I was even there. We arrived at Great Lakes Illinois Recruit Training Facility pretty late, and we all wanted to go to bed. However a certain amount of processing had to be done before we were allowed to do that. They started yelling at us the second we stepped off the bus. We stood in line in what they called ranks. All of us, still civilians and not used to being treated like sheep. It was a little awkward at first, but we soon learned to cope with it.
One guy had a stack of folders. “When I call out your last name, you respond with your social security number! There are no letters in your social security number. If you fuck this up you will stand there until we’re done with everyone else. Does everyone understand me?!” Everyone said yes. But that wasn’t good enough so he said ‘”Your military training starts here, right now. Anyone wearing these” he said pointing to the chevrons and bird on his sleeve “will be called Petty Officer! Anyone wearing an anchor will be called Chief. This starts right now! Is that clear!”
We all shouted “Yes!”. “Yes? Yes what? Are you all fucking retarded? I just explained this shit to you! Do you understand?” He yelled back. “Yes Petty Officer” we all mumbled. “What?! Sat it like you got a pair!” He raved. “Yes Petty Officer!” we yelled. “From now on that’s what I want to hear. Anyone who fails will be corrected. Are we clear?” “Yes Petty Officer!” So there we were. In boot camp for less than 20 minutes and already I was loosing my voice.
The night progressed and we filled out a lot of papers. We were also issued enough essential stuff to get us by until the next day. The next step that night was getting us all sleeping arrangements. I was put in division 107. They all had a head start and were further along than I was. I got into the room at about 0400 (4am) and quickly found an empty rack. I crawled up to get situated for a couple hours of sleep. As soon as my knee touched the mattress all of the lights in the compartment came on. This crazy guy ran in and started kicking a metal trash can around and screaming at the top of his lungs. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I jumped out of my rack (bed).
This guy gets us all to line up and we were able to practice what we had started to learn the day before. He then told us we had five minutes to shit, shower and shave. “Five minutes” I was thinking “It takes me a good fifteen just to take a crap.” So the day started at a fast pace. My head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and my eyes were filled with sand. Man I really wanted that bed. I had only had a couple hours sleep the night before.
The second day was much like the first day. We picked up all our things and marched all over the place in “Smurf Suits”. Smurf suits are nothing more than blue Navy sweats. They called us a Smurf division and everyone knew we were the new guys. Now of us talked much, because the RDC’s (Recruit Division Commanders) frowned on it. You didn’t want to be corrected. Being corrected meant (as we learned the night before) being put in one of two positions. There was “recover” position. Recover position consisted of putting your left leg behind you, then bending your right leg. Followed by placing your left hand behind your back and your right hand by your right foot. You held that position until your RDC got tired of looking at you. One minute of that seemed like an hour. The second position they loved was simply push up position. Since they didn’t know if we were fit for full duty yet, this was the extent of their punishment capabilities for the first week. Eventually day became night and at 2200 (10pm) we were allowed to enter our berthing (a big room that houses eighty plus people).
The next morning was the 24th of December 1995. It was my twentieth birthday. An extra special birthday it was too. I had green eggs and greasy hash browns for breakfast. We spent the whole day marching around and such. We were issued everything from uniform items to haircuts. This was also moment of truth day. This was the day we were given an opportunity to fess up to anything we had lied about to get in. I stood up and confessed to having asthma. That stirred up a hornet’s nest.
I was lead down a hall by a Chief Petty Officer (I was learning my ranks fast). We sat down in an office and I couldn’t help but notice he was pissed off. He tore into me about wasting the government’s money and time and so on and so forth. Then he said, “Why did you even come here if you don’t even want to serve? Why do you want out?” I looked at him with a dumbfounded expression on my face. I said “Chief, who said I wanted out? I didn’t come here to quit.” He looked at me like I was on crack. “Oh” he finally said. “Then you have to pass an asthma test. If you pass the test you can stay in otherwise we have no choice but to process you out”. After that I was allowed to rejoin my division and fill in more bubbles on more papers. I took that asthma test nine weeks later and passed it like I’d never had asthma before in my life.
Two weeks went by much the same and we started to get into a routine. We were assigned watches and it wasn’t uncommon to be up for half the night on watch. I was put on two watch bills for some reason. My watch commander had me on his and the ships (buildings) staff had me on theirs. I didn’t know any better at the time so I just stood twice as many watches and didn’t think anything of it.
Some of the odd things we did still make me laugh a little. Like saluting the scuttlebutt (water fountain) and addressing it “Good morning sir/ma’am seaman recruit Stoll reporting as ordered!” we could then drop our salute and start drinking water. We swept the floor with our bare hands twice a day. Our bare hands we’re referred to as “Ricky brooms”. We would iron our clothes with our blue jackets manual. That was known as our “Ricky Irons”. The blue jackets manual was the only book we were allowed to have save for the holy Bible of course. When we were on watch we kept a look out for “Ricky Ninjas”. Ricky Ninjas were other recruits who would get up at night and steal all of your socks. “Ricky” was just a word used by your RDC that was short for recruit. Other favorite RDC phrases were Dumb Ass and Knuckle Chuck. It all meant pretty much the same thing. Only Dumb Ass and Knuckle Chuck usually meant you were about to drop and do pushups forever.
The daily routine went something like this. 0200-0600 compartment watch. 0600-0700 morning routine. 0700-0800 March to the chow hall and eat breakfast. 0800-1100 class time. 1100-1200 March to the chow hall and eat lunch. 1200-1600 class time. 1600-1700 March to the chow hall and eat dinner. 1700-1900 Marching practice. 1900-2000 bunk and locker drills. 2000-2200 study time and evening routine. 2200-2400 first dogged quarterdeck watch. Then finally to bed and start all over again the next day. The hardest part about boot camp was trying to stay awake. You never wanted to get caught sleeping. Sleeping during the day would invoke a beating. That just means you exercise until the RDC is satisfied you learned your lesson.
One of the preferred exercises of RDC’s is lovingly referred to as suicides. This was simply one pushup, one sit up, one jumping jack and one eight count body builder. That was one. Then you did two of each and that was two. Then three of each and on and on. An eight-count body builder is an exercise with eight positions to it. Position one you squatted, two you threw you legs behind you, three you bent your elbows, four you straightened your elbows, five you spread your legs, six you closed your legs, seven you put your knees to your chest and eight you stood up.
I found out the hard way what a suicide was when I found myself doing twenty of them. I was standing quarterdeck watch when I received a phone call. I answered the phone the “Navy” way. “Good evening USS Ford hall quarterdeck, Seaman Recruit Stoll speaking how may I help you Sir/Ma’am?” Well a message was left for one of the Petty Officers that worked there. His chief happened by and I relayed the message to her. Only I forgot to say it was for “Petty Officer” so and so. So I paid for that mistake in suicides.
Sometimes we did the rain dance. That’s when they close all the doors and windows, turned up the heat and brought in neighboring RDC’s. Then they would take turns exercising you until it rained in your compartment. The humidity caused by everyone’s sweat and the heat was the key ingredients to making it rain. Yes it really works.
I grew up around weapons. It was really no big deal when they brought out the M16 rifles. All of us recruits were taught how to carry them, march with them, salute with them, stand with them and clean them. Later they taught us how to fire them. Its all rocket science let me tell you that. By the time our division commanders were done explaining safety and everything else, you would think you were holding a live snake in your hands.
Seconds seemed like hours. Hours seemed like days and weeks flew by. Don’t ask me how that’s possible but its true. We lost a few people and gained a few people. I remember one night I was standing quarterdeck watch. One of my RDC’s was on watch as the rover. CTO1 (Cryptologist Technician Operations First Class Petty Officer) Brooks crossed the quarterdeck and I called “Attention on deck!” he replied, “Carry on”. Then he came over to my podium and said “if it’s just me from now on, don’t call attention on deck. But do it for everyone else you see. Are we clear? “ I piped up “yes Petty Officer”.
He came and went several times and I didn’t call attention on deck for him as he had asked. He seemed pleased about it. Later that watch he came back to my podium. He said something that shocked me. “Who’s your RDC?” I thought he was joking. “You are, Petty Officer”. I’d been in his division for over eight weeks already. “Bullshit!” he shouted. “What’s your division number?” by this time I thought he was really screwing with me. I had a hard time keeping a straight face. “Division 107, Petty Officer”. “Bullshit!” he yelled again. “What’s your rack number?” I told him my rack number and he scoffed “theirs no way in hell you’ve slept by the RDC office for eight weeks and I don’t know who the hell you are!” He was pretty stewed up when he continued. “I’m going to check you out recruit, if your lying to me…Stand by!”So he disappeared into our compartment. A few minutes later he came back. “Your lucky” he said, “how do you do in your classes?” I told him I pass my classes. He checked on me again and came back. Then he finally let me off the hook. He told me the good ones always seem to go unnoticed because they’re so busy dealing with the troublemakers.
We chatted for a while afterwards. He turned out to be a decent human being. For the first time in boot camp I saw the RDC’s as human. It seriously seemed like they were robots sent from hell to make life as difficult as possible. Not one of them even hinted they were human.
Graduation day eventually came. CTO1 Brook’s brother was there as one of the reviewing officials. He was a Chief Warrant Officer. He knew that CTO1 hated Yeoman so he introduced our divisional RDC’s as BM1 Taralba, HT1 Taylor and YN1 (Yeoman First Class) Brooks. I found the humor in that. We marched in as a division of recruits. We stood there through the ceremony and we marched out United States Sailors. It was one of the proudest days of my life.