The procedure you go through after deciding to join one of the armed forces can be smooth and simple. For most people, however, it doesn't seem to be anything close to easy. It certainly wasn't for me.
The first hint of this came the day I visited the recruiters, when I took a practice ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). To qualify for the Navy, I was required to score at least a 50 on the real test, and the practice test was just a shortened version which would predict my score. I scored an 85.
Not long after that, I took the real test at a local center in Asheville. The decision to do it was a hurried one, and I found myself in a strange brick building which apparently doubled as a fallout shelter. The tester was an older man who had a deservedly short patience. Despite constant reminders to the local recruiters, several applicants arrived as much as fifteen minutes late, forcing the rest of us to wait.
The test was long and surreal, but not particularly hard. Then again, I've taken a lot of standardized tests and this one wasn't much different. The desks were much too small to hold both a test booklet and an answer sheet, not to mention scrap paper, and I was reminded of the scene in the movie, "Men in Black", as people tried to find a way to access everything.
I scored an 88 on the real test, a score I was perfectly happy with. Since I was therefore qualified, I began gathering my paperwork to make a trip to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). Unfortunately, that's where the trouble started. I had been home schooled through high school, and then accepted to the local college. I soon found out, however, that the Navy requires a more specific regimen for home schoolers than the state of North Carolina, and there was simply no way for me to go back to tenth grade and take such and such a test.
The idea that I might be denied the Navy because of such a simple triviality was disheartening. After all, I had been accepted and attended two different colleges. The inevitable question was raised in my mind: Did I want to join an organization which would turn me away for that?
In the end, it was Chief Acuff who came through for me. While I was unaware of the fact, it turns out that I had just enough college credits to make my high school diploma irrelevant. On one hand, I was ready to head down to the Charlotte, NC MEPS.
On the other hand, I had spent a long day at the zoo, and it was already 8:00pm (2000) in the evening. It was, however, the eve of the last day of the month and my recruiters were anxious to meet their quota of enlistees. After making a quick run back to my house to get the necessities, Doug drove me to Charlotte.
It was almost 1:00am (0100) when we arrived at a Ramada Inn near the Charlotte MEPS. I had slept fitfully in the car, and I looked around the hotel lobby with eyes unfocused by exhaustion. Doug, I'm sure, wasn't much better off.
You are expected to report to MEPS by 5:30am (0530), and I set my wake up call for 4:30am (0430). After only a few hours of sleep I pulled myself out of the bed, showered, and dressed. I shuffled down to what passed as a breakfast at the Ramada, which was a buffet of soggy bacon and cold cereal. I made sure to drink lots of juice, having been forewarned about the imminent urinalysis.
Most of my morning at MEPS passed in a blur. I was with a large group of anxious people in a classroom area, where we filled out medical history sheets and were lectured about the consequences of lying, first by the Commanding Officer of the station, and then by Dr. Cheney.
I had heard horror stories about Dr. Cheney from people at the recruiting station. Nicknamed Dr. Death, his main purpose was alleged to be keeping young men and women out of the military. I liked him immediately.
There's no doubt that he was intimidating, and trying to be. He'd served in all the branches of the military in some fashion or another. He was 67 years old, and I was personally convinced that he could have taken on the biggest, buffest young guy in that room. He inspired me with awe, and reminded me of why I wanted to join the Navy. I wanted to be around competent, intelligent people. People like Dr. Cheney.
The next few hours were filled with medical tests. Blood was taken, a hearing test and an eye exam were done, I peed in a cup while a female intern watched (which seemed, for most of the young ladies, to be absolutely impossible), I did a short series of exercises, and I had the briefest pelvic exam of my life.
I should take this moment to make a note about my fellow applicants, called DEPers. At one point the women are separated from the men, and while the men do similar things in another room, the women strip down to their underclothes and wait in a chilly room to do exercises, have a height and weight check, and a pelvic exam. Sitting there waiting is not my idea of fun, but it's far from torturous. I seemed to be the only one of that mind set, however. These women, who are supposed to be at least 17 years old, sat around whining to each other about the cold air and the humiliation of being in their underwear. I don't know how many times I heard the suggestion that Dr. Cheney was a pervert.
I have had several pelvic exams done, and they tend to be fairly uncomfortable procedures. I had my first one done at 14, and regularly since then. I've had several different gynecologists, all women, who have varied in their sensitivity. Let me say that Dr. Cheney was absolutely the most cautious, gentle doctor I've ever had. Of course, his exam was not an invasive one, but he and the female nurse in the room were soothing, calm, and quick about the entire procedure. It was absolutely painless, emotionally and physically.
All I've got to say about my fellow DEPers is that I hope they get exactly what they deserve in boot camp.
After the medical portion of my time at MEPS, I spent a long time waiting. Despite the lack of sleep, adrenaline was keeping me alert and anxious. The main waiting area was filled with arcade machines, a pool table, and a huge television set which was tuned to MTV. I wasted some quarters on the video games before settling as far from the speakers as possible and listening for my name to be called.
It was a long time in coming. The MEPS center was absolutely packed with people coming and going, the intercom system flickering into life to call an applicant to be in a certain place, or to remind everyone that sleeping on the couches was prohibited. Without any windows, my sense of time was strangely skewed, and it was almost 5:00 when I was finally seen by a classifier.
The classifier is the person who interviews you about your interests and what you're qualified for, and suggests particular jobs. When you sign a contract, it's for the job that you and the classifier have agreed on.
Unfortunately, by the time I got to the classifier's office, I was mentally exhausted. It had been a long and arduous day for me, and another problem had come up with my paperwork. I could not get my official transcript from UNCA until I paid off the money I owed them. Somewhere along the way, someone had decided that an unofficial transcript would suffice, and then changed their mind a couple times. I was not the only one who had been working hard that day at MEPS to insure that I could join the Navy.
The classifier was a wonderful man. I wish I could remember his name, but unfortunately it totally escapes me. He showed me quite a few jobs that I found interesting, and he was happy to explain them to me or sit there while I mulled over my options. I had been told about a job in linguistics that interested me a lot, and I was severely disappointed to learn that I had to take yet another test (the DLAB: Defense Language Aptitude Battery) before I could qualify. While I was told by several people that I could later switch between the job I signed up for and the linguistics field, I decided I was too worn out to make such a decision. Despite the long day and hard work on everyone's part, when Doug drove me back to Asheville I was still a civilian.
Back to the Prologue, or on to Chapter Two.
Return to my Navy page.