The photo above is an aerial shot of RTC Orlando that I found in a Google-image search. The base does not exist anymore. It was closed in the 1990s, with everything torn down...probably to make way for a residential neighbourhood. When I heard the news of the base closure, I felt sad because that place is "sacred" to me. Its the place where I became a man.
I consider basic training to be a "rite of passage", which according to mythology and some spiritual traditions is a necessary step for a youth to become an adult. This experience is transformative and does not necessarily have to be military basic training. For others, its college, or the Peace Corps, or serving on a mission for one's church. Basically, its any experience that takes you away from home and you have to deal with loneliness, strange new surroundings, people you've never met before, and you learn how to be your own person and what you're made of.
In honour of my 19th anniversary of basic training, I am posting interesting excerpts from the journal I kept (Tales of Terror From Boot Camp Hell: Journal Volume XXII). Each night, before I go to sleep, I read the entry for that particular day half my lifetime ago. Its funny to read back on, as I don't think I've read this journal in the past five years or so. Today's excerpt (in italics below) is one of the longer entries (11 pages in my journal) and I have no idea how I was able to write so much with the minimal amount of free time we had. Not only did I write in my journal after everyone went to sleep at 11 p.m., but I also wrote at least one letter, sometimes three. During my basic training, I received the most letters in the company and it used to tick other guys off. I told them, "You have to write letters to get letters." I had an unfair advantage over most of the guys. I had been writing letters since I was 8 years old and was shocked to learn that some guys did not know how to write a letter and asked for my help!
The picture below was also found in a Google-image search. It represents something that we all did in basic training: various exercises in unison whenever our CC felt like demanding that of us. In the journal excerpt, CC means "Company Commander" (the Navy's version of the "drill sergeant") and SR means "Seaman Recruit" (which was everyone's first rank in the Navy). I hope you enjoy today's entry, as it marks one of the most interesting days I experienced at basic training. There are a few more entries I will be posting between now and May, including the notorious 1-5 Day (on April 3rd). Stay tuned!
March 30, 1991 Saturday
Today has been an eventful day and it started when I woke up.
Both PARKER and BYARS told me that I moan in my sleep. I don't believe them. Moan? Come on...that's ridiculous. They seemed to be serious, but I refused to believe them.
It was raining this morning so we got to wear our rain trenchcoats. At the galley--we ate off of paper plates and plastic wear. Are they getting lazy? Music was played again. It was played during our first breakfast here and haven't since. I wonder why they don't play music more often. Its uplifting (and its music I like!).
In the morning, we had a locker drill. We had to fold and stow 10 items in their proper compartment. Mearsurements were the key. So we had to use a ruler to get it right. The characters starring in the drill are: (1) Shower shoes (easy!), (2) Underwear (or as CC KEENAN calls them: "panties"), (3) T-Shirt, (4) Towel, (5) NAVY BLUE sweater, (6) Dungaree Trousers, (7) Chambray Shirt, (8) SEA BAG, (9) Gloves, and (10) Black knit cap (Gloves and cap were rolled together).
We had a whole half hour to get everything stowed properly and that is no easy task!
While marching to lunch, CC KEENAN taught us the "Stealth Mode" to march without cadence. It was cool! And I found it easy to stay in step during Stealth mode. Basically, on every second left pace, we hit our heel on the pavement harder to make a louder, rhythmic sound to keep the pace. But KEENAN said that mode would only be allowed on certain occasions.
Again, for lunch we had to use paper products--although some people got to use the regular metal trays. For lunch, we had spaghetti and music to soothe our stress.
What stress? They said that Basic Training would be very stressful, but I haven't been stressed out at all. I'm enjoying it too much.
Section leader Stringer again got on my case for not studying and asked why my notebook wasn't open. So I opened it, told him so and then said: "Do I get a cookie now?" SR ALBU, SR NELSON, and SR WILLIAMS all laughed but STRING-BEAN (as the CCs call him) wasn't amused.
In the afternoon, we stood in our usual morning reveille spot (in front of our lockers) to practice what to do during inspections--such as sounding off and to "cover" and "uncover" on command--which is the ART of removing the hats from our heads in perfect unison. "Cover", to put on the hat and "Uncover", to remove. Makes sense, but we have to work on the "unison" part. After standing at attention so long--a terrible drain for my legs, we moved on to practice the bunk drill. When we all messed up majorly, we were cycled for no more than Ten minutes. Cycling is an interesting concept. It goes something like this--the CCs have fun with it...
"DROP!" the CCs shout as we hit the deck in pushup position. "Too slow, on your feet!" We all jumped to our feet. "Too slow...DROP!" Again we drop. "UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN UP DOWN!! On your feet! Too slow! DROP! On your back! SITUP ONE TWO ONE TWO! Get up! Too slow! DROP!!" And their favourite it seems is to leave us in the push up position so our arms could get tired. If your butt was higher than any other part of your body (somehow, its easier on the arms to raise the butt), the CCs would yell: "That's the faggot position!" or "Stop advertising!" If your midsection touched the deck, they would say "You think you're at Sea World?"
Cycling improves the will to get things right--only so we don't have to do it again.
In the early evening, it was eventful. Two recruits "quit" the company -- though I can't see how and they got into serious trouble with the CCs. Later, they apologized to us and asked for our permission to remain in the company. They received overwhelming support and applause. I thought it was dumb that they had to ask to remain in the company. But the CCs were probably trying to humiliate the quitters.
An ambulance pulled up to our division building and SR FRANK was taken away for some "injury" he claimed to have received during cycling. Then, another incident occured with SR HOUSTON. Apparently, he freaked out in the Head (restroom) and went into an uncontrollable rage.
A CC of another company came into our compartment and asked our CCs what the hell was going on with the Ambulance. The CCs told the other CC and laughed about SR FRANK getting injured in a cycle.
CC MATTHEWS chose me to escort SR CARUTHERS (a 31 year old man) to the Hospital. I didn't know why but I did comply. I went downstairs to the division office. CC MATTHEWS was down there as well as a female CC. She asked me a question and I accidentally answered with "sir" attached rather than "ma'am." I thought I was going to get yelled at or worse because I heard horror stories about calling a female CC "sir."
CC MATTHEWS asked for my streetmark. I gulped. He was pulling a streetmark from me for my verbal error. That means I'll have to pay dearly later. We get 3 streetmarks (a sort of "violation" ticket) and the CCs made it very clear that we would pay dearly if we got one pulled. You can get one pulled for talking in the galley--something all of us are criminal to.
In the van, I met Caruthers. He wasn't happy. He told me that he would probably get kicked out of the Navy. He wouldn't tell me what he did, but I thought he might've been in trouble because he was gay--that was the only thing I could assume the Navy would kick a person out for.
I asked why he joined the Navy. He said that he was unemployed and had to do something. He didn't expect Basic to be so tough. I nearly laughed because I expected a TOTAL Hell but its been quite pleasant.
The hospital was off the base but I had no sense of direction in the darkness. I was glad to be chosen as an escort so I can get out of the barracks for a couple hours.
At the Hospital, the doctor asked SR CARUTHERS what he did and CARUTHERS said that he "accidentally ate suntan lotion." The doctor looked at him as if to say "Are you for real?" I looked at him and thought "How can you 'accidentally' eat suntan lotion?" CARUTHERS went on to explain that he was applying it to his face when some of it got into his mouth...somehow. I wasn't buying it and neither was the doctor.
I had to follow Caruthers and watch the whole disturbing process. I saw SR HOUSTON escorted into the hospital with 2 security personnel. He violently shook his arms to cut loose from their grip.
A corpsman asked CARUTHERS the usual questions about swallowing poison--if Caruthers felt nauseous at all. Then told CARUTHERS that he would have to pump Caruthers' stomach.
I got up but the corpsman said: "I want you to watch." I sat back down and almost felt nauseous because all of a sudden, being here was not fun anymore.
Caruthers sat on one of those moving Hospital "tables." The corpsman had a devilish grin and said "I love doing this!" He talked to me most of the time and treated 31 year old Caruthers poorly. He asked why Caruthers would do something stupid like that. He also asked him how old he was. The corpsman was surprised when he heard "31."
"You should know better!" the corpsman said. He then proceeded to make preparations to put a long narrow tube up Caruthers' nose. I could tell that Caruthers was very uncomfortable and didn't expect that "route." But he did it to himself.
It was disgusting as the tube was pushed in further and further.
"I want you to watch," said the corpsman again. "And tell your shipmates what will happen if they try this." I couldn't watch. It was very disturbing to see Caruthers kicking and writhing as the tube went deeper and deeper. He had a bed pan to throw up in as the corpsman put some liquid mixture into the tube to get into his system.
"I love this!" he said. I felt uncomfortable and wanted to go back to the world I knew...the cycling, the yelling, and the marching.
Everytime the corpsman asked me a question, I answered with a "sir" attached because I was still troubled over the fact that I called a female a "sir." The corpsman was only a Seaman though, according to his rating stripes.
When Caruthers was through coughing up all that he could cough up, the corpsman pulled the tube out of his nose and I didn't watch. It was much too disturbing. Caruthers asked if he would be able to return to the company tonight.
The corpsman laughed and said that the Navy was finished with him. The corpsman got him some hospital clothes to wear. Caruthers said to me, "Tomorrow is Easter, isn't it?"
"Yes it is," I replied. He had a look on his face of distress like he had sinned. Then with a most pathetic look on his face, he said to me..."Please don't tell the other guys in the company about this."
"I won't," I said. I left. The corpsman said: "I don't want to see you here again."
"You won't," I said. Next, I had to wait for a van back. I saw SR FRANK on crutches limping around. He really was injured? HOW?!?
I felt a little sorry for Caruthers, but also no respect as well. For a 31 year old man who considers suicide, especially because Basic is "too tough" for him, I can't respect him.
On the van ride home, I met a guy on his uncontrolled weekend who got drunk. He was being picked up while the van driver went to a division building, he told me a brief rundown of his incident. He's on 8-1 Day and said that he'd probably get set back. He took a penny out of his mouth and gave it to me and asked if I would take the "evidence." He was chewing it because "it will fool the breathlyzer" he said and he asked if I could dispose of it. I complied although I was hesitant to do so.
I helped SR FRANK up the stairs. He didn't know who I was and didn't want help, I told him that I was in the same company and said that he would make it up the stairs easier with help. He thanked me afterwards and I said: "That's what shipmates are for!"
It was midnight and the Compartment Watch wanted to know where I've been. I explained that I was Caruthers' escort. He then asked what happened to Caruthers.
I figured that the company would find out sooner or later. "He was getting his stomach pumped for eating suntan lotion." The watch was surprised. I went to bed with disturbing images running around my mind. Tomorrow is Easter and I planned to go to Protestant Contemporary Services to ease my mind of such horror!
I learned later on that the CC pulled my streetmark to have my information handy in case I went AWOL during my escorting duties. I also learned as the weeks wore on that SR Frank was unfit for Navy duty and became the most hated person in the company. All of us conspired to get him kicked out of the company and I was an active participant because he was also due to attend Yeoman "A" School, like me. I didn't want to have to deal with him any longer than I had to, so I did indeed do everything I could to make sure that he was kicked out of the company. I don't regret it one bit, as he was a huge drag on our company. How he passed the recruiter's screening baffled the entire company.
Also...about the "moaning" incident. I debated whether or not to include it in this excerpt. Apparently, I did moan in my sleep during the first few weeks of training. Some guys got angry at me for it (like I had control over it!) while others found it amusing and something to rib me about. One guy even left a note in my cover requesting that I stop moaning. Another threatened to stuff a sock in my mouth if I didn't stop. And one told me that he couldn't even get his girlfriend to moan like I did. Pretty embarrassing...but maybe it was in conjunction with bad dreams. The first few weeks of basic training were hard to fall asleep anyway, because so many people were coughing all the time. By the last few weeks, though, it was eerie quiet at night.