Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Brow Beaten

USS Neversail - is where I learned my seamanship indoctrination. My first salute and "Permission to come aboard!" happened on this replicated ship. There we learned ship life, and how to tie knots. Some of the classes onboard covered topics such as; water tight integrity, and chemical warfare.

Here's a glimpse into Navy boot camp. I was 17 and fresh out of high school!

Brow Beaten

My feet were firmly planted together, my nose straight ahead, my ears ringing. I dared not twitch. She was in her early thirties, blonde, short, and had the loudest mouth I had ever witnessed on God’s great planet.

"LADIES, SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTHS! When I walk into a room I expect you to stand at attention! That means, NO MOVING, NO TALKING, and NO BREATHING! Ladies, you belong to me now!" And with an emphasizing stomp of her foot she screamed, "and YOU’RE IN MY NAVY!"

Oh boy, you could hear a pin drop.

That’s how we were formally introduced. I’ll just bet that the jet airliner that had earlier dropped us off at the Orlando Florida airport wasn’t even refueled yet! The rest of the evening became a blur of events. We were given our rules of conduct. We were reminded that we no longer belonged to ourselves. I solemnly looked down at my arm and marveled at how I was borrowing something that I had taken for granted my entire life. Imagine not "owning" your own hands and feet! We were now officially government property.

Uncle Sam would be taking care of everything. He was going to be our sugar daddy. He’d feed us, clothe us, instruct us how to brush our teeth, remind us when to bathe, when to close our mouths, when to sleep, and when to take a pee.

We were ushered into a large shower stall (all 60 of us) and ordered to strip and wash. It was really pathetic watching some of the girls trying to maintain their modesty. Amidst blushes and averted eyes, it became painfully obvious that the ones who were still wearing their underclothes in the showers were attracting the most attention. I figured that it would be easier to "bare all" and to get lost in the sea of boobs and fannies, rather than risk ridicule.

CC (Company Commander) Johnson (the mouthy blonde) wasn’t too thrilled either. You should have seen her nostrils flare when she spotted half a dozen girls emerging from the showers in their dripping panties and bras. Talk about sh*t flying and hitting the fan! I was still shaking in my britches when we were finally ushered to our bunks.

The following day we were taught how to march, how to stencil our names on our uniforms, how to stand in line, how to salute and how to hold our ditty bags. Never mind Master Card—we never left our barracks without our ditty bags! In case you are wondering, a ditty bag is this silly looking travel case (resembling a shaving case); it is small, dark blue and has a long zipper. The only contents allowable for female recruits (male recruits do not carry ditty bags—they get to use their back pockets) are: 1 pencil, 1 small spiral notebook (that you have to fold in half to fit), and 2 tampons (whether you needed them or not). Anything more or less will result in, "DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!" And believe me, doing push-ups for CC Johnson was no simple feat. She had the irritating habit of making the entire company drop down to their noses all for the simple mistake of one recruit. I don’t know what us female recruits feared the most: pissing off our CC or letting down our comrades.

We were constantly reminded that we were in a man’s world. I guess CC Johnson felt that we women had to prove ourselves. Each and every time a company of male recruits marched by, she would drop us to the ground with our noses to the grinder. Sometimes we were forced to do these exercises called mountain climbers. With our butts in the air and our palms flat on the ground, we sweated under the scrutinizing and, I’m sure, amused glances of our male peers. It was really quite humiliating. She pushed us, she screamed, she threatened, and she marched us like Hitler’s army. We were one big marching machine. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. You could hear all 120 boots hitting the pavement in unison.


In unison our heels clicked together. CC Johnson had ordered us to stop. My nose was straight ahead, my shoulders squared back, my tummy and buttocks tucked in. CC Johnson was heading in my direction. I could feel the heat of her glance. I dared not twitch. A small bead began to form at the tip of my nose. She was standing at my side. Sweat began to trickle down my back. My leg itched. We had been marching for what seemed like hours. The bead trickled down my nose and another began to form. I fought back the nausea. Somebody else didn’t. The girl in front of me broke formation and doubled over. With what sounded like a loud burp, she ejected the contents of her breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and milk onto the pavement. I could feel the cool wetness of her vomit as it splattered onto my pant leg. I dared not blink. CC Johnson was furious and had her unceremoniously escorted to sickbay. The rest of us girls were ordered to resume marching. This time we sang a song.

Mama, mama, can’t you see?
What the Navy’s done to me…
Took away my lovin’ man,
Now I sleep with Uncle Sam!

We were all assigned lockers located at the foot of our bunks. We were taught how to fold our clothes all over again. Never mind what your mama taught you. In boot camp, a ruler became your best friend. We painstakingly folded each of our white cotton panties, T-shirts, and bras. Each one perfectly aligned in its proper places. Each bra strap impeccably matched, smoothed, folded, measured, refolded, re-measured, and aligned. I can guarantee you that if our country were to ever face a national crisis the women of the United States Navy would NOT be found with their panties in a wad!

I was being summoned to CC Johnson’s office. I could barely control my knees from shaking. Another recruit was summoned as well. We stood at attention in her office. Another CC that I did not recognize was standing in the office. She was addressing us.
"Ladies, I have selected you both to join my team. You will report to my quarters each afternoon for instructions."

We both soon learned that we were "volunteered" into the Navy’s elite drill team. Each afternoon, us two girls would leave our company and find ourselves back on the grinder, learning our new marching steps with a team of fresh faces. We were being drilled and polished to march in Florida’s upcoming parade. Each afternoon we left for the drill team and returned several hours later, sweating, exhausted, and near collapse. The girls in my company remarked how unfortunate we were when we returned. Never mind that we were exempt from an inspection or two. They pitied us.

The big day arrived and the Navy’s drill team was ushered off of base. We took a bus to the parade. Amidst confetti, cheers, and balloons, we marched proudly along the streets, the Navy band following suit. All of a sudden those hours of backbreaking work paid off. We did the sunburst march, the stars, and the tangles. We marched and marched. We were being televised. Before we knew it we were back on the bus, our faces aglow with pride. Our Drill CC surprised us with a stop at McDonald’s.

Back on base and returned to our barracks, us two girls excitedly shared our experiences. They were furious! How dare we eat hamburgers while they stayed behind and folded panties! How dare we get to ride a bus while they mopped and scrubbed the toilets!

After that, life became miserable for us two drill team recruits. Each day we would find our bunks tipped upside down, and the contents of our lockers piled onto the floor.

One evening after mail call, I was sitting on my bunk and was quietly plucking my eyebrows when Kindschey approached me. She’s this big oriental masculine girl with high cheekbones, snapping black eyes, and fists that could crush your skull. No wonder CC Johnson elected her as our company’s MAA (Master At Arms); her sole duty was to be our CC’s extra eye and to maintain order in her absence. She was just another recruit like the rest of us, but she instilled fear. She dropped onto all fours and scoured the floor at my feet. I watched incredulously as she searched painstakingly for something.

"What are you looking for?" I finally asked. Kindschey ignored me and continued to search. Finally she rose on her haunches with triumph. She pounced to CC Johnson’s office.

A few moments later both Kindschey and CC Johnson were at the foot of my bunk. I was standing in bewildered attention.
"Do you see this?" Kindschey was holding out the point of her finger. I squinted. CC Johnson was squinting as well, but nodding her head, nevertheless.
"THIS!" Kindschey thrust her finger into my eye. I squinted again. Finally my eyes adjusted and could make out the teeny tiny shape of a plucked brow.
I could see the veins twitching in both Kindschey’s and CC Johnson’s necks.
I was in deep water.

They had two MP’s escort me out of the barracks and out onto the compound. I was briskly marched to another building. I noticed an ambulance parked outside. Inside was a mad scramble of barking drill sergeants. I was ordered to hit the floor. I was forced to exercise non-stop for three hours. I ran laps, did push-ups, jumping jacks and bar lifts. They screamed at me, threatened, and spat. There was a combination of others in the room with me. Male recruits, females, some crying some groaning. We were all being punished for something or another.

I seethed the entire time over Kindschey. The following day I could barely stand. Although I wasn’t dead, I wished I were. I had more surprises waiting. CC Johnson had a special trip for just her and me. With barked orders to the rest of the gals, she marched me out of the barracks and into the base barbershop.
"CHOP IT ALL OFF!" I sat in stunned silence as I watched layers of layers of my long hair fall to the floor. I feebly reminded CC Johnson, who was attached to my side, that I had maintained my hair in a proper bun. Her only retort was, "NOT GOOD ENOUGH!"

My company was being marched to a grassy hill on the outskirts of the base. We had only one week left of basic training. It was the fourth of July and the NCO (Naval Commanding Officer) had graciously granted all recruits the privilege to watch the fireworks display on base. I was equally surprised to see that us female recruits were allowed to mingle with the male recruits. Of course, with instructions to not fraternize or touch, we cautiously approached one another. More than fireworks were flying as we conversed through the night.

I do not remember the cracking lights and color bursts in the sky. My companions and I were off in our own little world, talking and laughing. Finally the night became quiet except for the shuffling of feet and the yells of the commanding officers. I bid farewell and searched the grounds for my company. Panic set in as I failed to recognize a single face. I anxiously scanned the rows of recruits all set to march. Finally, my heart sunk to my toes.

Off in the distance, already kicking up a cloud was my company. They had unknowingly left without me. Fear unlike anything I had ever experienced settled over my shoulders. I watched them marching off into the distance. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I remembered earlier that week when I had witnessed two male recruits jumping a fence. They were desperately trying to make an escape. One got caught in the fence the other made it to the other side.

I knew what I had to do. There were no fences to jump. There was nowhere to hide. It was time to face CC Johnson. Time to face Kindschey.
Time to face responsibility.

With ditty bag thrust properly in my right hand, feet and heels clicked together, I prepared myself for the march. My chin lifted and raised, eyes straight and forward, I tucked in my tummy and buttocks and squared my shoulders. I took another deep breath and started in the direction of my barracks. If one were to be within a hair’s breath from my lips, they would catch the hint of a song, escaping into the night…

Mama, mama can’t you see?
What the Navy’s done to me…


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