Sorry to go AWOL for a while. The past few weeks have been busy, finishing the online future soldier training, making sure I have everything for Basic, trying to secure everything for school when I get back (a week into the semester), keeping up on my running, and travelling the state to drop off my baby (a very handsome bearded dragon lizard) with his auntie and getting him settled into a new home. Finally I feel like everything is in order, just in time for me to leave to Basic Training tomorrow morning.
The packing list for BCT is pretty short, so it was the least of my problems. I’ll attach a copy of the packing list I got, even though I found out a couple days ago that it’s outdated and not entirely accurate.
(Sorry for the wrinkles. This guy has been through a lot with me.)
The things (I know of) that are missing on this list are: a week’s worth of socks/underwear (glad I called my recruiters about this one), a digital watch (my recruiter recommended a $20 one from Wal-Mart that has an alarm, a light, and switches to military time), a phone (if you want one; but your Drill Sergeant will decide how often you can use it—usually only a couple times during your time at BT), and a Bible or other religious book (if desired). In addition, people recommend bringing blister band-aids and a Sharpie to mark all your things. I also packed a small journal.
Anything that you forget to bring/don’t want to pack can be bought at the PX (Post Exchange—the military retail store) once you’re there, but I’m told that it will be a couple days after arriving at BT before you can go there.
Only thing that can’t be bought at the PX: Documents. Can’t forget your documents. The only ones I need to bring are my driver’s license, my Social Security card, and the packet my recruiters gave me at my departure debriefing (with flight itinerary and instructions, etc.)
Let me know in the comments if there's something you found really helpful at Basic Training that I haven't mentioned!
Here’s to a whole day of travel ahead of me and five months of who-knows-what! I’m not sure when’s the next chance I’ll get to blog, so I’m signing off until further notice. Wish me luck!
If you’re anything like me, you might not have even realized that the word “Army” is not interchangeable with “military” until you started researching the process of signing up. Turns out, you have to know what branch you want to join before you can get very far at all.
The four main branches of the military are the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines. Each one has its perks, but to find out about any one of them, you’re going to have to talk to a recruiter for that branch. You might think that there would be one All-Knowing Great Kahuna called the “Military recruiter” who could tell you about all the military branches and help you compare each of their unique qualities; but you would think wrong. At least in the area where I live, there are only recruiters for each specific branch of the military, and they will answer questions about other branches with, “You would have to ask one of their recruiters.”
The good news is, I have been to a couple different recruiting offices (on opposite ends of the state) and both were set up in a way that all the branches’ offices were right next to each other. It is much like a game show where you are presented with four doors and have to pick which one might have a prize behind it. Except that you have the luxury of checking behind all the doors. And to make the most educated decision, you are going to have to do just that.
To give you a head start though, here is a quick rundown of the four different branches:
Army: The Army is the military’s main ground force, which means they stay on land for the most part. It is the largest branch in the military, probably because it is the coolest. (To be fair though, I could be a little biased.) The Army Reserves and the Army National Guard also fall under this branch. They are what is called reserve units, which means that their involvement in the Army is a bit more limited until there is an emergency, in which they can be called upon to become active-duty for a time.
Air Force: The Air Force is in charge of the skies and space when it comes to our nation’s defense. Similar to the Army, they have two reserve forces, the Air Force Reserves and the Air National Guard. This is the second largest branch of the military, behind the Army.
Navy: The Navy is our sea-loving folk. They serve on boats or sea coasts, primarily. This branch is probably the least likely to be engaged in close combat but is known for their use of missiles. The Navy is vitally important to transport things like airplanes and weapons, and works closely with the Air Force for this reason. Both the Navy and the Marines (see below) have a reserve called the Navy (or Marine) Reserve, respectively.
Marines: If you are a beach babe, you will love being a Marine. Just kidding. Marines have a unique logo that combines the eagle (for skies), Earth (for land), and anchor (for sea). They dabble in a little bit of all three mediums. What they are most known for though is being the first ones to arrive in foreign territory to battle, often by boat. Thus, they do spend a lot of time on beaches, but it is not exactly what you would call “a trip to the beach”. Marines are known for being the toughest of the tough, both mentally and physically.
There is tons more information about each of these branches on the internet. Here are a couple links to get you started, if you are interested in learning more:
(I know- the website URLs are pretty complicated and you might want to write them down so you can remember them.)
If you are wondering, I ended up choosing the Army Reserves because I am a land creature by birth. In fact, I do some of my very best work on land. The techniques of direct combat interest me, and the Marines don’t have a Reserves for women in the area where I live. After all of my research though, I didn’t really know for sure which branch was right for me until I started meeting with recruiters. It was there that I just got a feeling of where I belonged in the military.
Before I left for MEPS, my recruiter told me to make sure to dress professionally, “like you would for a job interview" on the day they interview me. "Like you are now,” he added. I looked down at my jeans and oversized sweatshirt, and wondered what sort of job interviews he had been to.
So, unsure if I should wear dress pants and a blouse, or just nice jeans and a polo shirt, I took a risk on the comfortable side that morning at MEPS. Luckily, everyone else was dressed casually too. There were only a couple people who looked like they were actually ready for a job interview. I think by the end of the afternoon, they were ready to stab somebody with their heels, though. Lesson learned: “Professional” in the MEPS world = pants without rips + shirts without drug references or cuss words.
The first thing we did our second day at MEPS, after we went through security and checked in, was get name tags and head over to the medical side of MEPS. We checked into the desk there and lined up outside of a small room where one by one, we went in and they took our blood pressure, looked in our ears, nose, etc. All the regular things they do at a doctor’s checkup.
Then they sent us over to a different little room where one by one, we went in and had our vision checked like you do at the eye doctor’s. They also checked us for color blindness. Then they sent us over to the hearing check, where we each sat in a curtained stall, put on headphones, and pressed a button every time we heard a beep. By the end of it, you are imagining beeps everywhere, even after you take the headphones off.
After the hearing test, we were all gathered into a classroom where we did what we have been trained to do best: paperwork. So much paperwork. They went through a Powerpoint presentation about how if you get caught lying about any part of your medical history, you will get kicked out of the military. They made sure that we knew once we signed these papers, we took full responsibility for any lies our recruiters told us to tell, and the recruiter basically washes his hands of it. They told us to report if any of our recruiters encouraged us to lie, because apparently that is a common thing, which is sad.
Immediately after getting that spiel, a lady took my paperwork to double check everything and called me up in front of everyone. “You never mentioned a broken arm when you were 7,” she said with an excited gleam in her eye, at having already caught someone in a lie. Honestly, that is not something I was trying to hide, and I don’t think it would even be worth hiding. If it wasn’t on my previous paperwork, it must have slipped my mind… as it was 15 YEARS AGO!
But instead of saying that, for some reason I said, “Okay, so now what do we do?” She said she was going to tell her boss about it. I watched her walk out and tell a man about my paperwork discrepancy. He looked at me for a long minute and then said, “Let her go.” My heart dropped as the woman skipped back into the room gleefully, and then suddenly turned back and clarified, “Wait, what do you mean?”
The whole classroom was holding their breath, like you do when you are about to witness a terrible accident or something. The man said, “Let her go through with the process. It was more than 12 years ago.” With that, the lady handed me back my papers without a word and moved on to the next person. I was the only one who had such a close call with death at that point.
After all the paperwork, we had to get our blood drawn. Then we gave our urine samples. That same lady had to sit outside my bathroom stall, with the door open, and watch me collect my urine sample, which was a little weird. But I am used to doing my business with the door open (much to my family's annoyance back home), so I took the opportunity to make small talk with her. She was probably more uncomfortable than me about the circumstances of our chat. She ended up being a nice lady, and we were friends after that.
There is a window that opens up into the bathroom, like a McDonald’s drive-thru window, where we lined up to give a soldier our urine samples so he could analyze them for glucose levels and other things. When it got to be my turn, the results were unclear. If the test strip turns blue, there is no problem, but if it turns green, you have too much glucose in your urine and might have diabetes or something. (It was my roommate’s 4th time coming back to MEPS because of this test, even though she didn’t have diabetes.) My test strip was a sort of bluish greenish color. The man called over the lady for a second opinion. After going back and forth a few times, the lady finally looked at me and said, “I think it’s more blue.” So that was that. -phewf-
Then it was time for our physical exams, or as some call it, the Underwear Olympics. All the girls went into this cold, tile room and stripped down to our underwear. They put on a video like a workout video that we had to do, that had things like the “duck walk” and “windmills”. A male doctor came in and had to watch us do it. You have to be in your underwear so that he can see your shoulder blades and joints, to make sure you have full range of motion and stuff. But any time the male doctor had to see us, there had to be the woman present to supervise him, so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.
After our group physical, we each had a private physical with the doctor (and the lady supervising us) where he had to check us out without even our underwear on. They give you a little hospital gown, but you have to take it off so he can feel your breasts for lumps. Then you put your legs up in these stirrups that makes you feel like you’re having a baby, but he just gives your lady parts a quick peek, and no babies come out. No tools or anything go in, either. People say it’s not as bad as it sounds. But I’m here to tell you it is exactly as bad as it sounds. No better, no worse. The good news is, it is over pretty quickly.
After the worst part was over, we all lined up again and went in for our exit interviews. This is the part where the doctor goes over your paperwork with you one last time and signs everything for you to give the front desk. By this point in the day, I had become very close with all the other girls. Apparently there's something about being humiliated together in your underwear and comparing pee samples that really breaks the ice in a relationship. We were sad to see each other go, but we promised keep in touch.
My exit interview went smoothly until the doctor realized I still needed to get my blood pressure taken. (It was too high when I first came in, so they said they’d wait until I was more relaxed.) So I had to go out and wait another hour or something for somebody to take my blood pressure. By this time, I was so hungry and tired, I just wanted to get out of there. I hadn’t slept in 2 days, and I hadn’t eaten since 5am. Now it was almost 3pm. (Or I guess I should say, 1500 hours.)
The front desk finally took my papers and said, “Congratulations, you passed your physical. Go to the Army office and they will get your sworn in.” The words everyone dreams of hearing, and only about half the people in my group got to hear. (I don’t know if anybody got disqualified that day, but many people had to have their processing delayed, for one reason or another.)
I went to the Army office and they had me go over some paperwork with a job counselor so he could submit my security clearance I need for my job before I could be sworn in. After everything I’d been through, it was a small paperwork error that kept me from being sworn in. My recruiter back home had misunderstood a question about foreign contacts, so we had put I didn’t have any, while in reality, I have tons. (He had thought the only contacts that counted were family or romantic partners, but in fact it includes even friends and acquaintances.) It's a good thing I double checked the meaning of the question with the counselor, but I couldn’t possibly fill out all my foreign contacts’ information (everything from birth places to employers' addresses) in the amount of time I had left before my shuttle was leaving.
So I joined the group of disappointed civilians that were not yet soldiers after having the longest day of their lives. The hardest part about the whole thing was all the waiting. Waiting is not my forte. And now I have to wait until next week when I can make the trip back up to MEPS and try again. Thankfully, I can just continue where I left off. So-
The Day of Reckoning. When all your dreams either come true or are crushed forever. Or in my case, postponed until further notice.
MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing Station. It is where you go to do testing, get your physical done, and be sworn into the military. It’s what all the paperwork and interviewing is leading up to. For people in the Reserve like myself, once you are sworn into the military, you are already a soldier from that moment on.
Wednesday morning, I arrived bright and early at my recruiter’s office to take a shuttle to my nearest MEPS. Two hours later… the shuttle showed up. There were three other people in there who were riding up with me. All of them were joining the Air Force. We chatted and got to know each other on the long drive to MEPS.
That evening when we arrived, we went straight into MEPS. To get in, you have to go through security like at an airport. If you have anything sharp like nail files or nail clippers in your bag, make sure to tell it a heartfelt goodbye, because you will never see it again.
Once we got inside, there was a big front desk where we had to check in. They took our fingerprints there, which we had to scan every time we checked in or out of the building, and took our picture for ID purposes. Then they asked us to lock up all of our things, including our phones and watches, in a room that was locked with a security keypad.
Next, I was led into a computer lab to take my verification ASVAB test, since I had taken the PiCAT (a non-proctored version of the ASVAB) at my recruiter’s office. It only takes about half an hour to answer 30 questions from the ASVAB, just to verify that you are the same person who took the PiCAT. (Although, 1 in 5 people are drawn from a lottery to retake the full ASVAB, and you won’t know if it’s you until you’re already in the test.) If most of your answers match up (even if they’re wrong), you get to keep your original score. If not, you will retake the entire ASVAB and keep your lower score.
After the ASVAB verification, I was directly started on a personality test. It is what they call an adaptive personality test, so the questions you get depend on how you answered the previous question. You choose which statement best describes you between two statements that don’t describe you at all, like “I would kill a cat," and, "I would kill a dog." ß Not real example statements. But it feels like sometimes you are choosing between two statements that either don’t apply to you at all, or they both do. Real example statements: “People tell me I am disorganized.” vs. “I’m not lazy, I just don’t put in more effort than is required.” Interesting fact: The test is designed to be able to tell if you are trying to portray yourself in a certain way, and it accounts for that.
After that test, I was directed into another test that was like one of those job preference tests you have to take in high school. I guess it is to see if I am a good fit for the job I’m applying for. I had to rate on a scale how important to me different aspects of a job are.
What tests we had to take that first day depended on what we were applying for. For example, a girl who came with me didn’t have to take any tests except for a technology knowledge test. (Although she wasn’t applying for a technology job, so who actually knows what the system behind the tests is.)
By the time I got done with all of my tests, the waiting room was empty, and I spent a solid three hours waiting (which as I would find out the next day, was nothing) for a shuttle to take me to the hotel. Apparently no one had told the shuttle I was there. (Again.) I am getting good at this whole waiting thing.
The hotel we stayed at was nice, at least for my standards. The nicest part of it, of course, was that it was paid for by the military. We were given two meal vouchers, one for dinner and one for breakfast the next morning. (FREE STEAK, people!!! Even if you don’t pass MEPS and it all ends up being a waste of time, at least there’s that.) Each of us had a roommate. We spent the night getting to know each other, attending a short orientation, and stressing about the next day.
I’ll write tomorrow about the next day, when the real fun began.
A couple weeks and lots of paperwork resubmittals later (it’s always something), I finally got the call today to come in and finish choosing my MOS. My recruiters had made some calls to a couple Reserve units and gotten the full list of available MOS’s there.
Each of the two Reserves had about 20 MOS’s for me to choose from. (This of course will depend on your ASVAB score and the availability of jobs in your area at any given time.) The first Reserve unit we looked at was about an hour from where I live. It would be the ideal place to get a job.
Lots of the MOS’s there were mechanic jobs. A few were logistics. A couple IT jobs. A cleaning job (which is one of the jobs called a “kicker” job, which means it comes with an increased monetary incentive, since it’s not exactly sought after). A medical receptionist. A weapon technician. And the one I was interested in—an HR job.
In general, I do not get excited about desk jobs. But HR is one I could see myself doing for some reason. Bonus: It is loosely related to what I’m studying in college (psychology). I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was excited about it, but it was my top choice.
Then we looked at the jobs at the second Reserve unit, about an 8-hour drive from where I live. I don’t even know why my recruiter called this Reserve unit (there are other Reserve units much closer to home), except maybe because it was DESTINY. This unit has a Special Ops unit, which it turns out, covers all the jobs I was really excited about.
The two I was most interested in were Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations. We read the descriptions and watched some Youtube videos to compare them. Turns out, the jobs are very similar. In the end, I decided I was born to be in PSYOP (Psychological Operations).
37F Psychological Operations Specialist - YouTube
Nevermind that it is 8 hours from home. I can make a weekend trip out of it once a month. So what if I spend all the money I earn from the job, on travel to the job? For me, this is all about the experience and fulfilling a dream.
Eventually, I might move to this city where I will be working. I am committed to the job for 6 years, after all. But for now, I am committed to finishing school. Only in my worst nightmares will that take me 6 more years! -knock on wood-
I am going back in to the recruiter’s office tomorrow to finish up some paperwork (we are forever finishing up some paperwork) and learn when/where I will be going to training. Wish me luck!
Is it just me, or do you need a glossary every time you hear someone talking about the military? I wish people spoke in parentheses about the DoD (Department of Defense) the way they write. Or that tiny floating asterisks would come out of their mouth with every acronym, that correlated with an asterisk on the floor, where a definition was written.
Nobody likes feeling like they don’t know anything, and there’s no faster way to make someone feel that way than throwing a bunch of acronyms at them. As a result, many people try to avoid military conversations altogether. I know I did for most of my life.
The change comes when you realize, the only way to not be ignorant is to ask questions. The sooner you ask, the better. Everyone had to learn the lingo at some point. Stop your recruiter when they throw out an acronym you don’t know. Or write it down and look it up later. Slowly but surely, you will start to understand what is going on around you. You can answer confidently to “you’re looking for an MOS in the 68 series, right?”, instead of taking your chances with a random head nod.
Pretty soon you will find yourself talking to your family and friends about your whole acronym world. You might have to be the one slowing down to explain things. As my recruiter told me, “It’s hard to switch my brain from military language to civilian language. I can feel the abbreviations starting to slip out, especially on Monday mornings.”
Here is a quick cheat sheet for common abbreviations you might hear in the beginning of your military journey:
M.O.S.- Military Occupational Specialty. This is what you do in the military. Are you an infantryman, a medic, a mechanic? Basically, it’s your job.
B.T.- Basic Training. This is the 10 week long “boot camp” you go to after signing up with the military and before starting your specialized job training (AIT). It prepares soldiers mentally and physically for their service in the military. Also can be heard as B.M.T. (for the Air Force) or B.C.T.(for the Army).
A.I.T. or “A” School- Advanced Individual Training. This is the program following Basic Training and preceding the start of your MOS. It teaches you the skills you need for your specific job.
P.T.- Physical Training. You get scored on this based on running times, how many pushups and sit ups you can do, etc. and are expected to maintain a certain score throughout your military service.
Your next lingo to get down is the ranks of each military branch. For the Army, I’ve posted a tidy little rank chart on the G.I. Josie Facebook page and Instagram. This will help you understand who is higher, a sergeant or a staff sergeant, etc.
“I guess I’ve just never known a woman who wanted to do these things that men do in the Army, and I’m having a hard time understanding it.”
This is a sentence my grandma said to me today. This is a sentence that many different people, in many different ways, have said to me over the past few weeks. Some less tactfully than Grandma. (Truthfully, even Grandma has come a long way to be able to say that sentence so calmly and tactfully.)
I have been meeting with an Army recruiter lately. It has caused a lot of excitement in my circle of acquaintances. Not the sort of excitement you would expect for someone deciding to serve their country. Mostly the kind of excitement that ends in yelling and/or tears.
Contrary to what people think (that I will be the only girl in a place full of ex-conmen and rapists), the military has a tight screening process that leaves it full of decent, respectable people. And more and more of them are women! At least if the people I have seen in the recruiting office is any indication. I have yet to see a man signing up in there, but I have seen a few other women like myself. My hope is that one of them can find this blog and take heart in knowing there are other people on similar journeys as them.
Not only is this blog a place for military women to share their experiences, but it is my attempt to respond to Grandma and to all the other people out there having a hard time understanding my decision to join the Army Reserves. I hope that by coming on my journey with me (through the comfort of your computer screen, of course), you will see that it is really not so scary or bad as you had thought.