Nothing is by any means finished yet, but I thought I’d give you an update on my Army enlistment situation as it stands. You are reading the words of a Future Soldier. Which means exactly nothing. I haven’t actually sworn the oath. But I do have a reservation.
Actually, I think it’s pretty important that I present a fairly detailed description of my experience for the online record, simply because it was so difficult for me to get a clear picture beforehand of what was going to happen. Everything I found on the internet was obviously intended for promotional purposes and wasn’t any help in prepping myself for actual process. I couldn’t find anybody to tell me what it was like
Here’s the first thing you need to know: Enlisting in the military is a two-step deal. There are two separate departments through whose hands you must pass, and the rivalry between them is something like the business rivalry between engineering and sales. Which is to say they hate each other.
The first team is the recruitment office. Their job is to seek out as many quality candidates as they can, work out whatever hinders them from joining. Unfortunately, these people are not the ones who actually take your name and swear you in. All they do is find you and encourage you (or discourage, as the case may be). They have certain information about programs or bonuses you may be eligible for, but that information is always two weeks to two months old, and there’s nothing they can really do about it.
The other group is the Military Enlistment Processing Station, or MEPS. Their job is to dot all the eyes and cross all the tees and make sure that only people who are actually qualified get in. If anything untoward comes up, your file gets thrown out until it’s fixed. These people have up-to-date information on what options you have because they’re the ones who can actually make those decisions. Unfortunately, they have no particular motivation to make your life convenient.
So. The MEPS is lies in a direct line, as the crow flies, between my house and the recruiter station. Neither office is more than 15 minutes from my house. Nevertheless, most of the people who are enlisting come from a considerable distance, since this is the processing station for some 30 counties. Therefore, the military has reserved a certain number of rooms at a fine hotel in downtown Knoxville at a discount rate. This way, folks can come the night before, get a free meal and a good night’s sleep before being rustled up at 4:30 in the morning and bussed to the MEPS by 6:00, which is when the enlistment process begins. Downtown Knoxville is about a 20 minute drive from my house. In other words, it would be easier in my case not to stay at the hotel, and I suppose I might have gotten that concession if I had pushed for it, but the Knoxville recruiters are determined that their recruits should have every privilege that is afforded the long-distance travelers. So I was put up in a hotel.
Unfortunately, it so happened that, on the night that I was to stay at the hotel, there were several other conferences going on as well, so that the hotel had double-booked a few rooms. And since the MEPS was paying a discount rate, the double-bookers got first choice. This meant that the MEPS was making arrangements to rent some extra rooms from another hotel. The plan was that, come eleven o’clock, when there was a final tally of how many recruits were without lodging for the night, we would be summoned, put on a bus, and shipped to the back-up location, which happened to be a five minute drive from my house. Then in the morning, the bus would pick us up first and carry us back downtown where we would be counted; then we would get back on the bus and be delivered to the MEPS.
The net of this scenario is that, a 20 minute drive from home, I had no place to lay my head. And they called this military logistical planning. The contact at the hotel explained to me with a certain glint that the only reason we had won all those wars was that all those other armies were organized even worse. I went to an unoccupied room, turned off the TV, read a book, and attempted to doze. Fortunately, this nightmare was averted when some rooms came free after all. Nobody was bussed anywhere that night, and I was in bed, safely, by eleven.
I had arrived at 8.
The next morning we breakfasted, stared dully at the 3 girls enlisting who had a spectrum of ideas on how much makeup was appropriate for a 6:00 cattle call to enlist in the military (fittingly, the 17 year old signing up for the Marines was by far the prettiest), and piled into the bus. At 6, we formed two lines at the station, handed over any weapons we had, and walked through a metal detector with our paperwork over our heads. On the other side, we put all of our personal belongings in lockers, went to our respective branch offices and turned in important documents. We were ready to begin.