Final Fallout – Army Enslitment pt. 6

I came home with all these documents about writing essays and getting recommendations, and with questions about how far my life could stretch at one time, and if it was worth it. 6-9 months is a long time. On top of that, the recruiter’s job is to make things happen. So just as I was deciding that officer school was perhaps a bad idea at this juncture, my recruiter came on location at my work in full camo and asked me to meet with his commander that evening to see if we could push through all the paperwork and have my review board by Wednesday. That was Monday. I balked, said it was too fast for my wife. They said it was okay. I scheduled a new day to finish my counseling at the MEPS. I couldn’t do it by Thursday, so I went for Tuesday. This time, no monkey business with the hotel.

Tuesday rolled around, and I got up at some ungodly hour, showered and dressed, and was standing in line with a new set of recruits at 6:00. I went in, documents above my head, put my things in a locker, and headed to the career counselor’s. She smiled at me, remembered my name, looked down at her appointment book and said, “What are you doing here?” The recruiter commander was called. There had been a mistake.

It turns out that Thursday, the one I couldn’t miss work for, was the last day to sign up for Army Reserves for the 2009 fiscal year. Apparently everybody has signed up for the reserves, what with this recession they got going on, and in my dalliance, I had missed the cut. See, this is the part where different departments having different information comes in. The recruiters didn’t know about the deadline until the deadline had passed. Who knows what the MEPS people knew. Thursday, when the recruiters had learned of it, my guy had given me a call to say not to show up on Tuesday. Except he didn’t. I mean, he called, but he didn’t say not to show up. What he did was to leave a message. The message he left was the same message he leaves every time he leaves a message – “Hi this is Sgt. B—-. Give me a call when you get this message.” Since it matched every other message I’d gotten from him, I didn’t realize it was a new message. I’d thought that it was the old message I’d received a week prior. So I’d deleted it. So now, no enlistment at all. The officer option was still open, but with the same misgivings about time.

But it’s not like the Army doesn’t want anybody more in the reserves for all time; just for 2009. So here’s what they did. I came in later and signed up for something called the Delayed Enlistment Program. It’s designed for college students, so they can enlist immediately upon graduation. We picked a career, and dates and locations for basic and tech school. It turned out, after careful research that the only openings available will be for medstaff and civil affairs, which is what I was looking toward in the first place. Of course, it’s all hypothetical, because the enlistment isn’t real. It’s a reservation. Come the new fiscal year, which starts in October, I’ll have to go to the MEPS and start all over again. With any luck, I can avoid the hotel this time.

Career Counseling – Army Enlistment pt. 5

Here’s the part where I blew it. Sort of. It was odd.
I sat down at a desk across from a counselor, reviewed my work and school history with her, and then she handed me a form that said that, considering my degree, they highly recommended I apply for officer school. Wasn’t ready for that. Every other branch I’d looked into had pushed me toward officer training right up until they heard what my degree was, then hey, presto! I was gone. No calls from my recruiter. So when I went to the army, I told them I just wanted to enlist and that I’d worry about officer training later. So here, right in the process of finishing up, I didn’t want that to happen again. And that’s what I told them. The career counselor checked; they didn’t care what degree I had or if I was over the legal age to go to Officer Candidate School. If I had a degree and wanted to be an officer, they’d make me an officer. All right then, it pays better and it’s better suited to my temperament anyway, so I signed.

But that paper sent me off on a goose chase. Phone calls were made to the commander of the recruiters. My documents were gone over with a fine toothed comb. They began initial research for security clearance. The commander showed up, took me into a back room and asked me, “what happened?” Turns out that signing that document was a YES, and my enlistment stopped.

Officer Candidate School, OCS, is a whole different ball game from enlistment. You have to have recommendations; You have to write an essay; you have to have a spotless criminal record; and you have to go before a review board that meets only once a week. Oh, and OCS is an extra 14 weeks of school. You have your basic, and you have your tech school, and OCS fits neatly in between them, making a neat 6-9 months away from your family. Maybe that was something I should have checked with my wife before signing?

Physical – Army Enlistment pt. 4

This was the strangest part of the medical examination – the physical itself. First I had a desk interview with a doctor who took me at face value while I said I had no known illnesses of any kind. I had heard horror stories about being challenged at the least falter, but apparently I look as healthy as I feel.

Then I was sent into another room, and when I opened the door I stopped in shock. There was a bench something like a waiting room at a sauna, and lined up on it were about 8 adult men, each wearing nothing more than some boxers to cover the unmentionables. Directly in front of me was another large man, in little more than what God gave him, arms extended full tee, while two men in cammo took his measurements. I was sent to the bench, told to strip down and wait. After a few minutes, we were lined up, told to adjust our shorts so as not to advertise, and brought through various strange physical exercises (including a duck walk) to prove we had our full range of motion.

Then back into the doctor’s office for the physical proper: he listened to heart and lungs, looked in my ears and at the back of my throat, checked prostate and proctology. At that last, my 83 year old doctor complained more than I did. It was required, and he didn’t much appreciate it. My best personal guess about the wherefore is that the proctological exam is the military’s answer to “dont ask, don’t tell.” They may not be allowed to ask, but they can sure verify that you haven’t had your anatomy destroyed by debauched behavior.

On the ear inspection, I failed. He couldn’t see the drum in my left ear. But they have a waiver for that too. In my case, they squirted some solvent in my ear, waited a few minutes, and hooked me up to a tool that squirted water in until the wax came out. I was afraid at first I’d get hurt or at least be stuck with swimmer’s ear. In fact, the water pump managed to scratch that little spot between your ear and your throat that itches sometimes but you never can quite get to because it’s in the middle of your head. Ah that was a relief.

All in all, I was gratified to learn (again) that I was healthy.

Medical – Army Enlistment pt. 3

This is the creepy part of the process. It’s also funny, if you’re not there for it. We had to get everything tested. On the way out of the classroom we were given breathalyser tests (I came back clean). Then we went through a battery: reflexes, eye test, hearing test, urine sample, blood sample.

Now backwards – on the blood sample, I’m still getting over a hatred of needles, so I looked away while I was being pricked. A few seconds in, I said calmly that I wasn’t particularly enjoying the experience, at which point the medic cried, “now why did you have to say that. The minute you said that, you dried up. Nothing’s coming out.” I looked down and saw that the sample bottle was huge and quite suddenly felt sick. It was a few minutes before they were able to try again.

The urine sample was not like your ordinary urinalysis, outside of a prison. We were taken, three at a time, into a room with urinals, but no parititions, where a medic handed us a cup and waited. And he had a bad problem with fidgeting. And tapping his foot… Let’s just say that peeing in public is just not my thing. If I gave you the vulgar details, I promise you’d be laughing till you cried. It took two attempts and over two hours before the pain in my bladder exceeded its shyness. It was the defining issue of the day. It’s something I definitely have to get over, and I really don’t have a clue how to practice.

The hearing test involved sitting in a soundproof room with earphones on and tapping a special button when you heard various beeps at various frequencies. It was… amusing. They eye test involved both correction testing and testing for colorblindness. It turns out that I’m not colorblind, but I’m still not legal to drive without glasses.

Paperwork – Enlisting in the Army pt. 2

First came the paperwork – and this is tricky. We were taken into a classroom, handed a stack of papers and told to fill in the blanks on everything that had ever happened to us. Officially the armed services only accept recruits who are in perfect health with no criminal record. Or at least, it seems that way. At the very least, they want to know about everything that might be a problem, and there is no statute of limitations. If you’ve ever had surgery, a childhood illness, or a speeding ticket, they want to know about it. If it’s no big deal (and they’ll decide), then they’ve got a waiver for it. Except for asthma. There is no waiver for asthma. At least, I think there isn’t. There might be one if you haven’t had it since you were 13. I wasn’t very clear.

And this is the part that was probably the most frustrating, and not because it was every bit as tedius as it sounds. The problem is that I had been prepped for this. Before I had left for the hotel, the recruiters gave me a little pep talk. You see, the military is full of acronyms, and the two acronyms that are most significant at the MEPS are NO and YES. NO stands for ‘Numerous Opportunities’, and YES stands for ‘Your Enlistment Stops.’ Because, of course, if anything weird shows up on your paperwork, everything freezes until it’s fixed.

So I was told specifically not to lie, but that there is a certain threshold below which information wasn’t beneficial to anybody. For instance, (as I read in a book on enlisting), if there isn’t any medical record of the event, as far as anybody is concerned, it didn’t actually happen. That time I fell down and bruised my tail bone and my mom refused to take me to the hospital even though I couldn’t sit up straight for weeks? Didn’t happen. In fact, as far as the military is concerned, I don’t think I have a record. I’ve been to the doctor 3 times since I was 10. Nevertheless, guidelines like that are hardly ever clear, and it was some cause for anxiety. I kept hearing people called up and asked, “why did you lie about the foot surgery you had two years ago?” Lying is frowned on in the military.

We were told all of us to put down if we had had chicken pox, and the treatment we received for it, so I guess there’s a waiver for that.

Upshot – Enlisting in the Army pt. 1

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.