Twenty four years ago next month I entered Basic Training for the United States Air Force. Looking back, waaaaay back, the whole thing seems very surreal to me. Had I remained in the military I could have been retired as of four years ago. My time was short, but full of events I’ll never forget.
The day I left for Basic Training I was armed with one rolling suitcase, a duffel bag and a full Samsonite cosmetic case. Yes, it was ridiculous. Even more than ridiculous was the fact that within that luggage was wax I brought along foolishly thinking I would somehow be given the time and opportunity to wax my legs! Remember the old movie and TV show Private Benjamin? It was kind of like that. I can still recall the outfit I was wearing….it was the 80’s and that was very apparent in my large shoulder padded blazer, black Esprit pants and leather Madonna style boots. (The older me wishes she could have told the younger me; “Throw on some jeans and a pair of tennis shoes; you’re going in the military for crying out loud!”) I was 17 years old, the very youngest in my squad. This was pretty rare and was only allowed because I had already graduated high school having skipped a year and I had my mother’s consent. I remember the woman that was the oldest; 36 (the oldest they took) and thinking; “Wow, that’s old!” (Of course I passed 36 five years ago, and no, it’s not old at all.) I was a young, naive and incredibly sensitive girl. It was against my character to do this sort of thing which became even more apparent when I arrived and we were asked to scrub the shower with our toothbrushes. There I was doing this task, I kid you not, in a full length, white, fluffy bathrobe. It just doesn’t get any more impractical than that, folks. I recall being lined up as some gruff, high ranking guy came through our squad bay asking us to recite something along the lines of: “I, Airman so-and-so, blah blah blah.” I could not get the term “Airman” in my head for some reason and my mind fixated on the common rank I knew from television, movies and such; Sergeant. I was blasted for “promoting myself” when I stated; “I, Sergeant so-and-so…..” That man really rattled me and I cried. Not the smartest move on my part. But I told myself then and there that I would simply have to toughen up. And so I did. I never broke down like that again during my military stint. Looking back I feel pretty proud that at 17, being the obviously prissy, overly sensitive girl I was, that I could make it through Basic Training. I even shot expert on the M16 along with being one of the fastest to take the thing apart, clean it and put it back together. (A skill I no longer use in any capacity.) I recall with amusement when we were issued our military style eyeglasses; black plastic horned rim beauties that were called “BC” glasses (that stood for Birth Control). Ahh, the memories! It was a very challenging time though and made even worse by the fact that I entered my training right before the holidays. I spent Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s on a cot in a squad bay. At age 17. As irony would have it, I’ve actually spent worse holidays than that since then, but that’s of course another story. I remember envying one of the girls in my Flight; her name was Shae. Shae was a girly girl like me (though vastly more attractive) and wore this perfume that I absolutely fell in love with. It was a new one that had just come out back then; Estee Lauder’s Beautiful. It remains to this day my favorite and my “signature” scent. And it reminds me a time over two decades ago when I donned a fluffy bathrobe to scrub out a military shower. Here’s a blast from the past photo for you all: this is my actual cot in my squad bay with my overflowing suitcase sitting on top.