Better known as, “What the heck was I thinking??”
As I lay there on my bed, that first night, in an open room full of women, I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking. But one thing’s for certain, I was more concerned about survival than deep, introspective thought.
As the sound of sniffles reached my ears, I realized someone a few beds over was crying, my first thought was that she was going to be eaten alive. I don’t know how I knew, but somehow I did, that crying wasn’t an option, not here, not ever.
Every instinct inside me was set on one thing and one thing alone, making it through the next six weeks. I knew that if I could do that, I could face anything the Air Force had to throw at me. I just had to get through basic training and believe me, that was harder than you think.
From the moment we arrived, the Military Training Instructors (MTIs) or TIs as we called them, were using that loud, authoritative voice. You know the one. It’s the one your parents use on you when you’ve done something really bad. But this yelling was continuous and repetitive and the very last thing you wanted was for that person, male or female it didn’t matter, to focus in on you.
We had two TIs, one male and one female. She was tall with platinum hair and her heels clicked when she walked. I still cringed at the sound those heels make within my head.
But I also remember her fondly, because about midway through, when she could have booted me out, she pulled me aside and our little chat, not more than a few words, made all the difference. As for the other TI, he was a total and absolute egotistic jerk, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re still on that first night.
Aside from the urgency of getting ready for bed as quickly as we possibly could, what I think left the biggest impression on me that night was what would become a nightly occurrence, “Taps,” being played over the loud speaker. That was the signal that it was time for lights out and we better be in our beds or there was hell to pay. Maslow had nothing over the Air Force, the first notes of “Taps,” both instilled fear as well as commanded us to sleep, no salivating necessary.
The other immediate and lasting impression came the next morning at 5 AM, “Reveille.” Imagine that insistent bugle playing full blast on the speaker above your bed. To this day, that damn tune brings back the urgency to get moving and the humid smell of early summer mornings at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Bottom line, by the time Reveille was done, you had to have gotten dressed and downstairs into formation. If you were lucky, you might even have a few seconds to relieve yourself first, but being late for formation was bad, very bad.
And that brings to mind the dreaded AETC Form 341, we had to carry three of them at all times with our name, squadron number and flight number already printed out. Getting one pulled by anyone in authority either caused immediate, unrelenting fear or absolute elation. “Three-forty-ones,” as we called them were the forms used for either positive or negative recognition. And the worst part, as soon as you got back to dorm, you had to tell your TI what happened. It was sort of like telling Mom and Dad what you did wrong and making sure you told them before the mean lady next door paid them a visit.
I’d gotten at least one three-forty-one pulled for an infraction, but for the longest time I kept a copy of the only one I ever had pulled for praise of performance. Silly, huh?
This is the type of building I stayed in during basic training. It’s a squadron building. Each squadron is made up of flights and each flight had their own dorm. My squadron was the 3700th, flight 3711.
Each flight, or group of trainees, consisted of four squads. The level of authority within the flight consisted of a Flight Leader and then each squad had their own Squad Leader. If we had twenty-eight girls in our flight, each squad consisted of seven girls. Confused yet?
This will be important later, especially when it comes to marching in formation. Marching is something that I repeatedly had trouble with the first three weeks, but not for the reason you think. 🙂
Okay, enough for today. I hope you’re enjoying my visit down memory lane, I know I am.