(By the way, I’m going to begin to use stock photos from now on. What, you think you can take photos in basic training? By the way, these girls look about excited as I was. Even I’m impressed with their enthusiasm.)
The Petty Officer rounds us up, not unlike cattle. Wide-eyed, matching the looks of the individuals around me, we all sternly follow this strangely dressed man down by the departure gates of O’Hare airport. I almost forgot my bag in the USO office; it’s a bit redundant to say, but that would have sucked big time.
It was strange. O’Hare was an airport that I was so comfortable with. From the departure gates, I could see all of the terminals and check-in booths and rent-a-car stations that I remembered from when I was younger and I would be going on family vacations to wherever around the country or world. I felt pretty old now, and I just turned 18.
We were instructed to sit down on the floor of the terminal and to “shut the f*ck up”. I say that in quotes as I do not use sentence enhancers lightly. The guys in charge of us really did have mouths like sailors, and that scared a few of us. I thought it was hilarious.
In addition to sitting on our two-packs, they instructed us to take out our recruit pamphlets, which was the first indoctrination material we received (indoctrination = brainwashing). The pamphlet is not very long, by the way. I am pretty sure I read the Sailor’s Creed one-hundred times and the rank structure another three-hundred times while waiting for the other future sailors to arrive at the airport. I didn’t have much to think about besides the Girl Scout Cookies I devoured earlier, and the rest of the summer I would not be home to spend with my friends. Well, they only had a few weeks before they left for college, anyway.
We sat down for 4 freakin’ hours. Have you ever just sat down for 4 hours before? We did not have much reading material, and we definitely could not look at our phones. I went through my paperwork, the recruit pamphlet, Hell, I even started to read my bible. I would stare at a space on a page and blank out. I would mostly try to summon good memories of my past, and replay them in my head again and again. I would live them in my memories over again, to prevent my mind from melting away through sensory deprivation.
After a painful four hours of watching these kids slowly bleed into the departure terminal, the Petty Officers and Chiefs (higher ranking enlisted guys) instructed us to stand up and follow close behind. Our numbers grew to about 80 people, and outside were coach buses, ready to take us to basic training. At this point, I felt the urge to piss. It’s too late now. I’m not about to ask.
We all piled inside, and filled the bus in from the back to the front. Now, I’ll tell you, this is one of the few moments of training where I truly felt nervous. I definitely knew that the military was going to be my career, but the uncertainty of what would come next definitely shook me up.
I sat down by the window. It was a pretty nice bus, by the way. Although I was lucky enough to get to look out the window, I had the misfortune that the dude sitting next to me was passed out the entire time. His snoring on the way to basic training was incessant.
The bus left for Great Lakes, IL. This is a small town just north of Chicago, nearby Waukegan, IL, bordering Wisconsin. In the distance, I saw as we left the skyline views of downtown Chicago, to the northern highways of Illinois. The bus had monitors every other row, and some video about haircuts began to play. Like that mattered. They were going to shave all that sh*t off anyway. It was more pointed towards the young women, really.
The second video was a emotional message from Naval Service Training Command, and whoever the Admiral was at the time. The message was about us men and women joining something larger than ourselves. It was okay. At this point in the bus ride, I really needed to piss, but I had to hold it in. Things were looking grim, and there was probably an hour of driving ahead of us left.
We finally approached the base. We, now officially recruits, were instructed to get off the bus with our paperwork ready. The guys that were directing us seemed pretty cool, and to be fair, it was late. I’m sure they were tired, too.
We went into the hallway, which is now called a passageway, or p-way. The recruits and I lined up on the floor, or deck, and we held our paperwork sternly at our side. I was about to piss my pants. Could we call a timeout? I’ve been holding it in for hours now. This is when I noticed that the Chiefs were all Filipino.
“Hey, I’m Filipino too!” I thought to myself. They would probably be easy on me. One of the female Filipino chiefs walked up to me and asked for my paperwork. I handed it over very quickly. This is when my first words at Basic Training were the dumbest I could have uttered.
“Chief, may I use the bathroom?” I said.
She laughed. She laughed!
“No.” She replied, in a thick Filipino accent. “Piss yourself.”
– Matt Cuartero