I always knew I would go to college. I was a smart kid, made perfect grades, participated in extra-curricular activities. I was from a middle-class family, and it was just expected. And then my parents divorced, my mom got re-married, and I had a new stepbrother and stepsister. (This is nothing against anyone, I love them both to this day!) We were all within two years of each other, and my mom said, “I can’t afford to send three kids to college at the same time.” Well, crap. Nate and I both had dreams of OSU in Stillwater, and Pam (the traitor) wanted to attend the University of Oklahoma. And then…my mother and stepfather went to the Tulsa State Fair.
My mom came home that fall evening during my senior year of high school, brimming with excitement and weighed down with printed information about the Air National Guard. She showed me the pamphlet and said, “Look! Free college tuition!” I stared at her in disbelief. And then I started laughing, because it was obviously a joke. Me, in the military? Even as a part-time position, that was preposterous. I liked shopping, zipping around town in my little Saturn, and talking on the phone. I was a lot thinner back then, but I never exercised. There was no WAY I was joining the military. When I realized my mom was not joking, I immediately started crying and wailing, “Why are you trying to get rid of me?”
See? That’s the kind of spoiled 17-year-old I was. All about me, Ashley comes first. But then I started really thinking about it. My chance at OSU would be out the door, and I would be destined to stay in my hometown and live with my parents and attend the local university. (Which is a fine institution, I just wanted to get OUT.) I wanted to go off with my friends and drink beer underage and join a sorority and live in a dorm. And the military was looking like my only way to get there.
On a cold December morning in 1996, while still a senior in high school, I went with my mom and stepdad to the local base in Tulsa, which is where I would drill for the next nine and a half years. I was sworn in by a captain that seemed barely older than me, and I remember laughing when they asked if I would have a problem killing for my country. Oddly enough, nobody had ever asked me that question before. I went through the short ceremony, and my parents drove me back to school to finish the day. I remember that it was during class, and I ran into a friend of mine in the hallway. I told him that I had just enlisted in the Air Force, and he didn’t believe me. I could hardly believe it myself.
Although it’s unorthodox, I was asked to begin attending weekend drills immediately. I was given a set of BDU’s (battle dress uniform) and some clunky combat boots. I had to wear a camouflage ball cap and keep hair off my collar. I was assigned to the supply unit, which I discovered to be a perfect job for me. I got to hand out clothes! No kidding, that was my job for 99% of the time I was enlisted. I began to understand the rhythm of the guard base, and I thought I was ready for boot camp.
I shipped off to San Antonio on June 25, 1997, just one month after graduation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that date as long as I live. At the airport, we met a young man who was also heading to Lackland Air Force base. We stuck together for the rest of the trip. (This young man also attended OSU, and later became an officer.) He had decided to prepare for the trip by shaving his head in advance. He got a LOT of heat from the drill instructors on that. I wouldn’t advise it.
Arriving at the San Antonio airport, my new friend and I made our way to the area designated just for us; young people who had raised their right hand, signed the dotted line, and now looked terrified as they clutched the government-issued manila envelope that held every bit of personal information possible. Some kids had been there for hours, and we were lucky to only have to wait an hour or so before the Bus of Doom came to pick us up.
Now, I was a 17-year-old girl. I pack a lot. And my huge suitcase had wheels. Guess what? You don’t get to use those wheels. No matter how wimpy you are, and how heavy your bag is, you pick it up and carry it. ( I didn’t know people even did that anymore!) And when I think back, I’m not even sure why I packed all that crap in the first place. I certainly didn’t see it for months after.
The Bus of Doom drove endlessly (it felt like we were being driven to the gallows) and finally arrived at Lackland Air Force base. If you’ve never been there, it’s a huge facility. It’s a city within a city, really. And it’s crawling with people in uniform.
We were all dropped off at some kind of welcome center (that wasn’t very welcoming) and were lectured endlessly on rules and base information and a ton of other stuff. We were then shuttled out the door and told to line up in formation and stand at attention. Now, of course none of us had ever done this before, and I’m sure we looked ridiculous. After a few short instructions, we were formed up. As the training instructor (or TI) walked around the group and yelled ridiculous insults at us, my eyes followed her. Of course I didn’t realize this, thinking I was doing a grand job of standing at attention. And then she got in my face and yelled, “The position of attention does not require looking at me!” Oops.
Now I realize that this is getting really long, so I think I will continue this fun little series of Teen Barbie at Boot Camp with another chapter at a later time.