I’m back!

Well, I survived.  I’ve made it through Navy boot camp and the first two weeks of “A” school.  I never thought I would make it to this point, so it feels great.  It was quite an adventure, I met some great people, met some not so great people, and I learned a lot about myself.  Where shall I start?  Oh yes, at the very beginning…

I flew into Chicago O’hare at around 6pm on May 23rd.  I was traveling with one other person, and we checked in with the USO, and we ended up sitting on the floor in an empty part of the airport lobby for around 4 hours (we had to wait for other people to arrive to fill up the busses).  I remember thinking how much that sucked at the time, but now that I look back it was definitely a preview of things to come!  The bus picked us up at around 10pm (I think…it was 10 weeks ago so it’s hard to remember!) and we embarked on our 45 minute journey from the airport to Great Lakes.

Once we got there we were greeted by RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders…Navy’s version of “drill sergeants”) yelling and cursing at us.  It was pretty shocking how they didn’t let anything hold them back with regards to insults…but I guess that’s how it works in any military boot camp!  I won’t bore you with details, but that night there was a lot of standing in lines for extended periods of time and also sitting and doing nothing at all for extended periods of time.  The latter was hardest because we had to stay awake all night…and if you got caught sleeping it was bad news!  It’s much harder to fall asleep when you are standing up.  Anyways, I ended up getting put into a special performing division…but the catch was that they were a week ahead so I had to catch up quickly!  A lot of rules I had to learn the hard way…which was getting yelled at when I did something wrong.  I already have a pretty thick skin, but it definitely got thicker those first couple weeks!  But it got better and better the more time passed.  I am glad that I got put in the performing division though; it gave me a chance to play at least once a week!  And it was a nice escape every Saturday.  It was also fun to perform at graduation!

Basically our days were filled with academic classes, PT (physical training), other training, inspections, and a lot of standing around doing nothing.  I learned that standing is a skill that is definitely learned in boot camp!  I also fell asleep multiple times standing up.  Yes it is possible!  You think that’s bad, someone in my division told me that they fell asleep while we were marching once, LOL!  We got 8 hours to sleep every night, but we also had to stand watches during the night (2 hour shifts – I didn’t have it every night, but definitely at least once a week I was standing a night watch), and iron for 30 minutes during light’s out (we had a nightly schedule that rotated).  So sleep sometimes was intermittent…it was rare that I actually got a full 8 hours of sleep.

Some of the cool things that I got to do during boot camp were shoot a 9mm pistol, shoot a shotgun, get tear gassed (not as bad as they say!), and learn how to fight fires.  Some of the things that sucked were getting 8 shots in the arms and one in the bootie (ouch!), showering everyday with 40 other females, getting called “female” all the time, getting tear gassed (it was cool after the fact, but still sucked real bad at the time!), the multiple trips to the dentist (I had to get quite a few fillings!), and knowing that if you even breathed wrong you were going to get yelled at or “IT-ed” (which means “intensive training”…I’ll let you use your imagination on that one).  Oh yes and I got really sick during 4th of July weekend.  THAT was fun.

I also won the Academic Award at boot camp, which meant I scored really high on the written exams.  I didn’t try that hard so it surprised me when I found out that I won.  I also didn’t realize how big of a deal it was!  At graduation I had to salute the Commanding Officer and shake hands with three other people.  After the graduation ceremony I was awarded a certificate and a coin and got to talk with the CO, XO, and the Command Master Chief of RTC (Recruit Training Command), among others!  It was really cool.  Only 5 of us out of 500 got that privilege!  Here’s some pictures that I scrounged up from the interwebs:

In formation to receive our awards (can you spot me?)

Receiving my award certificate from Command Master Chief Dodd

Shaking hands with the Ambassador to Canada

Playing in the band at graduation!

Now I’m here at my “A” School, Navy School of Music.  The first week was really hard, mostly adjusting to a completely different life that what boot camp is.  It is way more relaxed here.  I didn’t realize that I had put up such a guard during the previous 8 weeks until I got back out into the real world, it was really hard to bring that down and let myself be vulnerable again.  This past weekend we entered “phase 2” which means we can wear civilian clothes and go off base.  I finally felt normal again for the first time in 10 weeks!  

The school here is mostly made up of Marines, they outnumber us sailors by a lot.  The Army is here too, but they have their own separate program.  The first week was tough also because I had to learn all the Marine ranks (and they are super picky about them!) and also the Army ranks so that we can greet the senior enlisted personnel when we see them in the hallway.  Also, we didn’t get to start classes right away, so we were put on what is called “X-Division”, which basically means you have to clean and do all the crappy work that nobody else wants to do.  Luckily most days there wasn’t much to do so we just got to practice most of the time.  But it was still annoying having to muster 2 times a day!

This week is our “class up” week, where we finally start classes, take our diagnostic exams, etc.  Yesterday I had both the written and ear training exams, and my incoming audition. I did pretty well on my incoming audition, I scored beyond what is needed to graduate from the school, which means that I could accelerate through the program if I passed the written and ear training exams.   I’ve been studying pretty hard the last two weeks so I did really well on the written exam, and OK on the ear training test.  It was enough to have them recommend me for acceleration!  I still have to get approved by the upper levels, though, but it shouldn’t be a problem.

So that’s it for now!  I’m still getting used to everything here, and even still getting used to being in the military.  I’m still getting used to the idea that I’m not a civilian anymore.  I noticed a big difference in how people treated me while I was traveling (wearing my dress whites) to Virginia.  The uniform really does command respect!  It was strange…I’m used to the normal rudeness from stressed travelers, but I got none of that.  Sometimes I still pinch myself, thinking that this is a dream or something.  I’m a real life sailor in the Navy, and I’m getting paid to do what I love most!  How cool is that?

3 replies on “I’m back!”

Sandy, I found your blog when I was looking for a clarinet teacher in Rochester (I live in Irondequoit) … but you left for boot camp so I just missed you! So I check back on your blog every now and then to find out the rest of your story! I am a clarinet major from college, played with the Longy Conservatory in Boston, and now mom to a 10 yr. old budding clarinetist. Congratulations on making it in the Navy so far. My oldest daughter served in the Army, so I read with interest your experience! Lori Petrie

Sandy, just wanted to let you know how helpful this post has been to me. . .I’ve read it probably 10 times at least. I’m excited to be your shipmate!

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