2010 Personal Narrative Essay: Anchors Aweigh

The two days after Christmas had been consumed with busywork and travel. The first day, I filled out paperwork at the Los Angeles, Military Entrance Processing Station. The next day, I flew from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois. Although I was stressed and tired, I was happy to be on my own for the first time. Then I arrived at the Naval Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. It was December 27, 1995 at 11:00 pm, and the brainwashing had begun.

Luggage in hand, the other new arrivals and I were filed into a small room with a row of desks and a chalkboard on the wall, and we waited. Periodically a man in a sharply creased, blue military uniform popped his head into the room and yelled for us to stay awake and shut up. After about an hour and a half, another man, dressed in a khaki uniform and a funny hat, came into the room with an enormous stack of paperwork and pens. He stated his name and rank, passed out large stacks of paperwork and a pen to each of us, and ordered us to sign each sheet. “You will complete this task before you can go to sleep,” he bellowed.

Upon completion of the paperwork, we were herded through labyrinths of halls and rooms. Each room had its own function; yet, all were designed to humiliate and degrade. We reached room one; we were given a total of two minutes for thirty of us to call home. However, there were only six payphones. We reached room two; our luggage and the clothes we were wearing were packed up and sent back to our families, and we stood in the middle of the room naked. Then, two clerks passed out our new clothes as we stood there embarrassed and cold, and we were ordered to get dressed. We reached room three; a barber, angry and tired, butchered our hair. He used quick strokes with dull clippers and ripped out more hair than he cut. We reached room four; it was a cavernous room with multiple stations set up to poke and prod. I received a series of injections culminating in a shot of penicillin in my left buttock that left me limping for days. Finally, we were sent outside.

In the dark and cold of a Chicago winter night we walked single file through the snow; we wore only sweat suits and jogging shoes. The horizon began to lighten as we arrived at our new barracks to sleep. First thing in the morning, I awakened to the sound of a grown man yelling obscenities and beating on a trashcan lid. The sun was just peeking into the sky. I felt like I had slept only three or four minutes and probably had.

For the next two months, I marched. I marched until my feet were blistered. I marched until the blisters on my feet popped. I marched until the popped blisters on my feet began to bleed. I marched until the popped and bleeding blisters on my feet began to ooze a stinking, green puss that glued my socks to my feet. I marched until the wounds on my feet healed, and the throbbing dimmed into a total lack of feeling.

I woke up when I was told. I ate when I was told. I exercised when I was told, and I did not stop until I was told. I no longer cared why I was told to do something; the only thing that mattered was that precise moment, and when that moment was over I did not think of it again. I was a cocked and loaded weapon; if a superior pulled my trigger, I would do as I was ordered without thought and without conscience. It took me a lot of time and distance from boot camp to fully deprogram myself of the military’s mind control, but I learned a valuable lesson. Self-control and individual thought is an illusion; therefore, to make sure I am dictating my own actions and not having them dictated for me, I question every action before I take it.

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