BOOM "Ep 3 May I borrow your pee? Please."
Episode 3 Don't Play With Things That Go Boom
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Episode 3: May I borrow your pee? Please.
I had an image in my mind of what my first day in the Army would be like.
I imagined a drill instructor screaming at me and my fellow recruits as we got off the bus at some Army base. I’d seen that in the movies, so I was ready for my first day in the Army.
I could handle it.
There was only one problem.
That isn’t quite what happened.
MY LAST MORNING AS A CIVILIAN
I woke up early at home.
My grandmother fixed breakfast, and my brother came over to drive me to the Induction Center.
I knew it was hard on my grandmother. She had seen boys leave for World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. She had a nephew who went into the peacetime Army. My brother had gone into the Air Force, and now her youngest grandson — me — was going into the Army and probably to Vietnam.
She tried to make me feel good but I knew it had to concerning to her.
MY FIRST MORNING AS A SOLDIER
Now I could’ve taken the bus to the induction center in downtown LA but my brother came over and drove me.
That might seem like a little thing … giving someone a ride. But it meant a great deal to me.
It let me know that he cared about me and he wanted the best for me.
And I remember watching him drive away after dropping me off in front of the Induction Center and I was so appreciative of having a big brother like him.
But I also realized I was about to begin another stage in my life that would probably prove most interesting.
So, I walked into the building expecting my view of the first day in the Army.
As people arrived and filled up the area where we were supposed to wait, no one was yelling at us.
There were several people in uniform walking around and getting us lined up. They checked our names. And then they sent us into a room full of desks.
Still no one yelled at us.
They walked around with packets, set them in front of us and brought pencils and set them down on the table next to the packets and I remember the soldier in charge said, “Do not touch the pencils and do not touch the packets.”
I wanted to open my packet and fill it out quickly so I could get on to this Army life that I was going to enter. But I resisted the urge and I’m actually quite glad that I did.
Because that’s when the yelling started.
THE YELLING STARTED
The yelling was not directed at me or us as a group but was focused on individuals in that room.
Those who had somehow violated the fundamental rule and had picked up a pencil or had opened a packet and looked at what was inside.
“I told you not to open that packet,” screamed the soldier in charge.
“Did I give you permission to pick up that pencil?” another soldier screamed at an individual.
This continued for some time and I figured the men running this operation were on some kind of heavy duty power trip.
Then the man in charge told us to open our packets to page 1. It was a simple form — last name, first name, address … that kind of stuff.
And then the screaming started again.
“Did I say page two? I did not say page two. Get that back to page one right now.”
“Did I give you permission to pick up your pencil?” screamed another one.
I had almost picked up my pencil but I quickly withdrew my hand. Several other soldiers began yelling at individuals who had committed the dastardly deed.
Finally all the pencil picker uppers had been identified, corrected, and put in their place. Then our leader told us to look at block one on the form.
It said last name.
“When I tell you to pick up your pencil, you will write your last name in block one,” said the leader.
By now I had a good idea how the system worked, so I didn’t even reach for my pencil. I waited.
“Pick up your pencil and write your name in block one. Your last name in block one,” said the leader.
I wrote my last name and was tempted to fill out the rest of the form, but I knew better.
“Put your pencils down,” barked the leader.
I set my pencil on the table and waited while the soldiers running this event circulated through the room.
I was really thinking if this is what all of the soldiers in the Army were like, I was not going to like this.
“Is that block one?” screamed one of the soldiers.
“No one told you to write your first name!” screamed another.
“Who told you to touch your pencil?” screamed yet another of the soldiers.
The soldiers moved through the room stopping only to yell at anyone who had failed to follow directions … I mean orders.
It took over half an hour to fill out that simple form but as we worked through that process I realized it wasn’t just a power trip for the soldiers running this part of the induction process.
The fact is … several of the inductees were having a difficult time filling out the simple forms.
After the paperwork was completed we were ushered into a room for our physicals. We had needles stuck into us in order to suck out our blood. We had to cough while a someone placed their hands on our private parts.
And then it was time for the urine test. They gave each of us a container and told us to fill it with pee.
I headed into the bathroom and waited for an opening at a urinal so I could give my best shot at filling the container.
My turn came and things went well.
That’s when I heard it.
“May I borrow some of your pee?” a voice came from an inductee who approached me. “Please?”
Either he had difficulty calling up his pee on command or he knew the urine test would reveal chemicals in his body that he did not want the Army to find out about.
Even though I had plenty to share, I passed on the opportunity to share it.
Then they assembled us together in a room and we took the oath.
We were now officially in the Army.
Our first order … get on the bus.
THE TRIP TO FORT ORD
Now those on the bus were, I have to admit, a rather motley crew.
This was in the time of the draft so people from all walks of life ended up in the Army.
There were hippies, anti-war activists, military brats, people who intended to be lifers, people who were given the choice of going to jail or joining the Army, and people like me - nice, normal, everyday people.
What’s that smell?
Now I remember the ride on the bus up to Fort Ord and I have to admit I was a little naive but on that bus ride it was the very first time that I smelled marijuana. I even had to ask the person next to me what the sweet smell was.
He was a little unnerved when he told me. Like I should know this.
Apparently a whole bunch of people had decided to party the night before they went into the Army, figuring it might be their last time.
We had long haired scruffy people. We had people who looked like they were drunk. We had people who looked like they were members of the local motorcycle gang.
And we had skinny, good looking, clean cut, handsome people … you know, like me.
But the Army did something interesting.
When we got off the bus up in Fort Ord, they marched us to a place to give us our new clothes. We picked out pants, and shorts, and underwear, and shirts, and boots. They said be careful picking out the boots or we would regret it the rest of our service.
The clothes we got, well … everyone got the same thing.
We did not pick out the clothes on the basis of how they looked but just did we kind of, sort of, fit in them.
And after we had our clothes, we stuffed them into this bag called a duffle bag. And they made us carry that bag around all over the base until we reached this one building called a barber shop.
I really don’t know why they called it a barbershop. You didn’t go in and select a style. And I guess these people had been trained to be barbers, but based on their skills, their training could not have lasted more than about 30 minutes.
My barber turned on the clippers, put the clippers on my head, and ran the clippers right across the top of my head. It didn’t take him long to finish his job and I now had my first military haircut.
So, the clothes, the haircut, living together for the next two months really changed everything.
People who would never have interacted with one another over time became friends and I really enjoyed the experience.
Now I have to admit I don’t want the government choosing my clothes for me, but those first months of Army life let me see that so many of the divisions that we put up to separate ourselves from others are not all that good.
They keep us from getting to know one another.
After we got our haircuts, we were ready to start our Army experience.
Perhaps now we would get to hear the drill sergeants yelling at us.
But it was not to be.
Instead, we were told Fort Ord was full. There wasn’t any room for us.
Woah. That isn’t quite what I expected.
But I’ll tell you what happened after we were given that news in the next episode.
I have two lessons that I learned during this time.
(1) The first one has to do with hanging around with your own group. We hear a lot today about becoming part of a tribe, hanging around those who believe what we believe, and social media is such an example of that as we tend to only interact with those we agree with.
Well, I tell you what. If you really want to belong to a tribe, why don’t you choose to belong to the human tribe. Don’t let looks, language, different backgrounds, different races, different beliefs keep you from interacting with and seeking to understand other people.
(2) The second lesson I had during this time period was how important little things are. I still look back with great appreciation and even joy on the day my brother came to give me a ride and that little bit of time we had together.
And also I look back to the breakfast my grandmother cooked for me and how she went out of her way to try to make me feel good even when she could have been focused on her feelings. She did a nice job.
Those are my lessons for this period of my adventure in olive drab.
Until the next time, I’m Clint Morey, Specialist 4th Class, retired.