The sharp notes of Revile roused me from a light sleep and I was in the shower before the sergeant came through the barracks. Even over the sound of the running water, I heard him yelling at the “lazy 'cruits, too stupid to drag their butts out of the sack.” [My words are, of course, a bit milder than what the sergeant had to say.]
It felt strange not to have a uniform to don but I found my way to the street, waiting for someone to point out where we were to form up. A corporal appeared and pointed to a spot. As I moved to it, he asked, “Prior service?” I nodded and he told me I'd be the formation guideon. It didn't take long 'til the others shambled outside, followed by the sergeant still indicating his poor opinions of them.
After the national anthem and raising the flag, we straggled our way to the messhall for breakfast. A lot of GIs have complained about Army food for generations but, the truth is, it's actually quite good. The hot and hearty coffee perked me up while a heaping pile of scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, country-fried potatoes, and toast with lots of butter and jam, filled my tray. I found a place to set and watched the others in the room. All but our group already had their uniforms so we naturally stood out. Snickers and asides showed the disdain of those who felt themselves better than us.
After chow, we were marched – or at least the sergeant tried to teach the others how to march – to a building where we stripped down to skivvies and lined up for step one of becoming a soldier – a haircut. [I look at today's fashions and laugh at those who pay to have their heads all but shaved.] From there, we went through another into a large room with tables down the length, each piled high with uniforms. The civilians behind the tables didn't have to use measuring tapes, simply eying each of us and tossing folded clothes at us to dump into a large duffel bag we'd picked up at the door. We went into yet another big bay where he stripped down and changed into military gear.
Our next stop was another bay filled with desks. We went through the process of filling out forms which where then typed up and put into a buff-colored folder – out 201 File, something that would follow us throughout our military service. As we finished, we were led in front of a camera where out picture was taken – I seem to remember we were separated into groups of a dozen. The film went to the lab to be developed and we went into another room to wait.
It there's any military motto, it's “Hurry up – and wait!”
Once the pictures were ready, we were called up to review and sign the small card that was to become our identification card. The picture was pasted to it and it went through a sort of oven where plastic was melted around it.
From there, we were led back to our barracks where the sergeant calmly [Yeah. Sure] told us to sort and use a black marker to put our identification numbers on each – except for the socks. RA19599748. Lord! I don't know how many years it's been since I used that number but it's something one never forgets. Numbers starting in RA meant Regular Army – or volunteers. US meant Draftee, the vast majority of those in my group. We were given until noon to finish that before being marched back to the messhall for lunch.
Another hearty meals with lots of calories. Actually, according to the USDA, a well-balanced meal. Turns out we needed the calories as, after lunch, we got our first taste of the military – an after-lunch stroll at double time! Two miles in length, at least half of the group falling out after one. I still don't know how but I managed to make it the entire length before collapsing to fight from barfing my guts out.
We had no time to recuperate as the sergeant took the opportunity to form us up – I was now the groups guideon – to march us back to the barracks, picking up the stragglers along the way. I am certain it was a hilarious sight as some of the 'cruits couldn't tell their left from their right feet and had absolutely no idea of how to stay in step with the rest of us. We spent the entire afternoon marching. We finally broke for dinner. I have a very faint memory that it was some kind of roast beef, mashed potatoes, vegetables, a large bowl of soup, a desert, and all the milk we could drink.
But, the day wasn't done.
After Retreat – the lowering of the flag - our NCOIC, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, felt the need to teach us how to put our things in the footlocker and wall-locker at each bunk. He also spend the time explaining the proper way to make a bed. At last, we heard Taps followed by the blaring of speakers all over the area, “Lights out!”
I'd made it through my first full day back uniform.
I spent two or three days in the processing center, fidgeting because I couldn't figure out why they had not published my orders. But, at last, I was called out of formation and told to report to the personnel building. A clerk sat me down and asked if I wanted Advance Leave to go home before reporting to Fort Bliss. “I just came from there, specialist. No need to go back.” He smiled and looked into an army pamphlet with the various travel times from one post to another. [Yes, I once used it too.] According to it the distance was 940 miles. As 500 miles per day, that meant I would have three days to get there. He asked if I wanted to go to the finance office for an advanced pay or perhaps a travel voucher and smiled when I told him I had my car and didn't need any money. It was but a matter of minutes until he completed a mimeograph form, took it to the personnel officer for his signature, and put it on the machine, cranking the handle to turn out fifty copies of my orders. [Didn't want to run short, did we.]
I was ready to go right then but had to wait until the following day to sign out out in Orderly Room. I awakened right after midnight, showered, shaved, and put on my khaki uniform, gathered up my duffel bag, and walked to the Orderly Room. The Charge of Quarter's eyes widened when he saw me but glancing at my orders told him it was okay. I walked to where my car was parked and unlocked it – I only had my door key with me, the rest were hidden under the front seat – and tossed my duffel in the back. Putting my key chain back together, I let out a sigh and started the car.
The military policeman at the gate stopped me, carefully checked my ID and orders, then smiled and waved me on through.
I was on my way on the second step of my journey back in the Army. Off to learn how to become a heavy truck driver.
[Wanna bet yet?]