Rainbows. That’s what they called new recruits before they are issued uniforms. Our formation on that first day must have been a sight. Most knew nothing about formation. I had a bit of an upper hand because I spent several of my high school years in Civil Air Patrol (CAP). We had two Training Instructors (TI’s) – one male and one female. After much yelling, we awkwardly began to march, learning quickly how to keep in step.
In basic training, you march everywhere. You march to the chow hall, you march to classes, you march to Physical Training (PT). The first day out, everyone marches in their civies (civilian clothes) to the chow hall, then off to get fitted for uniforms including shoes. This day is similar to jumping into a cold pool on a hot day – extremely shocking.
In 1972, the world of women in the military was quite different than I imagine it to be today. We were not required to cut our hair (unlike men that have their head shaved upon entering basic). We were only required to keep our hair pinned up (neatly of course) and off our shoulders. We did not have combat or weapons training. We were able to keep our undergarments, but all of our civilian clothes were put into our suitcases and stored in some other location. We also had dorm rooms in the old wooden barracks, not the open concept dormitories where male recruits were housed.
Once given uniforms, they would be our required dress for the remaining weeks of training. Since I was in Texas for the months of July and August, we were required to take salt pills every day. This helps you retain water in the intense heat as a way of preventing heat exhaustion or heat stroke. At Lackland, they had a system of flags flown as notification of the heat conditions for the day. We all prayed for the black flag to be hoisted. That meant we walked at ease in formation rather than marching, and we were not required to have Physical Training (PT) or other outdoor activities.
Extracted from a news release on JBSA.MIL:
White Flag: The white flag is the lowest heat condition. It has no restrictions attached and allows strenuous activities without rest.
Green Flag: This condition is in effect between 80 and 84.9 degrees. This flag allows supervised heavy exercise outdoors with a 30-minute rest every half hour.
Yellow Flag: This condition is in effect when temperatures rise to 85 to 87.9 degrees. While under a yellow flag, the same 30/30 rest-work rule applies. However, personnel who are not acclimated to the area should refrain from these activities.
Red Flag: A red flag is raised when the temperature reaches 88 degrees. While in this condition, extreme caution should be used when working outdoors. After 20 minutes of work, a 40-minute rest should be taken.
Black Flag: When the WBGTI reaches 90 degrees, a black flag is in effect. While under black flag conditions, all non-essential outdoor physical exercise should be postponed.
We learned very quickly just how much we could do without. Wakeup was at 4:45 A.M. We had 15 minutes to get up, make our bed, go to the bathroom, brush our teeth, put our hair up, get dressed, and fall-in formation for revelry. From there we marched to the chow hall for breakfast. There is no time to just relax. We were under observation constantly. We were required to stay in uniform which meant posture, what is allowed to be buttoned or unbuttoned, hair up, when hats could be on or off, and whether or not you were allowed to speak.
All recruits are required to carry 341 forms. These forms can be ‘pulled’ from you by the TI if they notice a discrepancy (or very rarely a display of excellence) to serve as a way of recording the event. I had one 341 pulled while I was at Lackland. I was out of uniform for having my raincoat unbuttoned while standing in line at the dining hall.
The remainder of the days were marching, classes, immunizations, physical training, and cleaning the dormitory including the latrines (shared common bathrooms). Time off was minimal and was generally spent writing letters home (we were required to write – no training instructors wanted to get calls from distraught parents) or preparing in some way for the unannounced inspections that could happen at any time.
Change is constantly unfurling as you move into your new normal.