Most of the literature states that it takes 66 days for new behavior to become a habit or for us to break an old habit. I think in a military environment, that timeline is shortened. It did not take long to start doing things by rote. Soon after, it almost becomes instinctual.
It only takes a few days of Basic Military Training (BMT) before one begins to make a few realizations.
Outside of the draft, most people enter the military by visiting a military recruiter. Sergeant Varner, a brother of a schoolmate, promised several things. I would get my first stripe (promotion) upon graduating from BMT. I would be allowed to choose my career field and where I would be stationed.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered none of those were true. My unit (Flight 51) was the first unit where only the top 15% received a promotion on graduation. Our career field was selected based on the aptitude tests taken before signing on the dotted line. And as far as permanent duty stations, those were assigned based on need AFTER technical school. (We would be able to fill out a dream sheet and that would be taken into consideration.)
I selected the most popular greeting card in the Base Exchange (BX) to send home to my parents:
If you should run across my recruiter…
Do it with a tank.
Marching in formation was the only mode of transportation. We marched everywhere. We had classes every week. We were shown training films on the dangers of LSD and how to watch for spies who might try to get information from us. I looked up both and found similar, but not the exact films I saw.
In 1972, we also had classes on fitness, diet and grooming. I even remember a few where we were taught the ‘proper’ application of makeup. (Always use your ring finger under the eye because it is the weakest finger. Always dot, never rub.) Our classroom was downstairs from recruiter training which was loud, with lots of yelling and stomping. I would compare it to more current day high intensity sales training. We disliked all recruiters by this point.
We had surprise inspection of our dorms – often at night. We were, however, quite fortunate because a family of skunks lived under our entry steps and they often spent their evenings sitting on the steps which dissuaded our Training Instructors (TI’s) from many late night inspections.
Dressing in uniform became second nature. I can still develop a high shine on a pair of leather shoes with a little polish, a cotton ball and a little bit of water.
I became a squad leader because I had Civil Air Patrol background. As a result, I ended up in the top 15% to receive a promotion upon graduation. We also made a few friends, but they were not long lasting because most would be separated from each other as soon as tech school assignments were given. I do still remember my roommate – Sue Kilker. She was a funny individual, but like so many others, I never saw her again.
Near the end of our time at Lackland, there was an optional dance where we would see guys for the first time. I declined going because I was stricken with severe acne which I believe was a result of the heat and the salt pills. I had no self confidence during that time, but fortunately it was short-lived.
The weekend after graduation (if I recall correctly) we were given our first off-base pass. Being in San Antonio, Texas, there were a few interesting attractions. At the time The Riverwalk had a high incidence of crime and we were warned not to go there. Being a rule follower, I chose not to take any risks. I remember going to department stores where everyone spoke Spanish. It was a new cultural experience for me. I then went to see The Alamo. I will never forget how small it was — approximately 30 feet. After seeing so many American Westerns, I was quite surprised by this.
I remained at Lackland for approximately two weeks before receiving my orders to go to Sheppard AFB, in Wichita Falls, TX. Life after Basic Training is completely different. It becomes more like a job than intense training. I only served in the Air Force for two years. I got married on the heels of my mother’s death and at the time, women could be released from active duty if they married a civilian.
As I was in the process of acquiring a discharge I received orders to Lakenheath in Suffolk England. That may have been my only chance to visit England, but I have never looked back. I have my daughter from that marriage and she is a blessing in my life.