By Jay Kirell
I can’t believe it’s been six years. Six years since I enlisted in the Army. Six years since I first visited a recruiter and began the process that would eventually take me around the world and back.
In some ways it seems like yesterday, and in others it seems like it was so long ago I can barely remember a time I wasn’t a “veteran.”
It’s for that reason I’m glad I took the time, six years ago, to chronicle my entrance into the military. I can look back and laugh at the expectations I had vs. what the reality of being in the military was actually like.
For those who’ve never served, you can get a sense to what it might have been like for you…at least in the very beginning. I’d imagine people end up with a million different stories from their time in the service, but some aspects are universal.
MEPS is one of those aspects. MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing Station and it’s the military equivalent of munchkin land from The Wizard of Oz – it’s where your story begins.
Six years ago today, this is where mine began. Day two of MEPS:
(note – for a complete review of my entire entry process, click HERE.)
This would be the long day. The really long day.
Beginning at 4:00 AM, you wake up, shower, pack your stuff, and head downstairs for the breakfast buffet and try to shove as much food down as possible before you walk out into the ice cold night and onto the school buses that’ll take you back to Fort Hamilton.
Once you get back there you fill out and enter the processing station and get grouped according to what branch you’re going in. Army over here, Navy over there, Marines here, Coast Guard there, ect.
Surprisingly, the Coast Guard seemed to have just as many recruits as the army or marines did. Maybe these kids figured out there aren’t many coasts to guard in Afghanistan, who knows?
After standing around for an hour or so (something that will be a common occurrence throughout the day) you get shuffled up to the second floor, where the fun begins.
First stop – blood pressure checks.
Second stop – eye test.
Third stop – hearing test.
Fourth stop – group discussion and filling out of paperwork. This was like going back in time to kindergarten with the way the instructor had the forms (which we all had in front of us) blown up to ridiculous billboard size so everyone in the room would not be confused. This part should have taken no more than 15 minutes, but got stretched to about an hour because (A) people don’t listen, and (B) people don’t remember, and (C) people are freaking morons.
Fifth stop – urine and blood tests. Blood test went fine. I give blood regularly so this was a snap. The urine test was my Achilles heel though, and I knew it would be going in. I just can’t pee on command. It doesn’t help that you HAVE to pee with someone watching you, and not just watching you, you MUST pee right then or else the MEPS dude gets angry, kicks you out, and tells you if you if you don’t pee next time you come in, then you’re going to have to come back tomorrow – which means telling your tough army recruiter that he’ll have to drive you back here because you got stage fright and couldn’t pee.
I had little choice.
I owned the water fountain for the next half hour.
I drank so much water I could actually feel it in my stomach when I walked.
When I finally felt like I had to go, I went into the bathroom, got a cup and let it rip……and nothing happened.
Nothing. Nada. Not a drop.
The MEPS dude said try flushing the urinal. I did. It didn’t really help. I asked the guy how much time I had to get this cup filled (and it needed to be filled about three quarters of the way) – he said I had another two minutes.
Finally, I just tried to force it out. Eventually, I got a small stream going, and I was so relieved (pardon the pun). It was barely enough to cover the cup halfway, but I figured as long as I had some in there, it wouldn’t matter.I was wrong.
I handed the cup to the testing guy, he looks at it and goes “give me more.”
I’m like, “WHAT?”
He said, “it has to be above this line, right now its at the line, I need it above that. Just give me a little more.”
As if I was intentionally holding out on him.
I went back to the urinal, tried again, but I just couldn’t do it. The testing guy was about to close up shop when I started to jump up and down, trying to shake something out. My stomach was filled with a gallon of water, but apparently it wasn’t enough. I started to lose hope and imagined having to go call my recruiter and tell him to bring me back tomorrow because my urine was concientiously objecting to joining the military.
Then, a miracle happened. I felt a small, small urge. The teeniest, tiniest, urge. I grabbed a cup and unzipped and out dripped about a two tablespoon’s worth.
I was so proud. The closest I’ll probably ever come to the miracle of childbirth.
I brought the cup over to the tester, he dumped the contents into the first cup and said “you’re good to go.”
And that was that. The epic battle of the pee was over.
Next stop – the physical.
I walked down the hall from the bathroom and into a room where about 20 guys were stripped down into their underwear, shivering, and not looking like they were having the most fun time in their lives.
I threw off my clothes, set them down, and joined in the back of the line to get my height and weight taken.
Now, here’s the thing. I’m 5-9. I’ve been 5-9 pretty much since junior high. I’m 5-10 with shoes on, but I knew going in I wasn’t going to be measured in shoes, so I prepared myself for being 5-9 and going by the weight requirements for someone who is 69 inches.
Then they measured me and told me I was 5-8. The military had shrunk me.
Not only that. The day before I had stepped on my scale at home and weighed in at 189, so I figured i was right around the weight I had to be to avoid the dreaded tape test. Only, when I got on the scale here, I was 192.
Apparently I had just drank 3 pounds of water minutes before.
Which meant I had to be taped. Essentially, they used a tape measure around my neck and around my belly. If the ratio between your neck and belly is a certain number, you’re good to go, even if you’re a few pounds over the weight requirement. I was taped at my recruiting station and came in below the reqirement by 2%, so I felt pretty good about passing.
Then they measured my belly and the water had added an extra inch to the numbers, which meant the configuration of my neck to waiste ratio would be altered from what it was before.
I literally had no idea if I would pass or not.
Then the MEPS guy said “nope, you’re over” and my heart sank.
“Oh wait….how old are you?”
“Im 31,” I said, wondering if I should have said 41 instead.
“Oh okay, then you’re good.”
He was looking at the percentages for someone 27-30. I passed the tape test – by .5%
From there I joined a group of guys who were doing physical exercises in front of a doctor – walking around on your knees, standing on one foot, walking in a circle, twisting your arms and joints, ect. The whole thing lasted about 15 minutes and it seemed that nobody was having any problems – except for two guys who were off in the corner hooked up to a blood pressure machine. Apparently their blood pressure was too high. Mine was perfect, 120/72 – woohoo!
Oh, did I mention at this point I had to pee like a racehorse? Yeah, all that water was now looking for an exit. I guess I mistimed my peeing by about 20 minutes. All in all I ended up peeing three times before my recruiter came to pick me up that day.
Anyway, after that it was a private screening with this female doctor who was about 120 years old. She took me into this exam room down the hall and had me drop everything (which wasn’t much to begin with), bend over and spread em.
It was about as fun as it sounds. Mercifully, it was a short experience.
Finally, at around 2:00 I got to eat lunch. A brown paper bag that had a turkey and cheese sandwich, an apple and a cookie. After nine hours it tasted like gourmet french cuisine (if I liked gourmet french cuisine).
After that it was just a matter of signing some paperwork, getting my photo ID taken, getting fingerprinted, and waiting for my recruiter to come pick me up – which he did at around 5:00.
Oh, and I also took the oath and swore in. I also promised not to try to overthrow the government or anything.
I wavered on that part, but they threw in a cammo book-bag, so that sealed the deal.
So all in all about a 13 hour day from start to finish. From what I’ve heard, pretty much your entire first week in BCT (basic combat training) is like that, so I’ll be in for some fun times come next week.
Hurry up and wait. Pretty much the military motto.
Oh my sweet summer self….