The year is 1990. The location: Happy Valley, PA, otherwise known as the home of Penn State University. Our main character is sixteen years young, away from home for the first time, somewhat naive in the workings of the military, and generally a nervous wreck.
It’s official. I am a member of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp (AFROTC). Today is the first day of many days of sheer torture. There is a war going on, and in my naivety, I worry that somehow, I might get sent overseas to fight for our country. Yes, that’s right, I think that the 16 year-old college freshman who has no military training is going to be sent to war. I told you I was naive.
I’ve received my uniform and been given brief instructions on how to care for it. On some people, it looks good. Me, I just look like a stewardess. I think it’s because I’m short and dressed in navy blue from head to toe. By the way, why isn’t there a color called Air Force blue for the AF to wear? I don’t think the navy even wears blue.
History has never been interesting to me, so when I found out that I had to take a class weekly about the history of the Air Force, I was less than thrilled. Nevertheless, I suffer through because it is only one day a week. That day of the week is long indeed for I have to wear my uniform all day. Yes, all day. To every class, to lunch, to dinner. And it’s uncomfortable. And I haven’t quite gotten used to whom I need to salute and whom I can just say hi to. Every exchange with a fellow ROTC-er is awkward to say the least, whether it be Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.
I must admit that I love a challenge and I will certainly cut off my nose to spite my face. That is how I ended up pledging the drill team. Someone mentioned it and I believe, immediately thereafter said something to the effect of ‘it wouldn’t be for me’. Well, right there, the gauntlet was laid down. Little did I know what I was in for.
The first week didn’t seem so bad. Sure there were extra things to attend and tidbits to learn, but it would be worth it, right? Sure. Unfortunately, things didn’t stay so bright and cheery. You don’t just join the drill team, you pledge it, as in a fraternity or sorority. And just like a frat or sorority, there’s hazing and plenty of it. We were given bright yellow “manuals” that could be seen from a mile away full of sometimes useless information. And these little factoids were the enemy. Any current member of the drill team could stop a pledge at any time to quiz us on said material. If that weren’t enough, we were not allowed to use contractions in speaking and we had to make sure that we would always see the DTM (drill team members) before they saw us so that we could “greet” them. If a DTM saw you first, they could and would dole out demerits to be marked down in your manual. You could work them off, but it was easier just not to get them. Oh, did I mention that when we were in any of the many cafeterias (where you could always find at least one DTM), we had to ask for permission to eat before sitting down to actually eat. This led to several of us losing a few pounds as we would just avoid the dining rooms.
Nothing curdles the blood like hearing “PLEDGE! TAKE ONE!” from across the quad. The DTM were sneaky bastards. I swear they popped out of dark corners like ninjas. Some of them were just jerks. There was one DTM, we’ll call him GR who was just ridiculously cocky about lording his DT membership over us, the lowly pledges. Once, he was walking across the quad with a female friend and he happened to see a pledge before the pledge say him. Apparently, he thought it would be funny to have his lady friend just repeat his name over and over to alert the pledge of his presence. Okay, the pledge was me. I’m stubborn. I ignored them both. I paid for it in push ups.
Were you aware that there’s no greater pleasure than a freshly polished ugly black shoe? You weren’t? That’s because shining shoes sucks. You’d best better believe that DTMs could see their vindictive faces in those shoes though. Those same vindictive faces that would get shoved into pledges unsuspecting faces. Better not flinch. Your entire body had better stay as rigid as an overly-starched shirt. Kind of like the ones we wore.
Outside of learning such gems as “The Ballad of Snoopy”, we also picked up “High Flight” and every verse of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. And eventually, since we were pledging the Drill Team, we got to throw some rifles around. The hand-batterer rifle of choice was the Remington M1903 Springfield rifle. They weren’t so heavy and they were actually pretty fun to spin, even to throw. Catching, well, that’s a different story.
There were 12 of us, we called ourselves the dirty dozen. Original, no? I’d be hard-pressed to name all twelve now. 9 guys and 3 girls. Typically, when it came drill time, the guys worked together as did the girls. This is where the problems came in. For being as small as I was – I don’t think I’d hit 100 pounds yet – I was a tough cookie. The other two girls were bigger than me, but not always so tough. It really was only a problem when it was time to throw something called a single back. Let me backtrack. A ‘single to yourself’ is rather self-explanatory. You take your rifle and chuck it up into the air, making sure that it makes one rotation, and then you catch it. Done and done. A single back, on the other hand, is where one person stands approximately 8 feet in front of the victim catcher and then tosses the rifle backwards, blindly at that, making one rotation for the person behind to catch. The bottom line is that my fellow female pledges couldn’t make that throw. And guess what? Don’t even think about moving. You’d better catch it, no matter what, or you could count on some extra push-ups after practice. That’s how I ended up with bruised and bloodied knuckles, not to mention a hand that refused to function properly since all of its fingers had been bent into ridiculous positions.
With so much drama in the ROTC, it’s kinda hard being, well, a pledge. It was demanding, even grueling at times, but overall, I suppose it was worth it. I made some great friends (that I no longer keep in touch with), learned some nifty stuff (it’s amazing what you can make your body do), and best of all, I got an idea for the Vox 5 word challenge!