One week before basic training graduation, we were starting to get excited. We had jumped through all the necessary hoops, but there was still a little fear in the back of our minds that somehow our drill instructor would thwart our plans of moving on by recycling us. Recycling usually happened when you fell below the standard in some way. If you failed a test, couldn’t run the defined distance in the allotted time, or you were just labeled a screw up, you got recycled. What that equates to is starting from scratch with a new flight and going through basic training all over again. We gained a new flight mate or two via this method. I remember this one Airman failed to disclose that her father was a Colonel in the Air Force, so they threatened to recycle her. She didn’t get recycled, but she did have to clean pigeon poop off the stairs to our dormitory with her toothbrush all afternoon.
It’s a humbling experience to be kicked out — forced to leave the friends you’ve overcome obstacles with and to be sent to another flight as a symbol of failure. They broke us down in so many ways.They were always lurking — walking softly from a distance, but when they got closer, you could hear the rapid tap, tap, tap, tap of their shoes running toward unsuspecting Airmen prey. They were always trying to catch us doing something wrong.
I remember doing laundry for the flight with my friend Mary one evening. We had already sorted the whites from the darks — hundreds of socks, underwear, and t-shirts — marked with the last four of our social security numbers — the means by which we would sort them again after laundry was done. No one wanted this duty, but Mary and I saw it as one of the few chances we could get to build our relationship. We got too comfortable though. We were talking and laughing softly about the faux pas of the day. Instead of standing the entire time we did laundry, we decided we’d squat for the hour or so that it took us to complete this task. Then, without warning, we heard a quickened tap, tap, tap, tap.
Get your happy a**es up!
I remember thinking there was nothing happy about my a** at that point as I bolted to my feet and stood at attention.
Are you Airmen out of your minds? This ain’t Disney Land!
I literally held my breath for one minute as if someone had just put my head under water. Then I heard the slow tap, tap, tap, tap as he walked away. Neither Mary nor I knew for sure whether he was gone or not, so we stood at ease and moved our not-so-happy tokuses to the dryers to gather our things.
That was an encounter we would no doubt laugh about years later, but at the moment, all we could think about was remembering how to breathe. Of all the fear tactics in their arsenals, this was the bomb — the weapon of morale destruction.
One week later, we were reveling in the afterglow of graduation. It was bittersweet–getting to pull out our luggage and try on our “civvies” for the first time since we had arrived. My acid washed jeans still fit! We were a little sad too because we were all heading out to parts unknown and might not see each other again.
Almost immediately our feelings of happiness turned to fear as we heard a quick tap, tap, tap, tap.
We all scrambled to attention — some in civvies and others outfitted in a BDU top and jeans.
At ease! Two Airmen are in the infirmary with mumps. You’re all quarantined until further notice.
NOTE – All this week I will highlight a different contemporary Christian artist, and I invite you to do the same in the comments. Kirk Franklin is one of my favorite artists. Enjoy, rejoice, and be glad.