Let me apologize ahead of time for a long post
0200 (2am for those of us still on civilian time) my alarm clock woke me up after 2 short hours of sleep. After 30 min of shuffling around like a zombie I hopped in the car punched the direction in the GPS and headed to Jacksonville FL. My destination – Military Entrancing Processing Station or MEPS. Now MEPS as you may or may not be aware of is the final stop for men and women enlisting in the armed forces. They typically take the ASVAB the day before, go through a full physical, and provided everything checks out, they then sit down with a military career counselor and end the day with swearing in ceremony. The point here is at the end of the day they are either offered a job on the spot or turned away temporarily or for good. Not so much for officer candidates. MEPS is essentially the mother of all physicals; just one more piece in the application packet.
I pulled into the parking lot at 0515 (5:15am) 15 minutes early. The building was dark – eerily dark in fact for a day that was supposed to start in 15 minutes and process some 150-200 sailors/soldiers and marines. Turns out I was 45 minutes early (hurry up and wait is a great motto and one that I’ve been told the military seems to live by). At about 0600 there were about 15 of us gathered around the entrance in some semblance of a line you might see at the movie theater or black Friday standing outside Walmart. We were there, we were awake (barely) and we were keeping our personal space to ourselves.
Car pulls up. Navy Chief steps out, takes one look at the line in front of him and begins issuing orders. Line up straddling the parking lot lines eight to a line. Next line shoulder to shoulder with the first eight deep. Now recall if you will how long a parking lot line is. Its short – so short that the guy behind me is breathing on my neck and I’m breathing on the neck of the guy in front of me. Two buses roll into the parking lot and our little line of 15 just turned into 150.
Welcome to MEPS.
Check in was like going through airport security. Belt off and pockets emptied – everything in your hands are scanned through a conveyor belt. As you exit the security check you are in a small room with a bunch of 1×1 cubbyhole in the wall. All your gear save “the shirt touching your skin”, pants, shoes, your ID/Wallet and SS card are placed inside one such cubbyhole. As you exit the room a guard will squirt some sanitizer in your hands.
Orientation goes something like this:
If you do anything other than sit (or stand when the time comes) and stare straight ahead your day ends. As the day progresses this relaxes quite a bit and you find yourself surrounded by other young men and women (I say other but really I was about ten years everyone’s senior) who are just as curious about the process as you are and equally excited to know what your branch is, what you are in for and why.
I have to add an addendum at this point just as a point of observation. These men and women from essentially all walks of life are the type of teenagers that make me think that there is a lot of hope left for our country. Not that fact that they are serving or desiring to serve in the armed forces but more to the point that they are driven to excel. They seemed to know their dreams and were acting on them. Some for a career in the military – for others it was money for college. But, and this is the point, they were all there for a reason. They were 17-22 year old kids with purpose. And that, in itself, is an amazing thing – because if you’ve looked around lately kids these days don’t plan past the weekend.
So after orientation you are sent to see your branch liaison who will give you your file that was sent to MEPS from your recruiter (make sure your recruiter sent it or your day ends here – no file/no processing). Up to this point I was just like everyone else. Then, there it is at the top of my file: Navy Officer Candidate. And from that moment on everyone treated me just a bit different. To understand this I think you have to know two things. One: everyone who actually works in this building is either a civilian who was probably prior military or is enlisted in one of the branches. The moment I swear in I will outrank everyone here. And two: add to that the sheer respect that most enlisted have for Chaplains and I was, for the rest of the day, a man apart. To be sure this could simply have been my take on the subject and mileage may vary.
Next stop: Biometric enrollment.
Big words to essentially mean your prints are taken. One finger from each hand and your photo. After this happens you no longer need your SS card or photo ID just your fingers – so make sure to bring those with you – your fingers – you’ll need them from the rest of the day. Then off to medical we go.
Medical was kind of like career day at school going from station to station, but instead of finding out cool interesting things about potential careers, they were finding out cool interesting things about you – like can you hear – or see – or dare I say it – pee in a cup at will.
So after signing in with my fingerprint (I kept it with me) my blood-pressure and heart-rate were taken. I passed on both accounts: my heart beats and my blood has pressure – SWEET! Off to hearing I go.
Now I had done this once before last year and it is a pain. You are shuffled into what amounts to, in my thoughts, a pressure tank that is then sealed shut. You are given over-the-ear headphones and a Jeopardy Buzzer and told every time you hear a tone to press the buzzer. The tones are infrequent and very quiet and range in pitch – first the left ear then the right. The whole process takes about 5-7 minutes. Now if you cough or swallow or breathe the sheer sound can make you miss the tone. Oh, and by the way, 4 other people are in the booth with you so make sure they stop breathing too. I’ll take ghost sounds for $100, Alex. You think you heard something but you’re not quite sure. Was it a tone, a short in the headphones? Your breathing? Your heartbeat? Your neighbor’s heartbeat? A tree falling the forest? The sound of one hand clapping? I passed I can hear! I’ll take get me out of this tank for $1000 Alex.
Eye exam was pretty straight-forward. If you’ve been to the eye doctor before you’ve done this so I won’t elaborate.
Survey says! This is the portion of the (medical?) exam where you have to document every bad thing you’ve ever done. If you have any tattoos, now is the time to speak up or in this case write it down. More than two traffic violation over the course of your life, list them now – time place and how much. Once you’re done with the survey, as you exit the room, you are given a breathalyzer test.
I passed! I’m not drunk! On to lab work.
Two vials of blood – check. And then the dreaded urinalysis. I’ve worn a scarlet letter and that letter was “P” as in this applicant can’t pee in a cup with four other applicants in the room and a man talking to you the whole time telling you why “you had to pee or else.” I’m sorry but that particular bodily function is private! So I had a giant letter P stuck on my chest and off I go to join the rest of my cohorts in crime. I thought at least there would be others – out of 80 men I was 1 of 2.
Oh how that scarlet letter marks my shame! Woe is me -the one who cannot pee.
Finally, the urge to heed the call of the wild came and off I went. Free at last, free at last! The “P” was removed, my shame taken away. And off I go to the “Interview.”
If you’ve ever had a physical for sports or yearly checkup – this is it. The interviewer – a physician on staff looks at your file asks you about your history based on the survey you filled out earlier and does a complete physical. I passed. I’m not dying!
Off to the final destination of our day: the “Can-you-walk-like-a-duck” station. You’re taken to a room with about ten other applicants (men and women separately) and are told to strip down to your boxers (hope your not shy).
Let me see if I can list this from memory
- Stand feet like a V and hands straight overhead.
- Walk across the room on your knees, tiptoes, and heels.
- Fast walk across the room.
- Spring up into a swan dive pose.
- Squat – now waddle like a duck across the room.
- From your knees stand up without using your hands
- Kick your heel out front and behind you. (Aye, Daniel-Son kick)
- Show off your hands, touch your fingers to your thumbs.
- Jumping Jack without the jumping and you can’t let your hands “slap” your sides.
- Weigh in.
I passed everything! Except, well…. I’m too fat. 12 pounds over weight – chunky-monkey. I’m 218lb and I need to be 206. Temporarily Dis-qualified and my day ends. As does my April 13 CARE board. I’m too fat to fly and given a reweigh date of April 8th.
So April 8th I’m back at MEPS ready to reweigh. I’m sent back to medical and weight in (202.4lb). I made weight! But not the right way I lost it too quickly. I’m told to wait for the Chief Medical officer so that she can either deny or approve my rapid weight loss. It’s 7am. At 9:30 I finally get to see her and she tells me again – I lost it too fast. 15lbs in 16days is bad. Baaaad. She send me out to a consultant for lab work. Blood and, wait for it….urinalysis….. Nooooooooo!
I take a cab to a private lab and show up at about 10am. Having done my dirty deeds I leave from said lab at 12:15 ( I stood on the curb waiting for a cab back to MEPS for 1 hour) and get back to MEPS.
The doctor is not quite ready for me so I chow down on some much needed lunch (provided by the way – a roast-beef sub, chip, apple and a bottle of water) and proceed to watch the entire movie “Medicine Man” which is rather slow and well, sorry to say for those of you who love Sean Connery – just plain boring. At 2:45pm the chief Medical Officer will now see me. Her first question was “why did it take me so long?” She sent me out at 9am. I bit my tongue. God has a funny way of teaching humility sometimes. Long story short there are two ways to lose wait as fast as I did. Work extremely hard at it or have cancer. Provided I don’t have cancer, I’m qualified.
So as I type this, I’m in limbo. I’ll know sometime next week if I’m off to CARE Board in May.
Here’s hoping. Here’s to praying.
In His Grips.