Believe it, or not, I actually didn’t originally intend on enlisting with the National Guard — that ambition was first reserved for the Army Reserve (pun intended).
It was the beginning of 2010 when I first made contact with an Army Recruiter. The process was relatively smooth. The recruiting NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) asked me a series of qualifying questions and had me fill out a host of documents. The preliminary work was progressing as it should, and the recruiter wasn’t predicting any significant barriers to enlistment. It was then that I learned a valuable lesson regarding military service.
Unexplainable (expletive) happens…
My recruiter called me the following Monday in a state of guffaw. He asked “Are you missing any appendages?” Taken aback (and likely choking on a chicken nugget), I coughed “No!” The recruiter replied that my preliminary health background revealed that I was unfit for service due to “missing fingers”. I was appalled. This report stretched beyond logical explanation. I was clearly physically intact, as I looked down at my fingers and toes and counted…”yep, there’s definitely 10 digits there.” I asked what happens next, to which the recruiter replied he’d take care of it and to check back later.
I called back the next week — “check back later”. I called back the following week — again, “check back later”. The third week, well, you can guess the answer. I found myself holding both discouragement on one hand, where I asked if I’d ever get to enlist in the military. On the other hand, I continued to feel a burning desire to serve. Holding both was cumbersome, but taught me patience, a key trait in the military.
I recall going to the local movie theater with my, then, partner and sitting through various advertisements. As I was casually dialoging with my partner, I noticed soldiers on the big screen. Obviously hooked, I fixated my gauge on the imagery as troops were carrying out various tasks, marching in ceremonial regalia, executing missions. Longingly I observed as I yearned to partake in the action, but again reminded of the struggle I’ve experienced thus far. As the advertisement concluded it revealed a different military branch — “The National Guard”. My interest was peaked, I felt a surge of excitement. Maybe this was my gateway to service.
Spoiler alert. It was.
I walked in the following day and sat down with a new recruiter named SFC Diamond. I explained what I had experienced with the Army Reserve. He sat back and chuckled and told me that there wouldn’t be any issue with my enlistment. Again, filling out preliminary paperwork and casually discussing where I see myself in 10 years (I would be wrong), we initiated another journey to enlist. SFC Diamond called me the next Monday and told me I was approved to go to MEPS (Military Entry Processing Station) to take the ASVAB (Army Services Vocational Aptitude Battery).
I was thrilled! I finally was taking steps towards enlistment. I was told I had a ASVAB appointment the following Monday. To which I replied “great! What should I expect?”. He replied “well, its the test that determines your job in the military”.
Cool. I’m going to take this test that determines my career with less than a week to prep. You can probably guess how well that went. The ASVAB strikes similarities to a high school ACT exam, but with flavors of practical questions surrounding mechanics, physics, etc.. I rolled into MEPS with an attitude I was going to do the best I could, and hope for the best. It’s probably a good thing, as I tested with a 75/100 which opened with the majority of jobs I wanted.
MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing Station.
MEPS acts as a funnel to bring all recruits to one location with the intention of ruling out those deemed unfit for service. For those accustomed to traditional health care checkups, they’ll find that the personnel deviate towards a more military-like approach. Direct and timely, and maybe aggressive.
I had been to MEPS before to take my ASVAB, but was required to attend the next day for the physical examination. The examination is performed in stations testing various parts of overall health. Stations such as: vision, hearing, blood pressure, movement, etc. Preceding each event, the applicants are gathered into a room to hear a briefing about what to expect at MEPS. Additionally, this briefer states that each applicant must be completely honest in their assessments or they’d be subject to legal recourse.
Immediately after performing the physical examination, I was invited to meet with my National Guard Liaison to select my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) I would be performing as a Soldier. I had preselected my job prior to going to MEPS (as a Chemical Specialist), but upon walking to the Liaison and checking my cell phone, I had received a text from my recruiter to call him. I stepped out for lunch to return a call to SFC Diamond. “Ashdown! I got the best job for you! This is one that catapults soldiers into pilots!”. Obviously tickling my 20 year old fancy, I replied: “I’m in”. On a side note, you gotta give it to my recruiter, that man could sell a used Honda Civic to Bill Gates.
This really cool job? 92F – Petroleum Supply Specialist, or better known as: “The Gas Man”.
Fancy? Probably not.
Did I Love it? Absolutely (More on that to come).
I walked back to my liaison with a pep in my step, armed with this “best” job in a “badass” aviation unit, and refueled with subpar at best MEPS made sandwich. I sat down with the Liaison to enlist in the military (the Guard’s process is different than Active Duty’s). As I sat down to sign, I felt both a sigh of relief to have finally been able to enlist, and a new pressure to prepare to ship out to IET (Initial Entry Training, Boot Camp, Basic Training) at Ft. Knox in two months.
Prior to shipping out to Ft. Knox, National Guardsman are required to attend a monthly RSP (Recruit Sustainment Program). RSP blends two things that are in the recruit’s immediate future. One being they’ll drill once a month for the term of their contact (mine being six years, plus two single-year extensions) and basic training and all its intricacies.
RSP has been shown to be effective in better preparing troops for basic training by exposing them to elements that are common in it. The nature of basic training is well documented in pop culture. The yelling, smoking (punishments), loss of sleep, complete lack of autonomy and privileges, are some of the many unique experiences one would encounter in basic training. I wasn’t aware of this – a common theme from my enlistment.
Showing up to my first RSP drill with a uniform 2 sizes to big (I wear a small long, and was issued a large regular), and a complete lack of understanding of what to expect and how to prepare. I moseyed into RSP thinking it would be more classroom versus more experiential. That experience hit me dead in the face by being yelled in the face for having my hand in my pocket for too long (lesson learned).
RSP consisted of performing Soldier tasks, marching, PT (physical training), memorizing Soldier Mantras (creed, ethos, values, rank structure), etc. Most of it was worth while as I ultimately felt prepared for basic training. However, I learned a valuable lesson about being in the right place, with the right gear, at the right time. I was under the impression that I would be attending RSP for one night, and prepared for such. I didn’t have the equipment needed to spend the night, nor the gear necessary for PT.
I participated in an additional RSP prior to shipping out to Ft Knox, this time physically prepared, with the right uniform, and in the right mindset.