19 May 2011

Shotgun Foray to Radisson Hotel, Morning Mishap at MEPS

Unexpected Call
Speak of the devil. As I was finishing my last entry yesterday, I got a call to be at the station by 1330. Got ready in 15 minutes and zipped out of there. The shuttle (a van) was still picking up other Soldier Hopefuls along the way. I boarded the van, and off we went to our destination.

It was 6 of us guys. I still remember their names*: Julian, Matt, Ichabod, Icarus, and Iago. Julian, who sat next to me, was going in as an MP (military police), Matt and Ichabod as EOD (explosive ordnance disposal).

As of 2005, the passing rate at MEPS is 3 in 10 applicants. 30 percent. In that van, 2 of us would make it on a good day, and I wasn't sure how that statistic would be affected by the fact that the physical fell on "mission day", the last day of the month for MEPS to meet their projected quota for processed applicants.

At the Radisson
4 of us were dropped off at the hotel to check in before the other 2 were taken straight to MEPS to take the ASVAB. We passed by a young man sitting on the curb having a cigarette who pointed us to the check-in lounge. We signed in, were given our meal tickets and room keys, and told to meet back at the lounge at 2030 for briefing.

Turns out my roommate was the man I saw smoking earlier. Bennett is a Jake Gyllenhaal look-alike, very chill and reserved. He was previously an AF depper slated to ship to Lackland as a cryptologic linguist - my preferred job. A wet and reckless charge got him DEP-discharged, and now, 2 years later, he is reenlisting in the Navy. Today was his 4th time at MEPS.

Had dinner with 2 other guys at 0700. One wants to join the Army as a mechanic, and the other is an Air Force prospect. Later, we headed to the briefing. All in all, we were 40 men and women. 6 failed to show up.

Curfew was at 2230. We would be awakened the next day at 0400. The bus would arrive at 0410, and breakfast served beginning at 0415. We were to board the bus at 0440 and arrive at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station at 0515. Oh, and the Gideons indeed were at the hotel passing out New Testament bookets. They really do do it without fail.

Neither Bennett nor I had much sleep last night.

At Sacramento MEPS
I'll say this now: my time at MEPS was short. I did not make it very far. My recruiter pushed me through as a walk-on, which I explained to the Army Liaison. He had me take a seat and processed the other guys.

Turned out my status was still "Deferred" according to the electronic log. Under my name, 0 documents had been submitted by my recruiters as of Wednesday. But just today, the log had registered 5 submitted documents; there was a lag time before MEPS received what my recruiters sent them. Still, as they had not yet reviewed my situation, I had to be sent home. At 0530, I had to call my recruiter to ask him to pick me up.

I sat in the waiting room watching Forresst Gump until Sgt. Balaban arrived.

A Talk with Sarge
My recruiter, who doesn't look to be much older than I am, received an earful from the liaison.

Here's the scoop: my recruiter had already called me last week telling me that my papers were deferred pending review by MEPS. Yesterday's trip to the hotel was supposed to have been postponed. For some reason still, the station commander at the office told my recruiter to go ahead and push me through the system, which didn't make sense to my recruiter. But the chain of command is the chain of command, and so he did.

The misunderstanding came from someone whose decisions overrode both my recruiter and the station commander's instincts to hold me back until next week: the 1st Sergeant, 1SG. So, it was something in the higher ups that screwed up my trip, and subsequently my emotions.

But that's okay. I'm prepared for another trip to the hotel and MEPS.

Balaban made a pit stop at Battalion HQ to deal with some business before dropping me back off at my car. On the trip back to the station, I got to know him a bit more.

He has a brother who was in the Marines and a dad  proud of his son but who still thinks he's an idiot for joining. Balaban himself has been deployed twice to Iraq with an artillery MOS but has some stories a crazy infantryman would tell you. On days his unit wasn't assigned to patrol, they'd get creative with killing time (not exactly along the lines of Jarhead, but creative). He had his first son before his second deployment, and a second is on the way.

I'm trying to understand why he'd rather be deployed than home. But it seems like others can't explain the compelling impulse to be deployed either.

Following is an exchange between 2 Soldiers in an EOD team from the 2008 film The Hurt Locker. The men are Staff Sergeant William James and Sergeant J.T. Sanborn. Tearfully, Sanborn says,

"I'm done. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will. I mean, how do you do it, you know? Take the risk?"
"I don't know. I guess I don't think about it."
"But you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it. You recognize that, don't you?"
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I do. But I don't know why. I don't know, JT. You know why I'm the way I am?"
"No, I don't."

*All names in entry changed for privacy reasons.

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