Being at Navy RTC (aka boot camp) and living in a single room with 77 other women came with a unique set of challenges, not the least of which was figuring out how to not only get along, but to work as a team.
I admit the passage of time has dimmed to a blur the actual schedule of daily events. One day seemed much like another, filled with learning and drilling and scrubbing and polishing. (Lather, rinse, spit shine, repeat.) But a few things stand out and while not all of the big moments make me smile, I can recall some of them quite clearly. And some of them are still funny.
The first couple of weeks were spent learning the ropes, among other things. We learned to tie knots, grew to understand Navy jargon (a language all its own), and attempted to march in formation. Being a dancer for many years and having spent time on the HS drill team, I was unprepared for the lack of coordination of many of my new “ship mates.” I had no idea it was that hard for some people to step in time to cadence.
Because we were so bad at it, we spent a lot of time practicing our marching skills, such as they were, out on a large paved area called the grinder. (Yes, grinder. March around outdoors on a hard surface for hours on end in Florida in June and the name makes sense.) The weather was steamy, averaging around 95 degrees with 73% humidity. (I found the historic weather details scrolling through the online almanac.) While I admit to not remembering the temperature specifically, I do recall how it felt. Especially when standing at attention wearing a diverse cloud of insect life like a living, buzzing helmet that we could not swat away. And we stood at attention a lot. (Facial tics became the norm, but even that had to be done when no one was looking.)
The Recruit Division Commander (RDC) discovered early on that my theater background provided me with the ability to call out cadence in a voice that carried all the way from the back of the unit to the front, and she used me to this purpose. Unfortunately, that also meant that my name was one of the first she learned. And the one name that seemed to stick with her.
As if being raised Catholic hadn't provided me with enough guilt, no matter where we went or what we were doing, and even when I was marching completely in time, the RDC was constantly yelling, “Skinner, get back in line!” “Skinner, move your ass!” or “Skinner, get in step!” It boggled my mind at first, as I knew I was doing what I was supposed to. I was often the one calling cadence, after all. But after a while, I simply accepted the fact that she had decided to single me out for whatever reason.
Some of the other activities that took place those first couple of weeks included visits to medical—as a group to get shots—or dental, where we went singly by appointment, to have our teeth checked. When my name was called for an appointment, I ran up and stood at attention before the RDC, who sent me “double time” over to dental. After having my teeth prodded and x-rayed, I was sent back to my unit. When I arrived back at the barracks, I was met with raucous laughter.
Turns out, while I was at dental, the Training Unit continued to march and drill out on the grinder, and all the while our RDC kept yelling, “Skinner, get back in line!” “Skinner, move your ass!” and “Skinner, get in step!”
After that, all the way through graduation, it didn’t matter who did what. If there was blame to place, no matter what it was, the automatic response was “Skinner did it.”