2.3 Becoming a Soldier
Some people are probably wondering what basic military training was really like, especially as a woman in the militry. Well, for starters it was a 9 week long course over the summer. I did basic the summer after I graduated high school. We started with 48 people. 40 guys, 8 girls. We ended with 38, because people would drop out or get sent home. This all took place on a military base in Ontario, known as Canadian Forces Base Borden.
Military life for these 9 weeks was something like this. Every day would start at 5:30 in the morning. Some days we would get up at 4:45 and go for an intense workout before breakfast. At 5:30, someone would walk around yelling “wakey wakey!” (those are now words I dread hearing.) At 5:30 you would have approximately half an hour to get ready in the morning. So we would get up, get into uniform (army greens complete with combat boots), and put our hair into a tight bun. The guys all had to shave every morning. We would then have to make our beds to a very strict standard. Rooms had to be very clean, and everything had a place it was allowed to be stored in. Lockers remained locked. Yelling was expected all of the time, and the instructors could make you feel worthless. That was how they motivated us to prove them wrong.
At exactly 6:00 we had to be formed up (in lines of 3) and ready to be marched to breakfast. The meal hall (called the mess) was literally 30 feet away. But still, we would wait for someone to yell commands at us and allow us to go for breakfast. After scarfing down breakfast as quickly as we could, we would often run back to our shacks and get rooms ready for inspection. During inspection we would open lockers and drawers to display the contents (including underwear folded into 3×3 inch squares), and everything spotless. The rooms had to be swept, floors washed, windows open, water bottle full and on the corner of the desk, and so on. Our C7 rifles (a large gun that is a meter long) would be taken apart and displayed on the bed with all of its contents. That rifle never left our possession. There was no room for interpretation. When the instructors came around, they would walk into our rooms and we would come to stand rigidly at attention and look straight ahead. They would talk to us, look us up and down, and criticize every minute detail of our appearance. Then they would walk around our bed spaces and take note of everything that was not perfect. They were even allowed to throw our possessions around if they felt like it.
After being torn apart, we would often go for classes. So the first thing we would do would be to put our rifles back together, and hurry to get our backpacks with everything we will need for lectures. If anyone was late, we would be told to assume the “thinking position” (plank position, on concrete and rocks), or “team building position” (push up position) and we would do these activities until everyone was present with all of the items they need. This would happen any time we had to go anywhere, so we ended up doing a lot of pushups every day.
Another place we often would go in the mornings is to do drill. Drill is one of the worst things we had to do because it would be long and there would be a lot of yelling. Most of the time we were out in the hot sun and it was humid. They had to force us to drink water so that we wouldn’t get heat stroke, but some people got sick anyway. So we would go to the parade square, which is just a huge slab of concrete, and someone would march us around and scream at us, while questioning how much we wanted to be there and making us wish we weren’t. After drill we would go to the classroom and be taught lessons that usually are meant for soldiers, like the rules you have to follow when you go to war.
We would then eat lunch (always as quickly as we could get food into our stomachs because we would only be given 20 minutes to eat, and that includes waiting in line for food) and do similar things in the afternoon. Sometimes we would have fitness classes in the afternoons taught by civilian fitness enthusiasts who work on base. They were worse than our instructors because they would yell at us and not let us drink water because they thought that was what they were supposed to do, or they just wanted to be mean to us as well.
After dinner we would spend most of our time ironing, sewing our name on every single piece of clothing we own (including underwear and each sock), or polishing boots because they are never shiny enough. We would clean the entire hallway, rooms, and stair well before bed. We weren’t allowed to sleep, and at exactly 11:00 we would go to bed, and not a minute sooner, only to be woken up again at 5:30 the next day.
We got to do some really cool things, though. We got tear-gassed, and had to be able to use a gas mask and full suit. We went to the shooting range and shot real bullets from our rifles. We got to rappel off of a really high tower, just like in the movies when they have a rope and use it to jump down the side of a building. We also went to the field twice for 3 days each, and that was hellish. Sleeping on the ground, being dirty all the time with no showers, running around outside all day and getting sweaty, and then sleeping in those same disgusting clothes. There was also a 3 day long simulation of being at war. We walked to a base surrounded by barbed wire, and had to defend it from real people who also had weapons. We had to run out to do missions at all hours of the night, and didn’t really get to sleep for those three days. Sometimes the base would get attacked, and everyone would have to be outside with their guns, shooting blanks at people who are trying to kill us.
Being a woman in the military isn’t always easy. We still have to pass fitness tests every year, be competent with a rifle, and be able to handle yelling and being sworn at. Sometimes there would be hidden sexism, like when instructors expected less of us because we are female. I had one instructor who ordered me to do 15 pushups, and was surprised when I did them with ease. As well, eyes are always on us, especially in the later stages of training when people start to feel sexually frustrated. In order to be a strong woman in any male-dominated field, it is important to stand your ground, and blend in to a certain degree. I made it my mission to become “one of the guys”, and that, I found, made me more accepted by my male coworkers. I made sure to always pull my weight, and worked hard to earn people’s respect. Respect is not just given to you; you really do have to earn it. People need a reason to think highly of you, and that’s what I seek to accomplish now in other areas of my life.
On the last day of our course, we had a parade to celebrate those of us who passed. We wore our whites (because we are navy), and did a very long (probably close to 2 hours) parade during which we had to keep wiggling our toes in our shoes because if you stand still for too long the blood will pool in your feet and you will black out. We stood there proudly, the 38 of us, and the 3 other platoons of similar size, and enjoyed what was the greatest feeling of our lives. When the parade ended, we got back to our room, and I said to my roommate with tears in my eyes, “we did it.”
Basic was the hardest thing I have ever done for myself, and I am so glad I did it. I have never felt so proud of myself as I did that day. I just wish my parents had been at that parade to see what I was able to make of myself. I know my mom would be crying as we marched past our audience for the last time as recruits.
Despite being sailors in the navy, we will always be soldiers first after that incredible experience.