There were about thirty of us who arrived at MEPS on the same bus. We passed through security doors and unloaded our suitcases into a storage area before being herded into a briefing room. The MEPS commander, the first naval officer I ever saw, gave us a rundown of the rules and what we could expect from visit. The majority of us were there for initial processing, while a few others were either about to officially enlist or ship out to whatever boot camp they were destined for. After this briefing was done we were shown to the recruitment area, which essentially was the exact same thing as the plaza my recruiting center was part of. It was a large waiting area similar to a doctor’s office, and along the walls were the offices of the five military branches, though the Coast Guard center was dark and lifeless.
The waiting game then officially began. The few of us there for the Marines sat for what felt like hours in front of the Marine Corps office, watching as the two recruiters inside go about their paperwork, phone calls, and texting as if they weren’t even aware of our existence. After a little while an elderly volunteer entered the area and announced that cookies and refreshments were available down the hall way. One of the guys next to me stuck his head in the office and asked one of the recruiters if we could go, and the recruiter shouted “You already know the answer to that!” Undeterred, the minute the inner office door shut the same enlistee got up and went down the hallway and came back with a cup of coffee. I was tempted, but did not want to blow my chances over sweets I certainly could go without.
Finally one by one we were called into the office to answer a bunch of preliminary questions. After my turn I was ordered to proceed with a packet of papers to the medical wing where my processing would truly begin.
Several minutes later, the testing began. Just about every single test, checkup, and exam possible was done on me, as well as having the earwax sucked out of both my ears. In a room with several doctors and other recruits I was made to strip down to my underwear and perform various dexterity tests and physical exercises, notes being taken nonstop. Passing all of this, I was sent to lunch and told to report back immediately afterwards. More testing followed, and after another hour-long wait in the recruiting areas Ssgt. Rivera arrived, retrieved documentation from his colleagues in the office and asked if I was ready to go. I had passed another step.
Having passed my background check and health screening, the time had come for me to officially enlist in the Marine Corps. As it would be too much to be done in one day, it meant that I would have to go through a similar experience the following week.
Therefore, the following Thursday I again brought a small suitcase to class with me, and once again a recruiter met me at the door to bring me back to the station. This time, I had a brief meeting with Gunnery Sergeant Love, the chief off the recruiting office, making sure that I was 100% sure that this was something I wanted to do and that I was aware that once I took the oath I was officially a member of the United States Marine Corps as a poolee, and that I would be held to high standards and shipped to boot camp in San Diego as soon as I was done with high school. I assured him confidently that I was ready, and after almost breaking my hand with a firm handshake he transferred me over to Ssgt. Rivera, who was waiting with another recruit-to-be for the second trip to Lansing.
The hotel stay and most of the early morning MEPS activities were exactly the same as they had been the first time, only since I had already completed my health screening and everything it was more administrative this time. Fingerprints were taken, briefings were given, forms and forms and forms were filled out followed by the signing and dating of even more forms. Again, I was given time for lunch, then returned to the recruiting office for more paperwork.
The only time I broke bearing the entire process was when one of the civilian employees made me sign a form designating my next of kin, and that if anything were to happen to me en route to my first duty station (boot camp) that the government would provide six months’ pay to cover funeral arrangements. I could not help but chuckle. If anybody had the misfortune enough to die serving his country before even having a handle to put on a uniform, it would be me. Other than that, I was collected and confident the entire process.
Finally, at the end of the day, there was only one thing left to do to make it official. A group of us were led into a brightly lit room where flags from all across the military, as well as several United States flags, adorned the walls. We stood at attention as an army captain greeted us and ordered us to raise our right hands. He recited the oath enlistment that we followed in spurts, and then we all went back to attention. He shook each one of our hands and posed for a brief picture with us and we were sent back to our recruiters. I was no longer a civilian. I was now a Marine Corps poolee.
Ssgt. Rivera, punctual as ever, appeared right away to pick the two of us up that he had delivered to the hotel the previous day. Instead of taking us home, however, he informed us that MEPS was only the first stop. He drove us down the street to the recruiting HQ for the state of Michigan so that we could be formally inducted as future Marines.
For this task, he turned us over to his friend Ssgt. Leal, a much larger, more intimidating Marine than any of the ones I had met so far. He threw both of us a poolee t-shirt which was to be our uniform of sorts whenever we attended a poolee function. He explained to us that once a week we were expected to appear at our recruiting office to undergo physical training, Marine Corps knowledge, and other items of importance. One Saturday a month would be an even larger poolee function, also required, that would further help build teamwork and Marine Corps values. We were to do the best we could in school, stay out of trouble, and conduct ourselves professionally at all times. Recruiters were to be addressed as “Sir” and any order given was to be acknowledged as “Aye aye, sir.”
“Yes, sir”, “No, sir”, and “Aye aye, sir” needed to be drilled into our minds immediately, because at boot camp those would pretty much be the only words ever coming out of our mouths and the Delayed Entry Program was meant to ensure that we were best prepared to tackle the hardest boot camp in the country.
We were left alone in an office, where Ssgt. Leal had turned on a motivational video. After a while we were interrupted by the recruiting commanding officer, a major, who wanted for us to witness our first promotion ceremony. We witnessed a sergeant promoted to staff sergeant , and a corporal promoted to sergeant. The recruiting center sergeant major informed us that these were major milestones in those Marines’ careers, and made us do twenty push-ups for the amusement of the assembled Marines.
Ssgt. Leak handed us each a folder of information and gave me back to Ssgt. Rivera, the other one having had a ride on the way. We stopped at a gas station for an oil change, the staff sergeant talking me through it so he would not have to get oil on his dress blues. He bought me a pop as a token of thanks, and continued on our way.
The only thing I was really bummed about was that I had to wait an entire year before I shipped out. I had all summer break and my entire senior year to go before it was time for me to ship out to boot camp. Otherwise I was completely on top of the world. It was the first of many rash decisions I would make in the coming years, but knowing what I know now at 28, if I had the chance to go back in time and make a different decision I would have joined the Air Force.
Yeah, screw that. I would not have changed my mind if my life depended on it.