MEPS Part II: Medical

So the big juicy part of the enlistment procedure that apparently most people salivate and/or have massive anxiety attacks over: the physical at MEPS.

I’m here to set the record straight–it’s nothing to be afraid of!

They don’t lie when they tell you the wakeup call at the hotel is early…I believe it was around 0430. I don’t remember exact details but I’m fairly certain we were to have all our things packed and be downstairs by about 0500. We were able to have breakfast and were scheduled to leave at I believe 0530. We took the same bus ride back to MEPS, went through the airport type security again with a MEPS type of liaison (that morning security took longer as all the recruits arrived at the same time and civilians were starting their workday so we were trying not to hold them up as well).

Once we arrived at the MEPS floor, we lined up and checked in at the front desk and sent over to a set of double doors leading to the area of the floor where the physical assessment components took place. We again checked in at the front desk of the medical area where we were given our file folders containing papers to be filled out by the medical professionals on the floor as we completed each physical component.¬†Throughout the morning they mostly seemed to send recruits wherever they had things that had yet to be completed, but in some semblance of order, meaning: generally we performed our medical screenings in the same order. I was lucky because I was the second person that checked in at the medical front desk second so I was able to complete most of my screenings first and didn’t have to wait long at many stations.

The first station was the visual exam which consisted of a test to assess colorblindness (reading off a series of colored numbers on various colored backgrounds–super simple), and two vision tests with and without glasses, as needed. I believe both were varied versions of ¬†the Snellen eye chart test where you attempt to read the smallest line as possible. The entire vision assessment took like 3 minutes total.

I then went to the auditory assessment across the floor where I had to wait until five others had completed their vision assessments, as we completed the auditory test in groups of six. We were led into a box with six stools facing the outer perimeter and were told to put on headphones and pick up our joystick type button. The goal is to click the button every time you heard a beep in either earphone. The beeps range in tone and get gradually louder. I’m not sure what my final ‘score’ was on this test but it seemed to me that there was a pattern that I may or may not have picked up on which tended to make me more apt to click the button on softer tones, but I guess that was a risk I was willing to take.

Upon finishing the hearing exam, we all met in a conference room where a military liaison gave us a brief Powerpoint lecture on the MEPS physical process, what to expect, and, of course, what happens if you’re caught lying at MEPS about a physical condition you may have. We filled out the massive medical condition form that recruits have previously filled out with their recruiters, checking any and all boxes that apply to any current or previous medical conditions/surgeries/medications/etc. We filled out some other various paperwork that honestly I don’t remember what it was. Finally, we all took a breathalyzer test to finish.

From there, we all were more dispersed through our evaluations and went where there were medical professionals available. I first went to, what I would consider, a pre-physical physical where I met with the doctor who went over the massive checklist of pre-existing conditions to make sure everything was kosher and then did a very brief ENT physical. Nothing scary at all, and our physician was very kind and straightforward–no tricks or traps.

From there, I then completed my blood draw, blood pressure and pulse readings, and urinalysis. I’m gonna be real–I have a shy bladder. I have a hard time peeing in a bathroom with other people in general, let alone with the door open. I didn’t even pee at all that morning after waking up because I knew I was going to have to do the urinalysis test. Well….I was told not to get someone to take me to the bathroom until I felt like I was going to pee my pants which took a good chunk of the morning. Even once we got into the bathroom it took me a solid 20 minutes to go. I have little to no advice other than don’t fret–you’re going to have to do it one way or another. The real upside here is that this was just the first of the many times I’m going to have to take to pee in a cup in front of someone in my military career…it can only get better from here.

I believe those were the only other stations, and we all filtered into the conference room where we watched TV until everyone was finished and ready to perform the “underwear Olympics”. The females at MEPS were fortunate because there were only three of us so we were able to get undressed to our skivvies and get our physicals done pretty quickly. Like most of the MEPS experience, people try to scare you to prepare you for something that’s much worse than what you actually experience. Of course you have to disrobe into your bra and underwear (for God’s sake just buy/wear the biggest panties you can find. One of the girls that was doing the physical with us was ONLY completing the physical that day because she was previously sent home for wearing underwear that didn’t cover your ass. Don’t be one of those girls. People continuously tell you to wear granny panties because the last thing you want is to not even be able to begin your physical because your butt cheeks pop out of your underwear when you squat. They’re right! Just get some gosh darn big panties!!!)

The doctor will make you perform some strange physical tasks: the infamous duck walk (walk in a low squat with knees bent outward, stepping heel-toe, heel-toe without touching the ground), crossing the floor on your knees, speed walking diagonally across the room and immediately turning around and coming back, etc. It’s all odd things but nothing that someone with mild motor skills can’t pass. The one part I was a little nervous about was the scoliosis test because that’s completely out of your control. I’m small and skinny and the last time I took a scoliosis test was in like fifth grade where the elementary school nurse told me I might have slight scoliosis.

Well, the doctor took a little longer to assess me and tell me I was good to go, but after the underwear Olympics and before the gynecological exam he sure enough had me bend over one more time to take a look at my back again. Let me tell you, I thought my military career was about to end before it began. I was sure he was going to DQ me and send me packing. Well..he took another look and cleared me. Either I was really good to go, or whatever curvature he saw wasn’t enough to DQ me and for that I am grateful because he could have easily sent me home.

The gynecological exam was honestly the easiest part of the entire thing. They had us change out of our underwear and into paper gowns, entered a separate room one by one where the doctor performed a breast exam and took like two seconds to look at your ‘other areas’ like across the room. If you’re concerned about this part–don’t be. Literally nothing happens other than a free lump check.

From there, we were given our complete medical files and told to wait by the front desk for us to hand our files back to a clerk who did whatever they needed to do with the paperwork. Honestly it was a huge relief at that point because everything was finished and you’ve been cleared. Truly there isn’t anything that can or should disqualify you at this point and the REAL fun begins because you get to find out when you ship out! To come in Part III because this monster has taken way too long to write!

MEPS Part I: ASVAB

I’ve been dragging my feet on writing Parts I and II of the MEPS process, mostly because at this point it’s been about a month and a half since it all happened and I’m desperately trying to recall any and all memories to make this blog what I wanted it to be! Second, I’m mostly just lazy and have been putting it off. This post will be rather short as I’m only covering the ASVAB which was day 1 of MEPS. The next post about all the physical, administrative, and swearing in processes will be much longer and hopefully I’ll have that written at some point in the next decade.

After finishing my OCS board interview, I changed out of my skirt suit into more casual clothes and waited around the recruiting office for a while. The main reason for this was that we didn’t want to leave for MEPS too early because although I would be able to take my ASVAB whenever I got there, I would have to wait longer for others filing in to take theirs before we could leave at the end of the day for the hotel. Essentially, the earlier I got there, the earlier I could take my ASVAB, the sooner I would finish and have to sit and wait longer for everyone else.

We left the recruiting office I believe around 1300 and drove from central Minneapolis to the Whipple Building in south Minneapolis, close to the MSP airport. Security inside the building was pretty strict and much like airport security–all belongings on your person and electronics you had went into a bin that was scanned as well as your bags and yourself. All individuals entering the building also had to show ID and no aerosol type spray cans would be admitted. I, unfortunately, had been house-sitting the previous three days before my interview and MEPS and didn’t have time to drop all my excess belongings at home, so I had a huge gym bag full of miscellaneous items that set off the detector. Way to go, Kels!

We rode the elevators to the MEPS level and the first thing I did was check-in at the front desk and have my picture taken (which one of the staff members photo-bombed thank you very much). He also took two fingerprints that would be used to check-in with on an electronic pad (at least I think that’s how it worked–my memory is hazy). My bag and other belongings were all stowed away in a locker in a separated room, and all I kept with me were my drivers license and social security card (I don’t recall if I needed them but I wanted to have them on me just in case).

Essentially, I was just given a folder of paperwork from the front desk that I took down the hallway to the testing center. I handed the folder over to the testing administrator (who questioned why I was joining the military at 25) and had my computer setup for the ASVAB. This is the same testing center that other military entry/qualifying tests are given (i.e. DLAB, AFOQT maybe?), so the computer had to specifically be setup for the ASVAB. I was given a sheet of printer paper and a pencil for calculations and began the test. The test is comprised of general science, arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, mathematics knowledge, electronics, auto, shop, mechanical comprehension, and object assembling questions, presented in that order. One thing I was not privy to prior to taking the test was that there is no option to go back in sections, so you must answer the question you’re given and be confident in your answer because you cannot go back.

I want to say I completed the test in about an hour and a half. I really struggled on the electronics/auto/mechanical/shop sections, which doesn’t particularly matter since they’re not calculated into your final AFQT scoring (but for certain MOS’s you need to surpass the cut-off E/A/M/S score to qualify for that MOS). I’m not even sure if I ever saw what my scores in those areas were, but I was given my AFQT score immediately after finishing the test. The scores were recorded in my information folder which I brought back out to the check-in desk. After that, it was a lot of sitting and waiting. They had lunch options for recruits to eat already prepared, although I did bring a sandwich and left it in the locker room.

Recruits ended up vegetating in front of Impractical Jokers for five hours before ~1830 rolled around and we were told we were leaving. We gathered our belongings and rode on a school bus to the hotel we would be staying at (which was surprisingly very nice?!), and it was a pretty lax evening from then on. We were given a brief ten minute synopsis and video to watch on what would occur the following day at MEPS (which wasn’t anything new), and given the option to stay up in the recruit lounge area of the hotel. I was extremely lucky to have been paired up in a room with a seventeen year old high schooler that went to bed at 2100 like me! I was so worried I would be stuck with someone who wanted to stay up late and watch TV or make noise, but she was the ideal hotel room partner for me and it worked out great.

RSP Drill: Red Phase Day 2

As everyone that was lucky enough to be in Minnesota last weekend knows–it was a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR Sunday morning!

We were to report to the Bloomington armory by 0730 again on Sunday and formation was again at 0800. We initially formed up into our Red Phase platoon before the 1SG dispersed us into our home platoons (First through Fourth). We were under the direction of familiar faces from the recruiting office on Sunday which was nice–always a positive to be taking direction from people you already know. The original plan was to start a nine mile ruck march at 0930, however while waiting in our platoons for that time to roll around, the rain started. And didn’t stop.

We passed the time by getting our uniforms (only the Red Phasers in Fourth PLT got our ACUs and PT-wear because I asked my recruiter ever-so-nicely and luckily…he let us!), and practicing some camouflaging techniques by painting some poor other chap’s face (my drill BFF/battle buddy Hannah and I, as well as most other girls in Fourth PLT, got out of actually having to paint our faces). At about 1030 we had our MRE lunch while still waiting to hear if we were still planning on doing the ruck march or if we would somehow get to go home…

No such luck. After moooooore waiting, Fourth PLT piled into three minivans (somehow….I still cannot figure out how 38 people fit into three vehicles but that’s neither here nor there), and drove to a nearby public trail for our march. The term ruck march is a little misleading considering (1) most of us didn’t even have rucks, and (2) somehow we got fooled into doing sprints/light jog along the way. We began with about a half a mile walk before performing some drill in which we crawled up a hillside in groups of seven while sustaining “gunfire” in the form of one recruit at the top of the hill yelling “bang bang” at the rest of us. Plot twist though: once finishing the drill and walking back down the hill, my new friend Jake and I happened across a ‘sniper’ laying in the brush RIGHT in front of us that we had NO CLUE was there. Clearly we have a lot to learn!

The only other ‘drill’ we did during the march was stopping at a crossroads in the trail and learning to pull security by lining up next to one another and yelling at the group when there was a runner or walker coming down the trail. Somehow I don’t think I particularly did that part right but, not gonna lie, it was at least partly entertaining watching civilians very awkwardly continue their run through a bunch of 20 year olds in ACUs with their arms up pretending to hold a rifle.

The rest of the march/run was uneventful but so much fun. In the moment, every time our cadre would start up a sprint again, I would dread it because I’m sweating my @$$ off in heavy ACUs and I can’t feel my left toes and how much longer is this going to go on?!?! Some females fell out of the sprints early on. Hannah and I persevered. I was smelly and sweaty and miserable. Once we got back to the armory I was ecstatic. It was the first semi-Army thing I had done all weekend and it was so much fun!

Overall my first RSP drill was a mixed bag. After Saturday my dad asked if I was ready to do that again every month for the next six years and I…was not. Saturday was long, boring, more boring, and more long. Sunday, while still dull at time because of the wait, was so much fun. I understand not all drilling weekends we’ll get to go out on nine mile ruck marches, but it was the perfect balance between challenging myself and knowing I could accomplish what we were set out to do.

And God bless Jake–I lost my waterbottle while trying to climb up that gd hill on our stomachs and was dying in the humidity and mosquitoes and runs. The saint found it on our way back and for that I am forever grateful.

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Hannah and me following our ruck march–look at those dirty boots!
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A brand new cap fashioned with a Specialist pin that my recruiter/cadre personally hunted for

RSP Drill: Red Phase Day 1

I survived my first official National Guard drilling weekend!

Recruits that have sworn in at MEPS but haven’t gone to basic training yet drill as a part of RSP (recruit sustainment program). Alternatively, I found there’s a lot of high school students that split their basic training and AIT schooling, so they will go to basic during the summer of one year, return back to high school from September to June, and then go to AIT the following summer. This means they drill as a part of RSP every month while in school since they haven’t completely finished their training yet.

I received a newsletter via e-mail the Friday the weekend prior to drill weekend from the RSP Readiness NCO in Bloomington. RSP in Bloomington housed platoons from the Brooklyn Park (Fourth PLT), Minneapolis (Third PLT), Chanhassen (First PLT), and Bloomington (Second PLT) recruiting sites. To begin drill weekend, I was a recruit that was not directly a part of Fourth PLT despite the fact my leadership is out of Brooklyn Park. Because this weekend was my first RSP drill, I, along with a handful of other recruits, were in ‘Red Phase’. Red Phase simply means that we are recruits attending our first drill. Phases progress to white phase (recruits that have previously drilled but not yet gone to basic), blue, green, and gold phases. Honestly, I don’t remember what the other colors designate because they won’t apply to my situation.

I think the easiest way to detail my time this weekend is to present it in time table form with each activity…either for inquiring minds to or for others anxiously awaiting their first RSP drill to have a very shallow base to judge what will happen upon. As I began writing this all, I realized this was turning into a GIANT megapost, so beware, it is lengthy!

Saturday, June 10, 2017:

0730: Recruits were to report to the Bloomington armory by 0730, and formation was to begin at 0800. I arrived about ten minutes early with my MN National Guard backpack I received after swearing in containing the items we were told to bring in the newsletter (water bottle, notebook, black pen, and a change of clothes similar to our reporting uniform). Because new recruits do not have uniforms (PT or ACU), we were told to arrive in civilian jogging pants or shorts, tennis shoes, calf length white socks without logos showing, and a plain T-shirt or sweatshirt. I went to Walmart the day before drill and bought around knee-length black jersey shorts (literally $3 in the little girls section) and three short sleeve crew neck shirts (I think similar to these; BUYER BEWARE: I bought one in light gray, dark gray and white–they were a bit see through so I work the dark gray but wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing either of the lighter two colors; they were also a bit form fitting [normally I’m an XS/S and bought S]. I thought the fittedness might be an issue for others but no one said anything, however I would recommend wearing a baggier shirt. Regular cotton t-shirts with logos of any sort seemed to be fine). I also got a pack of these Hanes crew socks from Target that I figure (hope) can be used at basic training as well. I wore my hair in a higher bun (my hair is very fine and short so it was akin to a tiny sumo wrestler bun), and no one seemed to particularly care about hairstyles as one girl had one of those giant fan type buns on top of her head and no one said anything. White phase females in uniform all seemed to have the typical low bun style, though.

I was very apprehensive about what to expect during RSP drills since I truly had no clue. There was a check-in table right inside the armory with RSP’ers (I think?) checking recruits in. With absolutely no direction, I gleaned we were gathering in the gymnasium where recruits continued to file in.

0800: Formation began at 0800 where recruits formed up into their platoons. Again, being a Red Phaser, we had absolutely no clue what to do or where to go. I think my least favorite/most difficult part of the weekend was formation on Saturday because we had absolutely no guidance. Luckily, a White Phase recruit told myself and another girl that Red Phase forms up on the other side of the gym, so we all herded to the opposite side.

While it wasn’t a huge deal to have to figure out how formation works as you go, I definitely did not like being utterly confused and useless. Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad I’m learning this all now instead of trying to figure all of this out for the first time at basic training, but I hate going into things blind, especially when others know what they’re doing but don’t feel the need to help those that don’t know what’s going on. Ultimately, is it that big of a deal? No, but first formation on Saturday of Red Phase drill is definitely where I feel the biggest improvement could be made. It wouldn’t be that difficult to have a group of White Phasers spend 10-15 minutes with Red Phasers between reporting and formation to give a rundown of what was about to happen.

Nevertheless, I found myself in the front of our platoon of about 12, and as sure as shit, five minutes into formation I hear vomiting behind me. Thank GOD, he was in the back and I didn’t get any splash back–my new 17 year old friend Hannah was not so lucky and had to spend the rest of the day in vomit splattered socks. Otherwise, formation is basically just your First Sergeant giving a rundown of the day, inviting recruits up that have been promoted, and making us yell “Whoop” in agreement to whatever he’s saying.

OPAT: Following formation, Red Phasers took the OPAT physical test while everyone else took their APFT (this WAS a 2-2-2). The only things that threw me relatively off about the OPAT was (1) the shuttle run/pacer test started off much faster than I was anticipating. I didn’t so as well on that as I would have hoped, and (2) the SPC that set up the deadlift didn’t set up the bar right and had about 200 lbs weight. None of us except one male could lift the damn thing before the SSG from Second PLT said something about him not taking the 45 lbs of the bar itself into account. Problem was fixed, and we all lifted the minimum 120 lb, but didn’t get a chance to attempt lifting any more, so I’m not completely sure if that impacts our scores or not.

Overall I don’t particularly feel the OPAT was conducted very well either. From what I had read, recruits should get 2-3 attempts performing the long jump and medicine ball throw before actually conducting their 3 test attempts. We didn’t get any of that, and it wasn’t until my third medicine ball throw that I found a better way for me to throw it. I’m fairly certain I met the minimums on everything except the shuttle run and it won’t negatively impact me.

1000-1600: The rest of the day we sat around in a classroom and listened to some introductory material–truly it was very dull. I had my first MRE (cinnamon beef patty?) and went through some very brief presentations on sexual harassment, suicide prevention, etc. We learned some rank structures that, surprise, we would be quizzed on in order to receive our lunch. We had a small panel of Gold Phasers come in that we could ask specific questions about their experiences in basic training and AIT (Gold Phase is one last RSP drill after individuals return from completing both BCT and AIT and are awaiting assignment to their unit). This was sort of helpful except that there was one female out of the 7-8 individuals and she frequently didn’t get a word in edgewise.

Our last activity of the day (which was actually helpful) before going to end of the day formation was learning basic marching movements (right face and about face). It seemed like it was the first practical thing we were learning (aside from rank structure) that would immediately benefit us. Sadly, we were told in the classroom since all of us in Red Phase were leaving within the next two months we wouldn’t be issued uniforms (but that would all change day two…..heh).

1600: Final formation was back in the gym at 1600. It was the same process as at 0800 except that the First Sergeant spent his time recapping the day. Red Phasers were still a bit out of order and couldn’t quite figure things out. Overall, my impression of day one was not extremely glowing. I met a couple really wonderful girls in Red Phase, both of which are in Fourth PLT as well, but the day was very long and pretty monotonous. I understand they couldn’t throw us in to what White Phasers were doing right away, but I think a tiny amount of guidance as to what to expect when we were in a group would have been super helpful.

As I finish day one, I’ve realized this is already way too long to continue detailing day two in the same post, so I will save that for another day.

Pre-Enlistment Part II: OCS Board Interview

The first item on the agenda before my two day MEPS journey was underway was to go to my OCS board interview at 0930 (should probably start learning military speak now, huh?!) on May 24. I must admit: I did a lot to work myself up in the preceding days before the interview–reading more horror stories about how others had difficult interviews, their interviewers doing their best to rattle the officer candidates to see how they would do under pressure. I don’t pretend to be a great interviewer…I have standard answers to basic questions but I was worried I would be asked military-specific questions and/or things I simply have no clue how to answer. My biggest interviewing downfalls are (1) being asked a question and my mind turning instantly blank. Even when I take a few moments to concoct an answer in my head, it’s still simply empty, and (2) my mind racing so fast that my answers become a jumbled mess. Two rational fears that would not look good to Army board interviewers.

I wore a black skirt suit with hair pulled back for the interview and did not feel out of place. I showed up to the recruiters office pretty anxious, but was luckily told that the interview would be fairly lax, and is just another box that must be checked to continue on in my enlistment process. I was shown into the conference room where I met my interviewers, shook hands, and took a seat across from them.

We started the interview by them asking for a brief introduction of myself (which is the interview opening I love because what better way to calm my nerves than to talk about the one thing I know best: myself), and shared my educational and employment background. I was told the interview portion would consist of three questions, one asked by each interviewer. Truly, I don’t remember what the first two questions were, and only remember the third because it stumped me and I wasn’t sure my answer was the response he was looking for.

The final question was a four-parter: what were my five and ten year plans for both my civilian and military careers? My biggest fear was here! I maybe had a five year plan but God knows what I wanted my life to be like in ten years?! I know next to nothing about the military so I had NO idea what my five and ten year plans for the military should or could look like! I began explaining my goals on the civilian side because that is the life I’m familiar living. I detailed my goals to go to grad school to pursue a career I enjoy and be successful at it. On the military side, I had relayed the fact that I knew contracts were eight years in length, and I hoped that by five years I was enjoying being a part of the Army and it was bringing as much positivity to my life as I think it will, and by ten years I hoped to have signed my second contract. This seemed like a pretty meek answer to me, but after responding, the interviewer shared that he liked to ask that question as a gauge to see who comes from a strong military background and who doesn’t. He said he often gets individuals that say by five years they want to be a Captain and ten years a Major, etc.

I believe at some point I was asked the cliche “why do you want to become an officer?” question, and I am thankful I had rehearsed my answer non-stop for 24 hours. As someone with little leadership background, my answer was very straight forward and humble. I told them, as I’ve mentioned on my blog already multiple times, I want to join the military first and foremost. Whether that meant enlisting or commissioning as an officer, my goal is to join the Army. I want to pursue the officer path because, simply, I meet the requirements and I know I can do it. I don’t want to lie and say I have an extensive repertoire in leadership activities, but I’m a moldable personality and I hope to learn those leadership skills through OCS. I wouldn’t waste both their time and my own time if I wasn’t sure I could be a successful officer.

One thing that I felt was a positive, particularly to one of the interviewers, were my candid responses about being a born leader with all the knowledge and characteristics it takes to become an officer at this point. He stated the officer route sometimes attracts overly confident individuals that think they have it all figured out already. He seemed pleased that I wasn’t overselling my abilities, but I was eager to learn. We spoke about what career I would like as an officer, something I have looked into, but was pretty open to exploring more. I relayed that I did not want to do something in the science/medical field as I hoped to learn a new skill and be a part of a team in a discipline different from my full-time work.

Overall, the interview was very brief (I believe I was done after half an hour), and positive. We spoke about OCS as a future endeavor, but I left being unsure whether I had passed or not. After sitting in the recruiting office continuing paperwork, I asked my recruiter if they would have told me if I hadn’t passed and wasn’t to continue the officer course, and he assured me that he would have at least been sent an e-mail saying ‘no, we’re going to pass on her’…HA! From there, it was time to go to MEPS and take the ASVAB!