Briefing my unit, 4th Combat Camera, March Field, California


USAF basic military training

Menifee, CA

Being from Southern California, we tend to be "more open" about lifestyles and opinions. But this can also make us naive and unfamiliar about what's out there in "the real world." It's 1984 and I've been preparing for basic training for a year (delayed entry). I've been running, participating in strength training and healthy food choices. I envisioned a very positive experience physically and mentally -- after all, I was 26 and knew I'd be able to deal with the anticipated challenges. Boy, was I ever in for a surprise! The 100% humidity for this SoCal girl was a huge challenge, along with big Texas cockroaches that were everywhere. I was selected for the position of Dorm Chief on day 1, fired on day 2, hired again on day 12 and kept the job until the graduation 7 weeks later. Add daily yelling and humiliations, recruits crying, washbacks, and the regular demands of classes, bed making, shoe shining, flight dorm duties, getting dressed and more within 3 minutes. Wow. I may have thought I was ready, but indeed I was not. But wait! There's more: as dorm chief, I was the go-between for the flight and TIs (there were two). Several African-American recruits approached me early on and complained about a fellow recruit (I'll call her KP from now on). They told me that Recruit KP would stare at them in the showers (gang showers) and they did not like it one bit. They also told me that she was "weird" because she seemed to love flushing the toilet (sometimes over and over) and was constantly happy about making her bed and the "free" food, plus she really thought it was cool that we could send our laundry out and it would come back clean. I thought it would be best to resolve the problem at the lowest level, so I asked to speak to KP alone and with the TIs permission, used their office. Once I explained the "oddities" that were brought to my attention (I noticed most of them as well), she began to cry and cry hard. Clearly, she was hurt and didn't quite understand what the problem was. I asked questions and here's what she told me: She lived with her paapaw and meemaw, brothers and sister and more kin and would only go into town a few times a year to see a picture show (yes, that's what she called it), to buy supplies and/or get an ice cream for birthdays. She shared a queen bed with 2 sisters most of her life, they did not have a flushing toilet (just an outhouse) and she, no kidding, had never, ever seen a black person in real life. What? In the end, we were both naive as to lifestyles in other parts of our country and when I got back from technical school a year later, I took my 30 days and traveled the USA. I don't know whatever happened to Recruit KP, but I'll bet she made the Air Force her career and retired as a chief.
Thanks for allowing me to share this true story!

Kelly Robertson (ret.), USAFR, First Sergeant

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