Kilroy Joins the Army – Part I – Reception


My friend and fellow Not Operator author, Kilroy, said he was joining the US Army last year. We realized that his experiences would make for an interesting read, especially when there are so few online writings about what it is like, emotionally and physically, to experience modern basic training and beyond. He agreed to keep a journal of his time, and that we would publish it to Not Operator.

Kilroy tends to write his personal journals with pretty purple prose, so with his permission, I’ll be editing and paraphrasing his journal a bit to make it an easier read, with the help of my other friend and fellow Not Operator author, Michael. I’ll also be adding comments of my own in bold brackets [like this] to provide some extra context when necessary. If there’s large enough demand for it, we will post the full, unedited, version of Kilroy’s journal. To avoid making Kilroy’s experiences one giant wall-o-text, the journal will be broken up into an ongoing series of articles where it makes sense to do so. Plus, with Kilroy still in the Army, the journal is far from complete.

All entries in the Kilroy Joins the Army Series can be found here.

Without further ado, welcome to Kilroy Joins the Army – Part I – Reception.


Day 1:

I’m at MEPS today in Los Angeles, and I’ll be shipping out tomorrow. [MEPS stands for Military Entrance Processing Station, where all the US military branches evaluate and process new recruits]. Finding people who can provide decent conversation is a challenge. While there are many capable people joining the military, it’s not exactly a huge draw to academic-types. [As noted below, Kilroy has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology (with a Minor in Computer Science)].

They are having us undergo a medical inspection followed by swearing-in. On the one hand, I’m excited about the future and how having new experiences in the Army will change my life. On the other hand, I’m feeling some nagging self-doubt and the desire to forget all of this and try my hand at being a full-time writer. Hopefully this feeling passes quickly, but I get the sense it might bug me for a while.

Day 2:

The morning is moving quickly. I’ve been put in charge of a group of eight people, and I’m responsible for getting them safely from Los Angeles to Ft. Jackson, SC. The only reason for this is the fact that I’m coming in at a higher grade than the majority of the new recruits. With a college degree already completed, I joined up as an E-4 (Specialist) as opposed to the typical entry-level grade of E-1 (Private).

Even in a minor leadership role, the shortcomings in the Army’s logistics are painfully clear, and dealing with these new recruits is like herding cats. Luckily one in the group has turned out to be a good second-in-command and has made it easier to manage everyone.

Though this is not a test of fire and blood, the amount of sitting and standing around eats away at our psyches, providing a glimpse of what difficulties we’ll most likely face. Luckily, morale in the group is still high, though everyone seems to be fairly nervous as well.

We have a flight that will take up the entire afternoon, and with the time changes from the west coast to the east, we’ll be well into nighttime upon landing. I don’t expect to be able to get much sleep on the plane. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be allowed to sleep when we arrive, though knowing the Army, I doubt it.

Our flight arrived just before 19:00 (7:00 PM) and there is no sign that we will be allowed any rest. South Carolina feels somewhat like home – but instead of the dry desert heat it is hot and humid in a way that clings to your skin. [Kilroy is from inland Southern California].

In the meanwhile, daylight has arrived, and we’ve gone the entire night without any sleep; our time having been spent sitting around waiting to be issued gear. Of course our issued clothing is made by Federal Prison Industries, Inc.

Day 3:

I’m still in Reception. They still have yet to shave our heads, but they’ll be taking our hair from us soon enough. So far in what feels like one long night, I’ve been issued towels, gym uniforms, socks, gloves, and a canteen. We keep all our stuff in an olive drab canvas bag that’s unmarked other than the “US” written on the side of it. I’m glad I remembered to pack shower shoes, I can’t imagine what might be living on the floors of the communal showers.

They allowed us one hour of sleep for the entire night since we’ve arrived. [Note, he hadn’t slept since the night before leaving MEPS]. The lack of sleep is getting to me, leaving me in an  exhausted, half-dreaming, state. During the long night we lost one of our compatriots to Army bureaucracy. Poor logistics have made it such that he has arrived into our company alone, despite being part of an entirely separate platoon that was supposed to arrive with him. We’ve affectionately dubbed him, “Team One”.

Next up for us are vaccinations and food supposedly, though I’m not too optimistic about the quality or taste of the food.

The lack of sleep so far is leaving me drained. I’m finding it hard to focus, and this Army thing is seeming far less appealing. I’ve been up for three hours since they allowed us that short hour of sleep, but it feels like I’ve been awake for a week. The lack of sleep is something the recruiters never tell you about or prepare you for. Commands are issued to us in what they refer to as the ‘command voice’ – loud and poorly enunciated speeches that draw out into a ‘command drone’, which causes the details of our orders to go in one ear and right out the other. The worst part is that this isn’t even Basic Training yet, just Reception.

They herd us around like cattle and treat us like idiots, while still expecting us to remember and comprehend everything we are ordered to do, despite our lack of sleep. I suppose they’re approaching it in a ‘lowest common denominator’ sense, which, given the typical person here, is not the worst of choices. It’s still aggravating and patronizing to me though. Again, I feel like emphasizing that this is just Reception; I have to imagine it’ll be worse when we get to Basic Training.

I’ve already gotten a sense of the Army’s institutional inertia. They’ve forced us to buy everything from new running shoes to socks and towels, which are all considered ‘standard issue’. These purchases are mandatory, so it doesn’t matter whether or not you already have perfectly serviceable running shoes or socks or whatever. The worst part of this is that the source of these funds is an advance on your first paycheck, so we’re all spending money we haven’t even received yet. This, along with the lack of sleep, has dropped morale significantly. No one is in a good mood; we’re just a bunch of tired and annoyed new recruits.

Meal time in the dining facility [called the DFAC, which is just a fancy name for a cafeteria] is controlled chaos, sending us through a gauntlet of people yelling instructions at us, with the NCOs [non-commissioned officers] staring everyone down, ready to yell even more at anyone who makes the slightest move out of line. The drill sergeants are fond of making examples of people.

Final medical inspection came across as an exercise in nepotism, oversight, and an appeal to the lowest common denominator. I entered the Army with a number of ratings on my physical profile requiring waivers [the ratings are scores of physical ability the military uses, certain jobs require certain scores or higher in relevant categories (scores range from 1-4)], but in the presence of the medical processing staff, those requirements were tossed aside and instead I was rated as “supremely acceptable.” [Kilroy went through a difficult process entering the Army. He had to get waivers for his sight (he wears glasses), as well as for his naturally above average blood pressure. Every step of the way  since then has become a hassle as a result of having to provide medical staff with his waivers].


This ends Kilroy Joins the Army – Part I – Reception, next time we’ll pick up where we left off, as Kilroy finishes up Reception and heads into Army Basic Training. Stay tuned for Kilroy Joins the Army – Part II – Reception.