Boot Camp and More…

I have officially not made a post in a long time! Couple months, I do believe! Well much has happened since I last wrote! So much in fact, I cannot fathom trying to write it all out! But I will try…

My last post was on the crazy haphazard adventures of James and Me in Japan! What a time that was! Upon returning from that vacation, I had two fleeting weeks to get ready for the event in my life that will be remembered as “the most fun I never want to have again!”… commissioned officer training (COT). This was a 5-week long intensive experience which I had to attend to fulfill the requirements of my scholarship program in the military, taking place at the hottest place on the planet at the hottest time in the year: July in Montgomery, AL. The worst part about it was that I had to be away from my dear hubby. 😦

I remember departing at the crack of dawn that Monday morning, intestines complaining to me, no, eating me from the insides due James’ and my very late date-night at the marvelous Mongolian BBQ. Because we ate so late, I was starved and then overate and then topped it all off with the biggest brownie sundae EVER, a result of good intentions to grab a quality meal before eating nonstop cafeteria food and the notorious system stopping MREs (“meals ready to eat”) for the ensuing 5 weeks.

Trying to get in as much quality time together 'fore the morn! (see the lil firefly up in the left corner!)

Trying to get in as much quality time together ‘fore the morn! (see the lil firefly up in the left corner!)

I had spent the entire day Sunday packing and that was after I thought I already had everything together! So we hustled to the car, to the airport, and I hugged my hubby goodbye a dozen times. I remember the intense fear of leaving him and how I looked back after passing through security to get one final wave, and then…he was gone. I just lost it – reduced to sobbing tears at the observance of his disappearance, it was almost unbearable. Alone in the terminal, I forced myself to collect strength has I headed for my departing plane. “I’m so blessed” I remember telling myself, “I need to remember that!”

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The trip was awkward and suspenseful. I knew the girl who was riding with me on the first leg of the journey – but we were not close – in the plane seating nor as fellow classmates. I did say hello to her as I headed for my seat, a few rows past hers. We talked during our layover, commiserating over the trials of preparing for COT. What were we supposed to bring? Or wear on our first day – the website said professional-comfortable?? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

In the back of my mind, I kept thinking there was something important that I didn’t pack, a little bit of paranoia, perhaps, setting in. Soon it was time to embark on our second and final leg of the journey. As we boarded, it became apparent that there were seemingly tons of fellow future COT classmates on this plane. The awkwardness continued as different people started striking up conversations about the Air Force and medical school/dental school and COT. I chose, instead of attempting to meet people, to sleep through the hour long plane ride.

At our destination, I started opening up and tried meeting and conversing with the crowd of maybe 30 or so other future COT attendees, waiting together for the shuttle bus to arrive. I didn’t want to take the shuttle bus yet, since I had been encouraged to not arrive too early, but I didn’t see any feasible alternatives! So we all boarded the bus not too long after our plane had landed. The girls sort of formed up, and sat and talked near one another on the bus. One girl was a dentist, another an ophthalmologist, one had just gotten married. We chatted away and giggling about what we were about to encounter immediately upon entering the training grounds. Don’t smile, they’ll eat you alive! Make sure you have your shirt tucked in! No sunglasses – better put those away…

Bus ride in... both excited and nervous!

Bus ride in… both excited and nervous!

We pulled up by this outdoor auditorium-type thing. The bus driver helped us unload our bags and then we approached this daunting gathering area where we could see there were these uniformed men in stiff black hats and very angry faces waiting for us, some manning a table in front of what looked like fellow future COT classmates standing stiffly with their feet, hands and heads, all in the same positions in this very disciplined line. There was a sign at the start of the side walk which some people later got yelled at for not reading – I think the group I was with looked at it for a second before proceeding down the sidewalk towards what was sure to be our doom. I eyed the man coming towards us, with the most unfriendly face I had ever seen.

“ON THE COUNT OF 10, I WANT TO SEE THOSE SHIRTS AND SHOE LACES TUCKED IN!” he belted at us ferociously.

He started quickly counting down as we frantically tried to shove shoe laces into shoes and shirts into pants as fast as we possibly could. It took me about 5 seconds – I was feeling pretty satisfied until the next thing out of his mouth was “STRIPES YOU BETTER GET THAT HAIR UP IN A PONY TAIL!!!” I quickly discovered “stripes” was a reference to me, since I was wearing a striped shirt. Great, so that’s my name for the day?

“NOW, STAND AT THE POSSITION OF ATTENTION!”

Thinking maybe it was something like marching band, I snapped my feet together and stood with a straight back and head, arms to my side. “FEET AT 45!” he added. What does that mean? “AND CUP THOSE HANDS!!!” Cup my hands?

The bereavement continued. First, we signed in and paid a registration fee, with every step of the process entailing a very specific set of instructions and swarm of insults if followed incorrectly. We had a short demonstration of how to march and pivot, standing directly under the Alabama noon-time sun. I was instantly, totally drenched. I think it took a couple more rounds of the instructors yelling at the group or singling out individuals before I finally understood that 45 was the number of degrees they wanted my feet to be at relative to each other and that cupping meant closing your hand into a fist. In line to register, I was singled out, this time to learn that I needed to swing my arm with my opposite leg as I marched, a task which was second nature only just moments before I stepped onto this campus!

Next, we were giving our dorm keys – there were 5 or so people in front of me getting screamed at for addressing the instructors incorrectly, fidgeting or scratching, not toeing the line perfectly with their “feet at 45,” or not looking perfectly straight ahead, I think I can speak for everyone in saying we were all walking on pins and needles. But when I got up to the line, I nailed the verbiage, remembering to say “Sir” before everything:

“What’s your name?” he said sternly.

“Sir, Bier,” I responded, looking straight ahead, but feeling very awkward doing so.

“How do you spell that?”

“Sir, B – I –E – R.”

I said it right! YAY! I thought I had just victoriously escaped his terrible furry as rambled off instructions and pointed me towards the next station, but as I turned to go I felt my ego crumble to the floor. “HEY!?! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!” the instructor’s voice returned to its glass shattering shrieking level. “I HAVEN’T EVEN GIVEN YOU YOUR ROOM KEY YET AND YOU ARE ALREADY LEAVING IT PLACES! HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO TRUST YOU WITH IT NOW WHEN I KNOW HOW IRRESPONSIBLE YOU ARE?!!” I was flabbergasted, I was positive that among the items he had handed me was the room key yet clearly he had not given it to me. As he screamed and belittled me, I just wanted it to be over, I didn’t know what to do! But he didn’t spend long on me, and soon I was moving on, thankfully – because I almost started to cry!

But at the next station, I did much better! We were given our handbooks, which we were to carry with us always for the next 5 weeks. Along with the handbook, they gave us a lesson on “standardization.” About 5 of us were standing there, holding our newly procured books, stiffly at this new position we learned was called attention. First, our instructions were to write our names in the books with a pen that was placed in a row in front of us on a table. Second, after we had already picked up the pen to use them, we were told we had 5 seconds to put them back exactly as they had been before. As we scrambled to place the pens down and make them look the same, I saw that the girl next to me left her pen “clicked open,” so I instinctively reached over to fix it. This time, I stood out in a good way, and the instructor pointed it out, saying that one of our jobs for the next 5 weeks was to look out for our wingman. Looking back, I’m not surprised at how I decided to become the flight’s Standardization Officer!

For rest of the day, the sun kept blazing down on us, and we had a few more hoops to jump through before we could retreat to our dorms. I was so thankful when finally I could collapse on my bed – it was only 4 o’clock but it felt like the day had already been endless. We had nothing scheduled for the rest of the day except for a short meeting with our squadron commander. When I found out my roommate was Tia – a girl I was pretty good friends with from my school – I was ecstatic!

The ensuing weeks were a trial of sleep deprivation and stress from different angles. Our flight of 15 student doctors, one real doctor, 3 dentists, and one chaplain were scored weekly on “professionalism” which really mean properly phrasing things, saluting, and “warrior knowledge”/handbook knowledge, academics, based on three written tests which we had to pass, athletics, and we were constantly evaluated on individual leadership. We got a range of 4-5 hours of sleep on week days and Saturday night I usually got to catch up with about 7-8. Sitting in the huge lecture hall for hours on end was the worst – you knew you had it bad when you go to stand in the back of it to stay awake and yet still were falling asleep. Trying to take notes resulted in indecipherable scribbles up and down the page. I actually had a dream about trying to stay away while being pulled under a dark blanket of irresistible sleep!

Studying all day Saturday the weekend before one of our tests

Studying all day Saturday the weekend before one of our tests

Graduation day finally drew near, I was getting more emotional with each passing day. Finally it was graduation time and James was pulling onto the COT campus. Our flight was just about to have a small award ceremony as I dashed out the door in my Service Dress, phone in hand (a privilege saved just for that last week). I was looking up from it when suddenly I saw him rounding the corner and was overwhelmed with joy – SO HAPPY!!!! I was in his arms again – and totally breaking my “bearing” as I sobbed into his chest-I just missed him so much! We even exchanged a couple kisses which may or may not have been noticed by the Major standing near the door as we passed by to get to my flight room. The ceremony was beautiful, our flight commander said some lovely parting words, and even shed maybe a tear or two himself, which of course made me want to cry more, but I held it back! Next was the graduation parade and then we were off! Celebrating freedom!

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We made some fun pit stops along the way, stopping at Lookout Mountain, TN, to go ahead and look out over the mountain 😉 and then a bit down the road for some tasty ice cream and finally stopped for sushi for dinner – a meal I very much missed at COT!

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The next day we awoke early to go for a liberating journey kayaking down the Cumberland River, and because the water was kind of low and murky – we went for a dip afterwards in the Cumberland pool, where the sun came out making for a beautiful day! Finally we headed north and for our last stop we went to the famous Hofbrauhaus near Cincinnati, making sure to taste their bretzln, kase, and of course some bier, and walking along the Purple People Bridge to enjoy some city-scape sunset.

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The subsequent week flew by as I was now preparing for medical school to start back up and my big move into a new, mostly unfurnished apartment for the year. One solid week with my hubby and it was back to long distance relationshiping! The start of school hit me hard-I felt out of sink and it didn’t take long for me to feel burnt out all over again. But as the first round of tests blow by, I am again finding a study grove, and involving myself on campus and with fellow classmates a bit more than I was last year since I have much more free time in my schedule. Stressing over board exams (coming up in the spring) has already sprouted, but has also already taken a bit of a back seat as the tests I am taking now take priority! I got my belay certification at the rock climbing wall here on campus, and am in the OMM honors group so I get to help first year students develop their manipulation skills, which is awesome! I am also hoping to do a fun crazy wilderness medicine thing soon.

new bedroom before...

new bedroom before…

...after!

…and after!

James and I had our glorious 1 year anniversary and celebrated it by going on a fun wild camping and white water rafting trip down the Youghiogheny River of Ohiopyle, PA. Then we celebrated again by defrosting our cake from our wedding – which was preserved quite well – bringing back wonderful glorious memories and to top it all off, my bestest friend got engaged!!!!!! Simply dying of excitement!

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Recently, I was blessed to see a baby be born – the most miraculous thing I’ve ever witnessed!! Being just a student at my community clinical “experience,” I didn’t participate at all except to get asked questions about the umbilical cord that I got all wrong – oy, but oh my, what a thing to behold and everything went so smoothly – a new baby boy was born to the world, less than one week ago!

I’ve been studying neurology since starting school back up a month and a half ago, and of course that means I’ve been self-diagnosed with a dozen neurologic disorders by now. I think I have always had some kind of cerebellar issue because I am terribly uncoordinated!!! However, my difficulty speaking or coming up with the correct words when speaking may indicate a broca’s aphasia… More importantly, I may also have hippocampal problems, because I feel like I don’t have a long term semantic memory haha, oy.

Well I’m signing out now, I suppose I need to get back to the real world, but there, that was a short summary of the adventures I’ve had since my last blog, and I am already mourning the beautiful things I have left out! Like my brief trip to St. Joseph, MI, one of my favorite former homes and the home/gathering place of dear friends,

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…My brother’s graduation and crazy parties that ensued!

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…Slumber party/game night with my lil sis, yoga with my olda sis and Jillian Michaels (“get comfortable with BEING UNcomfortable!”), my and mammaw’s birthday gathering at my parent’s place where they made margaritas!!!!

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Not to mention at least a handful of golden stories from the long grueling and get fun and exciting days of COT! Of course then there is the hilarious tale to my best friend’s not-surprised-surprised engagement!

IMG_2989Well anyway, I did my best,… tschuss until next time!

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