“I can do anything for four years”
That’s what I told myself on the plane ride to boot camp. This week I sat down with my LPO, my boss, and started my Navy separation paperwork and realized just how true that statement turned out to be. I can do anything I put my mind to for a set period of time, no matter how hard it gets. Here I am in my final stretch of active duty and I find myself spending a lot of time reflecting on the past few years.
At the beginning of boot camp we were introduced to a Chief who wasn’t trying to be hard on us. He was there to help us study and answer questions we might have about what to expect once we hit the fleet. He told us that while boot camp may be tough, before we knew it we’d be looking back at our career wondering where all the time went. While he probably meant a 20 year career, even at 4 years I can understand exactly what he meant. Where has this enlistment gone!?
I can so vividly remember the first day of boot camp. I was a bit older than the average recruit, but that didn’t mean I was treated any differently at the start. I was yelled at in the airport. I had to give up every personal belonging I had with me (including my undies!) I was paraded around in my smurf uniform with my brand new boots getting blisters on my heels. I was told to walk in circles and stop at the water fountain every lap until I could go in for my “wiz quiz.” I vaguely remember eating. I really remember throwing up (“You’re throwing up blood!”…”No I just had jello!”) I can still fold most of my clothing boot camp style and remember how to write in boot camp font.
In boot camp, just 8 weeks seemed like a lifetime. How was I going to survive that let alone become a functioning Sailor? When graduation rolled around it was unreal to me that I managed to get there.
Reflecting now on everything I’ve done during my enlistment made me realize that even on my worst day in the Navy it was an amazing adventure. Where else would I have been given the opportunities I have had these past few years? I got to ride a camel in Dubai. Heck, I got to go to Dubai! And France. And Spain. And Bahrain. And beautiful Meridian, Mississippi. Ok, that last one is sarcasm, but I did make amazing friends in Mississippi.
And talking about friends, the military is such a small community that in all of my travels I have been able to run into friends from back home when I was halfway across the world. Christmas in Bahrain was a lot less lonely when I got to introduce friends from the ship to friends I knew from home who happened to be stationed there. Now I have this amazing network of friends and coworkers all over, making vacations a lot cheaper when I know they have a couch I can crash on instead of some overpriced hotel!
Oh how I’ve grown in the past three and a half years. Part of why I enlisted was financial stability. Thanks to a wonderful guaranteed paycheck, I was able not only topay off all of my debts, but finally I don’t panic when I think about an emergency happening. I was given the time to set myself up to have a very good future, even if right now I’m a little nervous about what my husband is going to do when he separates from the military himself. I didn’t realize how much of my daily stress was caused by financial struggle, but I know how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to fix my mistakes.
And while I have spent the better part of four years seeing my husband only every six weeks or so, I can even thank the military for making my marriage better. Might sound a little silly that I’m thankful for all the time we spent apart, but it taught me how to be independent and how to appreciate the little things that other people take for granted. I may not have done that as easily if I saw my husband every day.
So as my time in the Navy gets shorter, and it’s almost time tot say goodbye to military life. I guess I just want to tell people that no matter how hard or how challenging a situation might seem and no matter how frustrating the new duty station seems to be or how much you dread yet another separation from your spouse, just know that one day you’ll look back and be able to see the humor in the rough moments. And more than anything, you’ll be proud of yourself for all that you accomplished when you didn’t think you had it in you.