CH 04: WELCOME TO BOOT CAMP (AUG – NOV 1980)
Cornwallis, Nova Scotia located off the cold Atlantic Ocean on Canada’s east coast was the location of the military basic recruit training base. It was situated on the southwest end of the province in the Annapolis Valley, along the shores of The Bay of Fundy. The moment the plane landed in the town of Greenwood, Nova Scotia and I stepped into the terminal a young master corporal told us to hurry up and get our gear. As soon as we got outside we were assaulted by a red-faced sergeant swearing and cursing the day we were born. “You sorry looking son of a bitches, what did I do to get stuck with such a useless bunch of degenerates!” he bellowed. “Form up into three ranks, stand to attention, and when I call your name yell sergeant” he yelled. Everyone froze not knowing what to do until the sergeant placed a few bodies into position and told the rest to line up beside them in a straight row. Still it was mass confusion. When role call finished we were shoved onto five buses for the hour drive to the base. “Here we are girls, welcome to C.F.B. (Canadian Forces Base) Cornwallis your home away from home for the next thirteen weeks” the sergeant chuckled as if he said something funny. The line of buses stopped in front of the mess hall and I was unlucky to be on the last one unloaded so I had five minutes to scarf down my food. “Times up ladies, let’s move it, move it, move it” the sergeant berated.
Our next stop was the supply clothing stores. Everyone was weighed and measured to get their three types of uniforms; number ones, work dress, and combat gear. Number ones was the uniform used for fancy affairs, work dress for office and drill, and the combat gear was utilized on the weapons range, obstacle course, gas hut, and when camping. We got headwear, foot wear, and uniforms for all three styles, even two of an item for reasons we didn’t know yet. We also were thrown bedding, a gas mask, tin camping dish set, water canteen, and a duffle bag to carry it all in.
When everyone was finished we were split up into a male and female platoon. “You didn’t think you’d be staying in the same barracks as these lovely ladies did you now?” the sergeant chuckled. We were marched to the female barracks which was the exact same style of structure as my old cadet building; it was an “H” hut. There were so few females that we occupied just a half of one wing. We were surprised to learn that the other half of the building housed guys that were being RTU (returned to unit) because of physical, emotional, or educational failings. Even though the connecting door was locked, outside we could and did easily mingle after the instructors were gone of course. Two scowling corporals split the females up alphabetically into two squadrons one on the main floor and one for the upper floor. Then we were assigned bunk beds, barrack boxes, and lockers. Our corporal called us into the lounge and told us she expected many of us would fail and be kicked out because we couldn’t handle it that she was here to weed out the ones who don’t deserve to be here. She took role call by last name and hesitated when it came to me and asked if Howard was my sister and when I said yes she said Kristen was lazy and couldn’t cut it so she dumped her but my sister got re-coursed and snuck through. The corporal glared at me and promised that she’d make sure that doesn’t happen again that I don’t slip through. I felt the bottom of my stomach churn. If my squadron leader was gunning for me she would make boot camp twice as bad for me and maybe I wouldn’t make it. Sharply she ended the discussion and told us we had ten minutes to get to bed. We all threw our kit into our lockers and slept on top the sheets.
The next morning after breakfast the corporal marched us across the highway to the M.I.R. (military inspection room) at the base hospital to get an array of needles. Afterwards we were marched to the base hairdressers for haircuts. She warned us that the female’s hair was not allowed to touch your collar or if you decided to keep your hair long you’d better put it in an immaculate bun with nary a bobby-pin visible. All of us except for one girl got a short haircut to be safe. We didn’t blame her though because she had beautiful long hair half way down her back and she was determined to keep it. We watched a few of the guys get their hair buzzed to crew cuts with white walls around their ears, poor them! It was the first of many haircut parades to come.
Next both the male and female platoons were marched to the base theatre for a lecture from the base commander. First the colonel welcomed us to the base; then he lectured us about disciplinary rules and regulations on base such as drugs, drunkenness, and fraternization. He stressed about the seriousness of going AWOL (absence without leave) and informed us that no-one would be given leave passes to go off the base until week five. We were promised that the consequences of breaking any of these would result in you being RTU. He ended with the phenomenon of boot camp romances which resulted in shot-gun engagements and marriages.
When we got back to our barracks our corporal showed us the board where our station duties such as cleaning toilets, bathroom sinks and mirrors, the showers, laundry room, lounge, as well as sweeping and mopping which would be posted and changed every week. She also told us that each of us would take turns being assigned the fire picket duty which was empting ashtrays and butt cans and walking in the barracks watching for any fire hazards. We all agreed that it was a stupid unneeded task that was enforced just to add more pressure on us. You had to stay up all night for the shift so you were like a zombie the next day.
The corporal then told us to bring our kit out into the middle of the floor and gave us detailed instructions on how our locker, bed, and uniform was supposed to look for every inspection. She demonstrated how to shine our boots, form our hat, and showed us where the creases were supposed to be in our uniform adding the more starch the better. All the uniforms had to be completely zippered and buttoned up, hanging on the hangers facing the same direction. Underwear, socks, headwear, and footwear had to go on particular shelves in a certain order, at a certain measured distance from the front ledge of the shelf, and a measured space in-between them. The socks were made into boats and underwear folded as per shown. Five inch name labels were to be sewn on all articles of clothing exactly where we were told to. It was so anal! Now we knew why we got two of the same item, one was to keep in pristine condition in your locker for inspections and the other was to actually wear. The steel foot locker at the end of our bunk beds was for our personal clothes and there were only two rules for it. No food or beverages were allowed to be kept in it at any time and as long as it is kept lock the corporal would not go into it. If you leave it open it was fair game for inspection. Of course last but not least was how our beds had to be made. The sheets had to be clean and starched. We were told how to precisely fold and where to place the grey wool and red fire blanket. The corners of the sheets and blankets had to be made with hospital corners at a determined angle that the corporal would actually measure. Even the pillow had to be just so. Our corporal warned us that despite what we may have heard she better see signs that we’ve actually slept in our beds. Still recruits slept on the floor or on top of their barracks box, but I slept on top of my bed pinned in a corner, moving as little as possible.
That night we stayed up helping each other until the sun rose getting everything ready for inspection. I showed them the different ways they could shine their boots, another girl who was good at sewing helped the ones that struggled, and ironing was shared by everyone. Despite our best efforts the corporal tore apart our lockers, threw uniforms on the floor, and even ripped the sheets off of my bed. I knew it was all part of the psychological game but when we heard that the other squadron upstairs passed with flying colors we had to question the fairness and difference in treatment. The other girls acted snobby towards us because their corporal told them that we were a lazy bunch of pigs that never even put in an effort! Every day after the first inspection our corporal just got meaner and more vocal. One day after she tore up our kit as usual we threw it back in our lockers and went to classes prepared to spend the night redoing it. When we entered the barracks we were shocked to see our kit was all over the floor. Many of the girls myself included called home and cried to mommy if you want to put it that way but boot camp was much harder than we thought and extremely exhausting with little to no sleep at all. It was physically and emotionally fatiguing and the other female platoon upstairs didn’t see that because their kit wasn’t torn apart every single day and they didn’t have to go days without sleep.
That was it! We finally cracked and asked for a meeting with the master corporal. We told her of all the things the corporal said and did; and voiced how we weren’t being treated the same as the other squadron. The girls spoke up for me and told her that our corporal had it out for me because of my sister and was the worst with me which I appreciated. We were up all night fixing up our lockers and in the morning instead of our corporal the master corporal walked in to do the inspection. She explained that she was going to be our new squadron leader and that the corporal had gone on leave. The other corporal upstairs was really angry that we got her co-worker and friend in trouble so she bad-mouthed us even more to the girls. We didn’t care at that point, we were just happy the corporal was gone!