“You ladies better be planning on changing out of those shorts before you come over here,” I hear as I trudge across the parking lot in my khaki shorts in the 99 degree Alabama mid-day heat dragging the two largest suitcases I own behind me. Great. They expect me to wear long pants as well as the horrible slicked-back bun that is so tight I have a headache already. My two girlfriends from dental school who I have traveled with from the pleasantly cool North, take cover behind the surrounding cars and change into long pants. We begin toward the pavilion again. As we approach I see a gathering of people around a water cooler. I am instructed to place my luggage on one of the picnic tables and get a drink myself when I am done. Ok, easy enough, except the tables are in the middle of a gravel pit which render my 360 degree capable Macy’s suitcase wheels useless. My friends are struggling just as much as me and each girl is the size of one of my arms, so when I finally get my bags into place I begin helping them. “Do NOT help them and get over here now!” says the man with the flat brimmed hat that will soon become the object to cause an instantaneous raise in my blood pressure. Ok. I guess it is time to get a sip of water. I whisper “sorry” to my friends and join the water cooler crowd. I didn’t see my friends again for a week.
A few moments passed and the man with the flat brimmed hat walked over and asked nicely if we have all had enough to drink. “Good. Now line up on the line. NOW!” What followed were brief instructions on how to, what I would later learn was called, stand at attention. “Legs together! Feet at a 45 degree angle! I want to fit fit a pizza slice between! Hands cupped at your seams! I don’t want to see your thumbs! Tuck in those thumbs! Shoulders back! Chin up! Don’t look at me!” Whoa, what have I signed up for? The vein on his beat red forehead is seriously threatening to burst. This is like the movies. I hate those movies. Next thing I know I am corralled into what seems like the never-ending maze of lines where I am asked to recite my name and memorize a room and building number as well as something that sounded like the name Oscar. My plan was to keep following the person in front of me and stay out of trouble. I heard a girl crying somewhere behind me that sounded like my friend. “What are you crying about?!” I cringe and hope it is not her as the person in front of me leads me out into a hallway. Crap! There are two lines now. What one am I in supposed to be in, I wonder frantically. The blending-in plan has abruptly failed. I have to ask. Before I can, a guy three people up asks the man in uniform what line he is supposed to be in. “You better address me as Sir when you talk to me!” Note to self, use Sir like the movies. My confidence comes back up so I ask the soldier to help me find which line I am supposed to be in. I reply with “Sir, yes Sir.” He whips back around and puts his hot breath next to my ear, “Did you just give me a Sir Sandwich? This is not the Marines! This is the Air Force!”
This continued for five very long weeks. In those five weeks I spent many nights crying to my husband on the phone. He was my rock at home encouraging me to keep going. My family sent me letters with bible verses and photos of them enjoying summer that I hung near my bed. God granted me with a psychologist roommate who had a TI, or as I knew them, the men with the flat rimmed hats, for a father. She assured me that these people were actually nice and this was not what working in the Air Force as a dentist would be like. I learned great leadership skills and problem solving skills on the obstacle courses. I learned that if this is what officer training for the medical and legal staff, I have so much respect for the enlisted force that have to undergo the real boot camp for twelve weeks. I learned that this may really be what it takes to create the strongest military force and I am proud to serve with them and as their dentist.
Kathryn and husband Keith live in Georgia with their two dogs. Kathryn received her BA from Michigan State and studied Dentistry at the University of Pittsburgh. She is an Air Force Captain and currently works as a dentist at Moody Air Force Base.