Get comfortable and have a read about how the US Military changed my life…
Flash back to the early 1970’s… this was when the Universe deemed that I needed a Personal Challenge
The local private Hospital where I had been working and enrolled in a two year Respiratory Therapy and ER Tech. training program, decided to go through a downsize.
I clocked in for my shift one morning and by the end of my eight hours, I was one of the employees to get the dreaded Pink Slip.
I was two years out of high school… a breath away from completing all of my studies in the internship at the Hospital… but along with 50 other people, found myself without a job.
We all stood there looking at each other at the end of the day … and knew that now we were all going to be out looking for the same thing.
Needless to say the job openings at other area hospitals evaporated in record time.
What to do?
I drove my old Ford Farlane back to my closet size appartment…sat down in my favorite beanbag chair and listened to one of my Beatle albums. This was one of my ways I found I could think…I needed to figure out my options.
Back in those days … all the fast food joints were just starting their foothold on society… but I never ate fast food in the first place and could not even imagine working in one…don’t take me wrong, I feel it is a noble and reliable profession… many of our children got a jump start on life putting in hours behind the counter at the Golden Arches. I just knew I wasn’t cut out to be in the fast food service industry.
Then I thought about retail clothing sales… but for the past two years I had been surviving on $2.18 an hour, so I never had any money to shop.
When you spend most of your waking hours in a white uniform or scrubs…I wasn’t too much in the “know” on the latest fashion.
I did finally find a medical data entry position but quit after 3 days… like to drive me nuts, I had to sit in this football field size room with all of these cubes of people and a sea of faces.
There had to be something out there for me … but it looked like it was off to the unemployment line.
Well here was a new experience for me…I had never had to seek out this form of survival… but here I was, back in a sea of faces…it was the most overwhelming and depressing thing I have ever experienced to this day.
It felt sur-real and it seemed like everythng was moving in slow motion, until I realized that it wasn’t slow motion…it was a standstill of human life and the only way through it was to “Take A Number”.
I remember my number was #54 and they were just calling #12.
I took a deep breath and reflected on a favorite saying of my Grand Mother’s…“When all looks bleak…have a cup of coffee”…
I spied a tired, sputtering percolator and silently gave thanks. I turned and made my way down the hall…now remember…back then it was legal to smoke in public buildings and it’s a well known fact that in stressful situations people drink twice as much coffee and smoke five times as many cigarettes…I think you can grab a visual on the scene I walked up to around the coffee pot.
Having garnered the coveted styro-cup of really bad Joe…I found a folding chair about a block back down the hall. It was actually nicer down there, as I looked around I realized I was by the county offices and the branches of Military Recruiting Stations.
Settling in for the “sit”… I took a sip of my scalding, bad coffee and looked up to a wall of Recruiting Posters that told me to… “Be All You Can Be” , and We Want You!
The weight of the world was on my shoulders (I felt)… but I had nothing else to do so I sat there and read every one of them and was drawn right into the smiling faces!
The great part was that all of these smiling faces were telling me that my future was in this direction and they would PAY me!
I got up… gave my number to a guy sitting beside me and walked over and preceeded to take the exams for all the branches of our US Military.
For the next five hours I took the steps to become a government employee and stepped into My Personal Challenge.
It turned out after all of the scoring (I passed every exam), that the Woman’s Army Corp was going to pay me the most for my medical experience and I would be enlisted as a Specialist 4 instead of a Private… in the blink of an eye, all by myself, no fanfare, no friends or family around, I became the property of the US Gov. and was leaving in one week to join up with the 82nd Field Hospital Division, a main Army Medical Unit that was dealing with all the injured soldiers coming back from the jungles from a faraway tiny Asian country.
The Viet Nam Conflict was still raging away and my basic training was cut from six weeks to two weeks. Our injured Warriors were coming back to the US in monstrous waves and I was quickly assigned to a tour of rotation between several Military Hospitals….living out of a duffel bag, I dove head first into another sea of faces. These faces were much different though.
I have to say that I was humbled everyday walking through the wards of recovering soldiers…cleaning unspeakable wounds, changing bandages, giving fresh sheets, treating these men as full human beings, even though a nighmare percent of their bodies were missing.
The look of relief by just helping a guy sit up for the first time or helping someone take their first step is enblazened in my memory.
These men had been sent back home with burned, broken and disfigured bodies, but the unflinching determination, pride and loyality to their country and to their buddies still over in the jungles… out weighed anything that had been done to their bodies or minds.
It was always so amazing that many of these guys were mad at themselves for being injured and just wanted to get back with their company and complete the misson.
This missive is not about being pro-war, it became for me… pro-country.
I marvel at how the Universe does it’s work…I guess it wanted to show me that if I was going to cry that I had no shoes… it was going to show me those who had no feet.
I often wonder whatever happened to many of those guys that would sit every day and wait for me to read the eveing paper.
God Bless Our Troops.
…and yes that is really my hat in the picture!
Written for the Mesquite Local News
A young woman’s life in the 70’s, unemployed, a twist of fate…or was it?