Everything changes after I rise from my alien status and graduate to grown-up-personhood, U.S. Army version. I’ll be stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington where I’ll serve the rest of my three year tour of duty.
The process of signing in at Fort Lewis is monotonous and takes hours. The processing center is in a room the size of Connecticut with rows and rows of tables. A tall, lean sergeant with a buzz cut stands at the door bellowing orders.
“Right this way ladies and gents. Keep the line straight and moving and follow the instructions.” He glides over to a big table just inside the door, leans up against it, and points. “This here is table ‘A’ where you sign in. Follow the arrows until you’re done.”
Among the nearly two hundred enlistees, about twenty-five are women. Out of my element, I gravitate toward one of them, hoping for a buffer from the onslaught of testosterone that hangs in the air.
Mid-way through the procession, the sergeant with the buzz cut jumps on a table, cups his hands to his mouth and shouts. “Private Perkins. Private Kathleen Perkins, identify yourself.” All eyes turn to him, and then swing to me as I hold up my trembling hand. The sergeant hops down and approaches me. “Stand here, Private.” He points to a spot between the table and wall. “Master Sergeant MacDonald is on his way. He wants to talk.”
I want to do as I’m told, but my legs refuse to move. Why am I being singled out? What have I done?
“Did you hear me, Private?” My voice colludes with my legs, and no words come from my moving lips.
“At ease, Private. I don’t bite,” a deep, soft voice says. Sergeant MacDonald is the epitome of the career solider: stiff back, standard haircut, and in good shape. His friendly smile tells me he means it. My muscles begin to relax, and my breathing smoothes out. “Word of your college degree has been brought to my attention. Sergeant Burgess here is going to help you expedite this process, and then you’ll report back to me so we can talk about your future here,” he says. “Our soldiers need you in the mental health unit here at Fort Lewis.”
I learn that my degree has turned into a magic wand. And, overnight, it seems my wand has traveled to spread its magic. Madigan Army Medical Center, situated between Fort Lewis and McCord Air Force base, wants me to work in their mental health unit with the soldier’s families. I’m wined and dined by both sides, and the final decision is left up to me. Madigan reigns victorious.
In my head, I hear the theme song from the beginning of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” And then, the ending. “You might just make it after all.”
That’s me, I think, I just might make it. I smile. . .
Army life to be continued. . . Episode #11 Army life on the Pudget Sound