MEPS (Day 2: Physical)

Before I left for MEPS, my recruiter told me to make sure to dress professionally, “like you would for a job interview" on the day they interview me. "Like you are now,” he added. I looked down at my jeans and oversized sweatshirt, and wondered what sort of job interviews he had been to.

So, unsure if I should wear dress pants and a blouse, or just nice jeans and a polo shirt, I took a risk on the comfortable side that morning at MEPS. Luckily, everyone else was dressed casually too. There were only a couple people who looked like they were actually ready for a job interview. I think by the end of the afternoon, they were ready to stab somebody with their heels, though. Lesson learned: “Professional” in the MEPS world = pants without rips + shirts without drug references or cuss words.

The first thing we did our second day at MEPS, after we went through security and checked in, was get name tags and head over to the medical side of MEPS. We checked into the desk there and lined up outside of a small room where one by one, we went in and they took our blood pressure, looked in our ears, nose, etc. All the regular things they do at a doctor’s checkup.

Then they sent us over to a different little room where one by one, we went in and had our vision checked like you do at the eye doctor’s. They also checked us for color blindness. Then they sent us over to the hearing check, where we each sat in a curtained stall, put on headphones, and pressed a button every time we heard a beep. By the end of it, you are imagining beeps everywhere, even after you take the headphones off.

After the hearing test, we were all gathered into a classroom where we did what we have been trained to do best: paperwork. So much paperwork. They went through a Powerpoint presentation about how if you get caught lying about any part of your medical history, you will get kicked out of the military. They made sure that we knew once we signed these papers, we took full responsibility for any lies our recruiters told us to tell, and the recruiter basically washes his hands of it. They told us to report if any of our recruiters encouraged us to lie, because apparently that is a common thing, which is sad.

Immediately after getting that spiel, a lady took my paperwork to double check everything and called me up in front of everyone. “You never mentioned a broken arm when you were 7,” she said with an excited gleam in her eye, at having already caught someone in a lie. Honestly, that is not something I was trying to hide, and I don’t think it would even be worth hiding. If it wasn’t on my previous paperwork, it must have slipped my mind… as it was 15 YEARS AGO!

But instead of saying that, for some reason I said, “Okay, so now what do we do?” She said she was going to tell her boss about it. I watched her walk out and tell a man about my paperwork discrepancy. He looked at me for a long minute and then said, “Let her go.” My heart dropped as the woman skipped back into the room gleefully, and then suddenly turned back and clarified, “Wait, what do you mean?”

The whole classroom was holding their breath, like you do when you are about to witness a terrible accident or something. The man said, “Let her go through with the process. It was more than 12 years ago.” With that, the lady handed me back my papers without a word and moved on to the next person. I was the only one who had such a close call with death at that point.

After all the paperwork, we had to get our blood drawn. Then we gave our urine samples. That same lady had to sit outside my bathroom stall, with the door open, and watch me collect my urine sample, which was a little weird. But I am used to doing my business with the door open (much to my family's annoyance back home), so I took the opportunity to make small talk with her. She was more uncomfortable than me about it. I guess I kind of enjoyed making her squirm.

There is a window that opens up into the bathroom, like a McDonald’s drive-thru window, where we lined up to give a soldier our urine samples so he could analyze them for glucose levels and other things. When it got to be my turn, the results were unclear. If the test strip turns blue, there is no problem, but if it turns green, you have too much glucose in your urine and might have diabetes or something. (It was my roommate’s 4th time coming back to MEPS because of this test, even though she didn’t have diabetes.) My test strip was a sort of bluish greenish color. The man called over the lady for a second opinion. After going back and forth a few times, the lady finally looked at me and said, “I think it’s more blue.” So that was that. -phewf-

Then it was time for our physical exams, or as some call it, the Underwear Olympics. All the girls went into this cold, tile room and stripped down to our underwear. They put on a video like a workout video that we had to do, that had things like the “duck walk” and “windmills”. A male doctor came in and had to watch us do it. You have to be in your underwear so that he can see your shoulder blades and joints, to make sure you have full range of motion and stuff. But any time the male doctor had to see us, there had to be the woman present to supervise him, so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.

After our group physical, we each had a private physical with the doctor (and the lady supervising us) where he had to check us out without even our underwear on. They give you a little hospital gown, but you have to take it off so he can feel your breasts for lumps. Then you put your legs up in these stirrups that makes you feel like you’re having a baby, but he just gives your lady parts a quick peek, and no babies come out. No tools or anything go in, either. People say it’s not as bad as it sounds. But I’m here to tell you it is exactly as bad as it sounds. No better, no worse. The good news is, it is over pretty quickly.

After the worst part was over, we all lined up again and went in for our exit interviews. This is the part where the doctor goes over your paperwork with you one last time and signs everything for you to give the front desk. By this point in the day, I had become very close with all the other girls. Apparently there's something about being humiliated together in your underwear and comparing pee samples that really breaks the ice in a relationship. We were sad to see each other go, but we promised keep in touch.

My exit interview went smoothly until the doctor realized I still needed to get my blood pressure taken. (It was too high when I first came in, so they said they’d wait until I was more relaxed.) So I had to go out and wait another hour or something for somebody to take my blood pressure. By this time, I was so hungry and tired, I just wanted to get out of there. I hadn’t slept in 2 days, and I hadn’t eaten since 5am. Now it was almost 3pm. (Or I guess I should say, 1500 hours.)

The front desk finally took my papers and said, “Congratulations, you passed your physical. Go to the Army office and they will get your sworn in.” The words everyone dreams of hearing, and only about half the people in my group got to hear. (I don’t know if anybody got disqualified that day, but many people had to have their processing delayed, for one reason or another.)

I went to the Army office and they had me go over some paperwork with a job counselor so he could submit my security clearance I need for my job before I could be sworn in. After everything I’d been through, it was a small paperwork error that kept me from being sworn in. My recruiter back home had misunderstood a question about foreign contacts, so we had put I didn’t have any, while in reality, I have tons. (He had thought the only contacts that counted were family or romantic partners, but in fact it includes even friends and acquaintances.) It's a good thing I double checked the meaning of the question with the counselor, but I couldn’t possibly fill out all my foreign contacts’ information (everything from birth places to employers' addresses) in the amount of time I had left before my shuttle was leaving.

So I joined the group of disappointed civilians that were not yet soldiers after having the longest day of their lives. The hardest part about the whole thing was all the waiting. Waiting is not my forte. And now I have to wait until next week when I can make the trip back up to MEPS and try again. Thankfully, I can just continue where I left off. So-

To be continued…


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