My Top Ten Navy Boot Camp Lessons (Good, Bad & Ugly…Smelling)

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Navy Boot Camp Inspection, Female Sailors in Dress Uniform at Attention, Illustrating Part of My Top Ten Navy Boot Camp Lessons

My Top Ten Navy Boot Camp Lessons (Good, Bad & Ugly…Smelling)

Not gonna lie, Navy Boot Camp was no picnic. In fact, the initial Recruit Division Commander (RDC) assigned to our training unit was beyond awful. She was so bad, she was removed and replaced about midway through our eight-week training period. That said, I learned many new things in those eight weeks. Here are My Top Ten Navy Boot Camp Lessons (Good, Bad & Ugly…Smelling):


1. Psychological Warfare is Stupid:

As stated in a previous post, “US Navy Boot Camp-Day One: Welcome to RTC Orlando,” we arrived at NTC Orlando by bus long after midnight and were then lined up and herded through a series of rooms where we were issued a variety of uniform gear. We then marched (awkwardly) into a barracks room with no further information beyond, “pick a rack and get to sleep.”

A few short hours later before dawn a group of people crashed into the room banging trash can lids and yelling and screaming, “Get up! Hit the line.” A room full of startled, sleep-deprived women leaped up with no idea where we were, what was happening, or what or where the line was. Chaos ensued until someone finally decided to tell us what was expected of us.

Personally, rather than being cowed into submission, I found the entire episode annoying and a ridiculous way to begin a “training” experience. Unless you want the trainees to view boot camp as some kind of asinine joke.

2. Ditty Bags Are Not Better Than Rifles:

Notebooks and pencils had to be carried everywhere. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Because male recruits carried wooden rifles everywhere, they were directed to carry their pencils and notebooks in their back pockets. Female recruits were required to carry them in little, Navy-blue, vinyl ditty bags. These bags had to be carried with our left elbow bent and fingers wrapped around the end strap, the bag resting along our forearms. In Florida. In summer. By the end of the first week, the bottoms of those bags were nasty with soaked-in sweat and stunk to infinity and beyond. And they were impossible to clean. I would much rather have carried a wooden rifle.

3. Some Contraband is Necessary:

The only thing we were officially allowed to carry in the ditty bag described above was the aforementioned pencil and notebook. Also, they were subject to search at any moment to ensure there was no contraband being hauled around. Imagine the glee, the first time a male RDC stopped a female recruit and opened up her ditty bag only to discover a contraband toothbrush holder. Now, imagine the glee of the recruit when said RDC opened up that toothbrush holder prepared to write the recruit up for an even more terrible offense, only to open it and discover it contained a spare tampon.

4. I Was Raised for Mess Hall Madness:

Mess times were regulated in order to ensure that everyone managed to get through meals within a set amount of time. Unfortunately, if things weren’t moving on schedule, that didn’t mean the schedule shifted. Often it meant that if your unit was last in the door, you might only get a few short minutes to shovel in as much food as possible before having to bus your tray and dash out to form up so as not to be late. Luckily for me, I grew up with four brothers who ate like ravenous wolves, and a father who would remind us (jokingly, I think) before each meal, “He who eats the fastest, gets the mostest.”

5. There is a Reason They Call it the Grinder:

Drilling and marching was done on a huge stretch of blacktop called “the Grinder.” Rain or shine. The only exceptions being the Red Flag days, when the heat and humidity were so extreme as to threaten physical health. Otherwise, we drilled. Or, on the really fun days, were forced to stand at attention for hours, dripping, unable to wipe the sweat from our eyes or swat away the viciously hungry insects that chewed on every square of uncovered skin and had a particular lust for face flesh. Talk about a daily grind.

6. Things Don’t Have to Make Sense aka Don’t Ask Why:

There are a lot of things that don’t make sense in the Navy, especially in Boot Camp. I get that it’s because Boot Camp training is designed to teach recruits to follow orders without question and to learn discipline. You also get to learn new concepts like, “New gear is dirty gear,” so must be washed before worn. Also, the importance of “correctly” folding your skivvies (underwear) left in, right over, bottom up and stacked fold out. (NOTE: I understand that this has changed a bit with the times, but skivvy folding is still very specifically spelled out.)

7. Don’t eat the Chicken Salad:

Chicken Salad Sunday deserves and will have its own post. For now, suffice to say that, when it comes to chicken salad, if it smells bad, it probably is bad.

8. The Navy Has its Own Language:

I didn’t expect to learn a foreign language in Boot Camp, but the Navy has its own words for things. Most Navy terms spring from shipboard service. Not using the proper terminology is akin to blasphemy. Here are a few key words we learned quickly: Overhead (ceiling), deck (floor), bulkhead (wall), starboard (right side), port (left side), berthing compartment (sleeping quarters/barracks), gedunk (snack bar). (See also #6 “skivvies.”) The Navy also tells time differently. Shipboard time is divided into 8-hour increments and measured in bells. Yep. I think I’ll save that for another post, as well.

9. Being Loud Pays:

My singing background and theater training came in handy. I was assigned early on to the Bluejackets Chorus and ultimately rose to the position of Recruit Chief Petty Officer in Charge of the Blue Jacket Chorus. Why me? Well, I used that theater training of mine to sing louder than anyone else and could raise my voice above the entire chorus to shout commands. My job was to call out marching orders to the chorus, marching them on and off the field during performances and to encourage them during practice by shouting, “Sing out, recruits!” (h/t to Gypsy Rose Lee.)

10. The Answer to “What is Scarier Than Being Chased By a Bear?”:

There are few things that will make me run a long distance. In fact, I often tell my youngest daughter, an avid runner, that I don’t understand why anyone would run any real distance unless a bear is chasing them. That said, one of the requirements to graduate Navy Boot was to run 1.5 miles in under 20 minutes. I realize for most people this is not a huge feat, but for me (always a sprinter, never a marathoner), it was a big deal. The only reason I managed it was the threat of having to spend even more time at NTC Orlando Boot Camp.


To Read More About Sharon’s Time in the Navy Click Here

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