With Jonathan being in the DEP (Delayed Entry Program) for well over half a year now, we’ve had June 4th carved into our memories and hanging over our heads as the ominous date that we will be briefly parted for Navy boot camp. So I was surprised when they informed us about a week before he shipped out that he’s actually required to leave and check into MEPs for shipping the day before, on June 3rd.
The good news? They gave him the option of opting out of leaving with the bus from Visalia (where he was recruited) and he could drive up with me instead! So, for the sake of any other soon-to-be Navy wifes out there, here is a rundown of my experience seeing my future sailor (whom I have taken to calling Seaman Freeman) off to Navy boot camp:
The morning of June 3rd we had to check into the recruiting office in Visalia “around 9am”. When we walked in, we had to wait to talk to Jonathans recruiter for a good hour and a half before they finally called him back. I sat in the lounge area during the meeting, but Jonathan tells me it was just a lot of pep talk and verifying that he is still eligible to ship out. (Apparently anything from a speeding ticket to a harmless rash can make them reschedule your shipping date. I guess they were giving some guy a hard time and threatening to leave him over a peeling sunburn.)
After they released us to go, they told Jonathan to check in sometime between 3 and 4pm at the hotel in San Jose. We meandered our way to San Jose, stopping to visit our good friends the Buckleys and to eat at In and Out Burger on the way. “This may be my last chance for a long time!” < —— (Jonathan between mouthfuls.)
We arrived at the Holiday Inn in San Jose (where MEPs keeps their recruits and shippers) a little after 4pm. The “Freedom Lounge” in the hotel, that is exclusively for the recruits, is so posh that its bordering on ridiculous. Big screen TVs line the walls, hooked up to every kind of game system. Large overstuffed leather sofas are scatted around with glass tables and chrome chairs, along with chess boards, a pool table, and a wall of laptops for people to check Facebook or play online. Meanwhile a military guy pretending to be a teenager practically plays DJ while manning the host desk, playing current music in the low light lounge and artfully and needlessly dropping the F bomb every now and then to show that he’s “with it” and “just like you”.
After checking in, Jonathan was able to leave the hotel (with permission) and stay out till 8:30pm. We went back to my hotel to… ummm.. talk and hang out and… stuff. Then we headed back to the hotel by 7:30pm for dinner.
The shippers and recruits (about 75 people there total, not counting visiting family) received vouchers for free dinner at the hotel restaurant, and I was able to join Jonathan and eat at the buffet for $12.50. The service was awful, but the food was good. They really do wine and dine these guys before sending them off to get their asses kicked in boot camp.
After dinner we checked back into the Freedom Lounge at 8:30pm for the meeting, which I was allowed to sit in on. The I’m-Hip Marine / desk host just repeated himself for 30 minutes, running through general rules, tips and common sense courtesy points. The main point he reiterated was that curfew was at 10pm (meaning you must be in your room and not coming out till morning) and anyone caught with guests upstairs would be sent home, no exceptions. After the meeting, Jonathan and I hung out in the lobby till 9:45pm and I kissed him goodnight and went back to my hotel. Which happened to be a grungy infested cesspit of squalor – but that is a whole different story.
The people at MEPs were divided into two different groups: recruits, who are there to sign up for the military; and shippers, who are leaving for boot camp. The shippers had to get up at 4:30am. Jonathan called me for a chat while he got ready and had a quick breakfast and then he boarded the bus for MEPs at 5:30am.
I headed over to MEPs at 6am, and watched Jonathan exit the bus, line up with a large group, and then get a stern-ish “We’re-The-Military-Mother-F*ckers-Do-Not-Screw-Around-While-Here” talking to, and then enter the building. I was unable to enter the building right away – they didn’t open it up to civilian visitors till 7am. Once they let you in, (they are not overly friendly, btw) they run your junk through a metal detector, exchange your ID for a visitor pass, eye your camera and remind you every five minutes that there is no photography allowed except in the ceremony room for swearing in… and then it was all hurry up and wait.
I sat in the lobby with a ton of other family members of shippers, twiddling my thumbs for the most part. There were no magazines, some Neanderthal changed it to sports on the TV, and my book was in solitary confinement in the car, so I watched anime on Crunchyroll on my phone and trolled Facebook to keep myself entertained.
I did not see Jonathan at all, and he was unable to text, so I watched group after group get called back for swearing in and shipping out from 7am to roughly 11am, when Jonathan was finally released to sit with me in the lobby. We chatted and refrained from making out till they called him back for swearing in at noon.
The ceremony room is a tiny box of a place with flags lining one wall, seals lining another, and horrible lighting. They made a huge point of letting the families know that they could move anywhere in the room and take as many photos as wanted during the ceremony. The shippers were given a loving “You’re-Family-Now” verbal smack on the bum and some inspirational drivel about serving their country – all of which I tried my best to tune out because I did not want a combination of blind Tea-Party-esque patriotism and being on the cusp of losing my love for 9 weeks to make me break down and cry.
After the swearing in ceremony, we were released to go back to the lobby where we cuddled to the verge of PDA for another hour. At 1pm they called for him to line up with a dozen other guys and gals, handed him a package with plane tickets and who knows what else, had him sign a paper, and then gave him a brief minute for goodbye kisses. After a quick kiss-kiss, hug-hug, and pat-pat of Tessa in my belly, he boarded the bus then was off.
Because he chose to bring his cell phone and have it shipped back, he was able to text me on the bus, at the airport, and after landing. When he got into Illinois he talked to me on the phone for a couple of hours, and then went silent at 8:30pm California time. Then at 9:30pm I received the famous “last call” where he let me know that he’d be writing to me this weekend with his expected graduation date, and that I should be expecting to get another call from him in two weeks.
So that’s pretty much it! My husband is a Navy man now, and I am a doting wife left at home, contemplating dressing my cats up in miniature 18th century colonial clothing and having a tea party. Stay tuned?