Lottie joins the Navy: Finding my place in a Soldier’s world

Looking for the chance to "get paid to learn something," Lottie enlisted in the Navy. Now she passes what she learned on to you.

“Patriotism” is a buzzword to me. It’s like “Hallmark Christmas Movies”; sentimental, bland, and a perfect vehicle to manipulate people into buying or believing something—if only for a little while. And, I cry every time.

It wasn’t patriotism that propelled me to sign on the dotted line in 1981. It was hope, desperation, frustration, and regret that pushed me out of my old life into my new one. I woke up one morning in July  and found myself at age 31, with a 6-year-old son, an artist husband tearing his hands up in a factory, and a rattle-trap pick-up named “Bluto.” I longed to return to college but had no money.

One night, we had a chat at the kitchen table about our future.   

I said: I need to get paid to learn something, and then get paid more because I know it. I have half a notion to join the Navy!

He said: “Can’t, you’re too old, and besides, you won’t like it in the ‘Jaws of the Dragon’” (meaning regimented, cog-in-a-wheel life—and getting up very early).

He knew me—or at least, what we thought was me.

The next day, I enlisted. The Navy appealed to me because I would be less likely to encounter an idiot behind me carrying a gun. I scored a respectable 186 on their silly ASVAB test and was in the Delayed Entry Program with a Guaranteed School. DEP allowed me 3 months to gain 10 pounds, since I only weighed 105. I ran two miles a day without getting out of breath. I had worked hard to lose my “baby fat.”

I spent time with my son and husband, soaking up their sweetness and love, hoping it would hold us for the 8 weeks we would be apart. This was 1981, so I was shocked at the weird looks and judgmental remarks heaped upon me for “abandoning” my family, instead of support for helping my family to thrive and making a decent living.

Oct. 1 came quickly. I shipped out to Boot Camp in Orlando, FL, and took my place in line with 80 other women (and girls). I was the second oldest woman there. The oldest had turned 35 while waiting for the group to “class up.” She was barely 5 feet tall and built like a fire-plug. It ended up that she and I ran backwards on our runs and pulled the slower girls across the finish line.

We were Company K001, and surprise, surprise, we were the first female rifle company in the history of the Navy. So, there would be idiots behind me with rifles, after all. Fortunately, they were real rifles with plugged barrels. However, punishment included running around the blacktop with rifles held over our heads as we yelled out the Watch (General) Orders.

Because I had experience in real life and some college, I was selected the Education Petty Officer for my company. I was truly obnoxious in my role. Any time I found a recruit reading a letter or crying, I asked her to recite the Chain of Command from the President down to the CO of our company, or the Watch Orders. If she couldn’t do it, I made her study. Smoke? Nope. Not until I heard what I needed to hear. The Navy called it “Petty Officer-itis,” or abuse of power. In my defense, “Company Kool”  did pass all our tests.

Guess what. I thrived in Boot Camp and asked if I could volunteer to be a Recruit Instructor CO!

Anyone would benefit from boot camp. I learned I could survive, even thrive, regardless of how dirty or tired I was and become a valued member of a team. I found out I was dependable, capable of more than I imagined, and disciplined. I learned to get out of my own way.

My best advice to thrive in boot camp:

Don’t believe anything the recruiter tells you, unless it is in writing. They are salesmen with a quota.

Strive to be invisible. Don’t be outstanding or awful at anything.

Don’t tell anyone your history (marital status or kids, etc.)

Remember that you volunteered. You are there for personal reasons, and you can stand anything to get what you want.

Leave your ego at the door. It is someone else’s game you’re learning to play.

Don’t complain about anything. (Yes, I ate wingless fried chicken for a month before I figured out it was rabbit.)

Don’t take part in meanness like flushing a girl’s head in the toilet.

Be a good sport.

Don’t be a snitch. Build comradery, praise those who do well, and help those who don’t.

Be ready to run everywhere from 3:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., 7 days a week.

About the Author

Lottie Wilds is a native Oklahoman and a multi-talented woman—she is a mother, grandmother, Navy veteran, and lifelong creator. Lottie loves to quilt, decorate, garden, swim, paint, and write stories. She is grateful for every day she gets a chance to get it right.


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