Career on the Line

  • Published
  • By SSgt. Kelly Goonan
  • 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Basic training's rigidness threw me out of any comfort zones I'd previously known. Upon arrival, I entered a frightening world surrounded by strangers. Every miniscule moved prompted a crisp, navy blue, round hat to appear. Underneath was a tank of a man screaming at me.

Everything I said was incorrect -causing only more fury from the voice under the hat.
I found myself wondering if this decision was going to be as good as the recruiter promised. Forty-eight complete strangers continued this journey with me for the next eight weeks. A handful of women continuously sobbed in the evening. Everyone in my flight craved sleep. The days were exhausting after just one week -- little did I know how much more exhausting this experience was going to become.

At the beginning of the third week, our military training instructor appointed me the Dorm Chief. I was the liaison between the other 48 women and our training instructor. Now, not only did I have to complete my studies during any down time we had, I also ensured the women made our living quarters spotless with nothing out of order. We used perfumed body spray as a cleaning aid while scrubbing the white floors. The perfumes filled the stale, dormitory air with personality and reminded us that we're still women doing something less than 10% of the population can claim they've done.

I listened to their individual complaints, reported them to our instructor, delegated tasks our instructor gave to us, made sure we were where we're supposed to be. I ensured no one dozed off during class and took responsibility for anything that any of "my girls" did wrong. It was demanding, time-consuming and life-changing.

The last few days of our self-inflicted hell finally arrived. Spirits were high and camaraderie was plenty. We were lined up in front of the chow hall. As always, before any of us entered for meals, one of my girls had to go in ahead of us. She reported our group was ready to enter for breakfast. The process, which usually takes minutes to complete, has oddly taken twice as long. The volunteer who reported our group was new -- I didn't doubt her intelligence and courage. Certainly the delay had to be a newer group not accustomed to the rules and ways of the chow hall.

Our brother flight chow hall runner appeared from the door and waved us in -- odd.
Where is my girl? "This can't be good," I thought. Cautiously, I entered and began the line to get my food. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my chow hall runner. She still stood at attention in front of a row of military instructors. Her voice was cracking and her body was trembling. She answered question after question from the various instructors.

"Wrong!" I heard an instructor belt out.

"Dorm Chief get over here now!" a demonic voice screeched.

I set my tray on the table and promptly reported. I stood at attention next to my girl.

"Sir, trainee Galloway reports as ordered."

"Dorm Chief, is this your female?" he growled.

"Sir, trainee Galloway reports as ordered. Yes, she is in my flight, sir."

"Do you trust your female to answer the next three questions correctly?"

"Sir, Trainee Galloway reports as ordered. I absolutely do, Sir." I know she had just gotten two questions in a row incorrect.

"Oh you do? Well if she gets even one of these wrong you will be recycled back to the first week, where you will learn how to select a more intelligent chow runner. Do you still think she is intelligent enough?"

"Yes, sir," I reaffirmed.

The girl now had streams of tears running down her face as she answered every question correctly. Irritated, the instructor dismisses us.

After my flight inhaled their meal in about two minutes, we reported back to the dormitory where I found the girl sobbing uncontrollably. Our instructor rushed into the room and demanded to know what just happened downstairs as he heard from the other instructors one of his girls was crying. I explained what happened and that I had never seen the inquisitive instructor before.

Seconds later my heart sank as this behemoth of a man entered the dorm, the instructor from the chow hall. He looked me up and down, stared into my eyes as if looking for weakness, then turned sharply to my instructor and sternly stated, "I just returned from overseas and that wimpy chow runner comes squeaking up to me, pitifully asking for permission to eat. She answered six of my questions wrong and broke into tears. If it wasn't for this dorm chief's willingness to sacrifice her training to stand by her, I would have recycled her on the spot." The two instructors then left the dormitory to continue talking to one another, as if old friends.
I'll never forget that morning.

The chow hall that morning underscored the idea that our decisions are a direct reflection upon our careers. This was a potential career-ending situation. Just as a deployment setting clearly defines the real world offers few second chances. We had all just embarked on careers where our lives will be on the line.