America's Finest This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   With my contract in the black and gold binder under my arm, I knew I had made a verysmart decision about my life. I had just been sworn into the United States Army.

* * *

I had been in Portland for three days, andthe weekend would be spent going through the a military examination andprocessing station (MEPS), the gateway to my future. Boarding the van, I did notknow what was ahead and was nervous. I watched the miles of highway pass by,staring at the river of tar that flowed beneath me. In front of me a coupleplanning to enlist and be stationed together chatted, though they glanced backrepeatedly to make sure nobody was listening. My recruiter, the driver, bargainedwith people over his cell phone. With nobody to talk to, I fell asleep.

Myrecruiter woke me. We were in the parking lot of a Howard Johnson. We filed intothe lobby, and while my recruiter spoke to the receptionist, I glanced out at thebusy streets, far more traveled than Route 2 at home.

"Listen up,guys, this is how things are going to go," my recruiter said. "Tomorrowmorning at six o'clock there will be a shuttle to take you to MEPS. I'll bewaiting for you there."

"What time do we have to get up?" Iasked quietly.

"Five o'clock sharp, you'll get a wake-up call,"replied my recruiter. "Be ready, and make sure you don't leave anythingbehind because you won't be back."

That said, we made our way to ourrooms. We were left to use the pool and other facilities. Lunch wasn't that greatbut the day passed. With my luck, the TV in my room was broken, so I soon fellasleep.

At 5 a.m. the phone rang as scheduled. My roommate had alreadyleft, I guess he wanted an early breakfast to beat the crowd. After a shower, Idecided to skip breakfast and head to the lobby. One by one, the rest of therecruits filled the lobby.

The shuttle bus pulled up right on time. Theride was filled with small groups chattering, but I sat in the front with nobodyto talk to, feeling nervous.

"Welcome to MEPS. The day will be longand stressful, but if all goes well, we should have you out of here by 19:00hours," the African-American female lieutenant told us. "You will stayin the lounge until you hear your name called. Then you will hear your name andwhere to go and you will proceed there. Any questions?"

"Whattime are we going to eat?" asked one wise-crackingrecruit.

"Anyone have any serious questions?" she asked again."And you can finish them with 'ma'am'."

Not one of the 20-pluspeople in the room uttered a word.

Next we had to fill out aquestionnaire that asked about our life, injuries and medical issues. It took 20minutes, but seemed forever because the lieutenant was on your rear end themoment someone even coughed.

After we were dismissed from this room camethe examination beginning with a blood test, which I wish I had never been askedto do. The inexperienced corporals had to prick and prod to find the right spot.Then came urinalysis to check for drugs, a series of hearing and vision tests,and then a hair sample was taken.

Then came the tricky test. We filedinto a small room and they had us strip to our undergarments and stand acrossfrom each other. This reminded me of the circus. One by one they had us doeverything from the crab walk to waddling on the back of our heels across theroom to see if we had good use of all of our muscles.

The day was almostover. The final event was a one-on-one meeting with a doctor which included manyshort tests and questions about our lives, especially the last three years. Afterthis, we would find out if we qualified to enlist.

As nervous as I was,there was nothing I could do now to make them feel differently about acceptingme. Realizing this, my mind took a break. The shuttle would be arriving soon andI would go home.

* * *

This was one of the mostimportant experiences in my life. It decided my future, and, fortunately, I amall set to proceed.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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