SO, you’ve finally managed the in’s and outs of the MEPS process, you’re all sworn in and you head off to RTC (Recruit Training Command) in Illinois tomorrow! But whatever should you wear? For that matter, what should you bring with you and what should you leave behind? My recruiters were rather vague on this point so here are some mistakes and triumphs I experienced preparing my “overnight bag” as it were for your last day as a civilian.
THE THINGS THEY CARRIED : WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU
Dress however you want. Honestly one of the best decisions I made for myself was to wear yoga pants, a very ironic naval anchor t-shirt and my metallic disco crop-top jacket all the way to basic (boot camp). I don’t know why, but it made me feel like a person, and though you have to take it off and send everything home when you get there, I am really glad I chose to feel fancy, I didn’t feel fancy again until I left for my A-school. I digress…
This might be your first ever time on a plane, and you’re going to want to be comfortable so wear what you want but keep in mind that when you’re cruising at altitude it’s oftentimes cold, and the military isn’t paying for you to fly first class so there may not be complimentary blankets available on the flight. This is why, depending on the weather, even if you’re traveling from a warm state and it’s summer, I recommend a sweater or jacket. Also, those seats are small and they don’t recline very far, plus you’ll be in the air potentially for a number of hours so if comfort is important to you, keep that in mind. Wear fuzzy socks, or something warm on your feet, if you’re wearing brand new socks that aren’t smelly and gross you’ll be far more comfortable on the plane.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that you may get to MEPS at 4am but your flight may not leave until 5pm, and you may not arrive at RTC before midnight, in which case, you’ll want to nap on the plane ride. Pro tip: when you’re at the hotel the night before, go to bed early and sleep all you can. Sleep is the thing I missed the most at basic. It’s exciting and nerve wracking but try your best. I brought a sleeping mask and a neck pillow for the plane and I took some Motrin for motion sickness which also makes me drowsy so I was able to knock out for the majority of my flight.
After we landed, before we met up with the Navy RDC’s who would be bussing us to basic, there was a short window of time where a couple people bought themselves Starbucks. I was concerned there wouldn’t be enough time, or that I would be yelled at so I didn’t go, but looking back I wish I had. There was plenty of time, and it would have been nice to have the caffeine because for the next 48 hours I would be awake.
This was my final packing list for the plane ride:
- That drawstring Navy bag they give you at MEPS
- YOUR ORDERS (which you have to hand carry, they’ll let you know)
- ADDRESS BOOK with phone numbers and addresses of anyone you might want to call or write to during boot camp
- Whatever outfit you want
- Warm sweater or jacket
- Cozy socks
- Sleep mask/ neck pillow
- Phone and headphones
- Rosewater or toner
- Your favorite snack that you will miss (Hot Cheetos)
- Lip Balm/ Chapstick
- Bring tampons if you need them, you will get a chance to buy more
- Prescription birth control (will be taken and reissued)
- A ponytail if you have long hair
- Also, I didn’t mention before, learn how to make a military bun before you go if you don’t want to cut your hair short. I’ll do a mini-post about hair
- Your wallet and ID with a little cash for airport snacks or coffee (and bring a card if you want to buy anything on the plane they don’t take cash)
- If you wear contacts BRING GLASSES! Pro tip: if they are as close to basic looking as possible the better, nothing fashionable or strangely shaped or huge.
- A Manila envelope or folder for your paperwork
This is the paperwork that you SHOULD BRING if you have it:
- Driver’s license or state issued picture ID
- Social Security Card
- Direct Deposit Form/ VOIDED check
- Certified copy of Marriage license
- Certified copy Dependents’ birth records
- JROTC/ROTC certificates (for advanced rank only)
- Civil Air Patrol certificates (for advanced rank only)
- Naturalization papers
- Alien Card
- College transcripts (for advanced rank only)
- High school diploma (only if you joined before graduation)
If you were told that you could achieve a higher rank out of bootcamp for college credits or ROTC participation and the like, bring your information with you. You can’t put it in the same envelope as your orders but you can carry a second envelope with all your documents. You won’t need they right away but at some point while you’re there you’ll be glad you brought them. Two people in my division didn’t receive rank for college credit and one had their path to citizenship delayed because they didn’t bring their documents.
Shortly after you arrive at basic you will put everything into a box, (including all of the civilian clothes you were wearing and your pride), be issued new clothes and send everything home.
You get to keep:
- Your orders
- All that paperwork
- Address book and wallet
- Birth Control
Make sure your phone is charged and ON already when you get on the bus from the airport to RTC. My phone was off to save battery and when they said we could make our last phone call we only had two minutes and my phone wasted probably a minute turning itself on and starting up. I barely had time after my mom answered to tell her I arrived safely and that I would call her again in 3 weeks and I love you before they were telling us our time was up.
Enjoy and languor in this experience as your last wonderful moments as a civilian. Drink the coffee, listen to music, revel in your snack and doze at leisure. Be cozy in your chosen clothes and refresh yourself with a toner spritz and freshly brushed teeth before you hop the bus to basic because shit is about to get really REALLY uncomfortable for a while.