I believed I had overcome being that girl. I’d gone to college, for Christ’s sake, the first in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. I’d moved to California and started a career doing what I love. The Air Force version of me was just a kid with no guidance, not knowing what the hell to do. Plus, that photo made it look like I was this good little soldier patriotically serving her country. Even at the time, that made me feel like a poseur.

Here’s how I served you, my countrymen. You can thank me later.

At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, I worked in an office with more than 40 people with a workload that 20 could handle. We were told, “Perception is everything,” which meant: “Just make it look like you’re working, even if you aren’t. Then you won’t get in trouble, and more importantly, we won’t get in trouble if an officer walks in and sees you fucking around.” It was then that I learned that I can pretend the shit out of working. All day long, even. I excel at it. So whenever I’d stop by Walmart after work in uniform and a well-meaning stranger would come up and say, “Thank you,” I always wanted to thank that person back. Thank you for your tax dollars, nice lady. I will now use them to go on a shopping spree.

When I was “Airman Mitchell,” I sat at a desk. I had a cubicle. There was a coffeemaker. There was a snack closet. Every day a guy I had a crush on would flirt with me by getting me a Moon Pie from the snack closet. I’d made the mistake of not telling him from the first that I hated Moon Pies and so I slowly accumulated a drawer full of them.

I never went overseas. I never did anything remotely dangerous. I did shoot an M16 at a piece of paper a few times. I did have a perfect uniform: shiny boots, sleeves crisp and creased, my hair slicked back like a seal — if seals had hair. I had a bun any sexy librarian would covet. I was quiet. Quietly judging.

Once, a new guy was sent to the squadron where I worked. I can’t remember his name now, but I referred to him then as “Captain Fetushead.” Captain Fetushead was young, doughy, pale, and blonde — with a certain flatness to the back of his head and closely cropped hair through which one could see his pink scalp. He was really excited about his new job and about all the ideas he had to improve the way things operated. As if that weren’t annoying enough, he singled me out, focusing on me as a “project.” Because I was quiet, he’d decided that I was shy and meek — neither was true — and that he could fix this perceived problem.

On Saturdays, Dad wouid drink and I’d play at the American Legion Post.

“We’re gonna bring you out of your shell, HAHAHA! People can’t be shy when I’m around, HAHAHA!”

He was one of those people who laughed after everything he said. (By the way, if you do that, you should stop.) By then, I had learned to control the impulse to roll my eyes or to say what was on my mind. In military world, I could get in big, big trouble for calling an officer a giant douchebag tool from hell.

Captain Fetushead’s plan to give me a personality makeover was to un-shy me via indoor volleyball. As an office, we went to the gym a few times a week for our PT (physical training), and Fetushead decided we’d play a version of volleyball wherein I was the captain of my team. If my team made a point, I had to switch one of my weak players with a strong player from the other side. This is some officer training school leadership bullshit, and I had zero problems and no guilt doing it. Alas, it did nothing to fix my personality. What Fetushead didn’t realize was that you don’t have to be loud and obnoxious to be a leader; smart and decisive work fine.

In my Air Force life, I did what I had to do, but nothing more. I didn’t sacrifice much, aside from some of my youth and a chunk of my soul, which was crushed daily by guys in crewcuts who walked around yelling “Hooah!” in an office full of semi-obese, balding computer programmers in combat boots. I was the only girl programmer where I worked for most of the years I was Airman Mitchell. Considering that I was young, unmarried, not a closeted lesbian, and didn’t look like a gargoyle — well, I might as well have been a baby panda — you know, ’cause they’re rare. It was hard to blend in, but not hard to get away with things others could not. I got more than a little special treatment, mostly because of preconceptions that I was weaker, stupider, and more incompetent than the boys. Oh, and because I put out. Sorry, feminism.

The main reason I’d signed up for military service was so people would get off my back. When you’re a senior in high school, everyone’s always asking you what your plan is. The ideal answer is, “I’m going to college! I’ve chosen a major! I’ve won scholarships and am well on my way to becoming a productive member of society!”

I certainly wasn’t planning on any of those things, but at least I had an answer. “Yes, it’s true, family. I am almost failing out of high school because I never go and am completely disinterested in it, and I have no real direction in life, no future to speak of, but ooh…look…I’m joining the military! See? You like that! America!!” Now leave me alone.

The bar for intelligence at enlistment is set so low that my scores (as a failing high-school student) on the ASVAB were perfect and allowed me my pick of career fields. Those career fields had long names that make them sound important and military-ish. I vacillated between Space Systems Operations (because it had the word “space” in it, and space is awesome) and the recruiter’s recommendation of Communications Computer Systems Programmer, for which I’d have to take an additional logic test. I chose the latter because it seemed more exclusive and brainy. Like a cool Vulcan club. (I still cite this logic test as proof that I’m a rational, clear-thinking person, even if I’m crying uncontrollably. Hey — show of hands: Who has qualified as a logical thinker by the Department of Defense? That’s what I thought.)

More from SDReader

Comments

Javajoe25 June 19, 2013 @ 11:58 p.m.

It's amazing how people can live a good portion of their lives together and never really know who they each are or what they are about. Kudos to you for pointing it out, Ms. Mitchell.

But what I want to really thank you for is for pointing out what a bunch of bs the military scene is. I was in too and I could not believe what a waste of time, space, and man (or woman) hours the whole thing was. I mean, yea, rah-rah for the brave soldiers who get to be soldiers, but the vast majority of the 'cruits' and lifers I met was the biggest bunch of screw-offs I had ever encountered. And you are absolutely right about the benefits - the best there is -- free, total health care for you and everyone in your family - exactly what people in this country have been trying to get for years but are told it's not possible; unaffordable, and not practical. Military also gets extra monetary allowances for everything and anything you might have to...God forbid --pay for! And discounts and freebies everywhere you go.

It is my opinion that the primary reason young working class women in this country are going into the military like never before is because it is the best paying job they will ever have...and they know it. What other job gives you 30 days vacation after one year? Or, is it six months? As you noted, you get raises for moving up, staying still, or turning left or right correctly. It is the biggest and best give away program in the world. Granted, there is the chance you could get sent overseas and get maimed or killed in a war that no one can explain anymore. As disgraceful as that is, the ladies are willing to take their chances to ride on this benefits-loaded bandwagon. Thank you very much for telling it like it is...and then some.

Oh, and as for those rosary beads? I think your old man did it just to piss off your mom. Just like my ex-wife went Re-born just to piss me off.

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TerriBeth June 20, 2013 @ 4:12 p.m.

Yes, 30 days paid vacation + all federal holidays! Forgot about that one. And really low interest rates on car payments! Man, I was living large!

It would be interesting to calculate the total amount of money I received from the government (taxpayers) when all the benefits are tacked on. It's obscene. Certainly designed to trap the working class, as you said. No qualifications? Money? Travel? Training? FREE STUFF!? Sign me up!

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Javajoe25 June 20, 2013 @ 6:38 p.m.

It wasn't that long ago that Congress wanted to give the military more than they had requested in their budget. And yet, we can't afford health care, have to cut Social Security, and eliminate programs for school kids. Unreal.

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mridolf June 21, 2013 @ 3:12 a.m.

I'm not quite sure what the focus of this story is supposed to be. Is it that the lady found out about her Dad's Catholicism so late, or the fact that he never really 'knew' her. I fully empathise with the not knowing someone close to you is Catholic. I spent my one tour in the military (Army, Germany, immediately after Vietnam), with two best friends I met in basic training. We did everything together (travel, work, nights on the town). I even visited them after the Army, and still keep in contact. I had another best friend through SDSU engineering, doing much the same things together. But it wasn't until I met and married my Catholic wife, in the USD student chapel, that I found out that all 3 of them are/were Catholic. And I'm, well, a non-believer too. It just doesn't come up. But what is the eye-opener here? Good writing, OK story, but what is the main focus? Is she picking on her Dad, or men in general, or the military, or all of the above?

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gahuber95 June 22, 2013 @ 12:33 a.m.

Wow. The guy lives in a non-communist country and still manages to hide his Catholicism from his daughter. No wonder Pope Francis is telling us Catholics that we need to be more evangelical.

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