G.I. – Kat

November 12, 2006 at 10:12 am 20 comments

My family in 1977 was matriarchal, prudish and governed by good manners.  We wore gloves and hats to church, wouldn’t dream of wearing white shoes after labor day, and girls did not go into the military.   I left for basic training in the summer of 1977.  My parents left for a project in Alaska two days before I did.  We barely said good-bye.   Jimmy Carter was president, America’s first PC, the Apple II, went on sale, James Earl Ray escaped from prison, New York City had a blackout and Anita Bryant abused her fame to ignite a wave of violence against gays across the United States.  But I wasn’t aware of any of this until after the fact, there were no televisions or radios in my barracks. 

We arrived by bus in ones, twos and threes, from all over the country.  Thirty two of us, in a brand new all girl dormitory on Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.  That first day, in our civilian clothes, you knew exactly the background of every girl standing in the dayroom.  The pageant girl, who left her “cute” behind after puberty and hadn’t yet recovered.  She was holed up in one corner with a photo album of her crowning days and a trio of girls in ragged jeans and t-shirts for whom “beauty pageants” never entered their realm of possibilities.  The athletes all managed to find each other and were fidgeting in the center of the room comparing stats.  There was a girl on the couch retelling in graphic detail the car accident that had killed her boyfriend and left glass in her face.  She alleged that the glass had to travel all the way to the bone and then would work its way back up through her skin.  The black girls had formed two camps, tough chicks from the city on one side of the room, southern belles on the other.  And then there was me.  I was working my finest pair of just off the runway goucho pants and matching vest complete with hand stitched platform espridrilles and coordinated bag. The funniest thing about the movie Private Benjamin, was how true much of it was. It was easy to spot the girls who’d just walked off the farm or the trailer court … on that first night.    

Things are different for girls in the military now, but in 1977, the armed forces still believed that there could be equal rights with girls staying girls.  We didn’t get our heads shaved like the boys did, but we were required to keep it off our collar and soon adopted a variety of intricate top knots.  Men were issued two sets of green fatigues and a dress uniform.  Girls were issued duty fatigues (navy blue skort, light blue blouse with roll up sleeves), combat fatigues (the green ones, but we could get ours tailored), dress blues with a skirt and dress blues with pants.  A sweater that could be worn in place of the dress jacket and two hats, one beanie style, one nicer.   Once uniforms were issued, all of our civilian belongings were locked in a closet that could be opened only by our training instructor.  That first morning when she woke us all up before daybreak with a whistle and flickering lights, we started forgetting where we all came from, because nothing we had done or been before had any bearing on what we were now.   We were dressed the same, paid the same and expected to complete the same tasks. We soon learned that the key to basic training was following orders, and keeping a low profile. 

In those days, girls were not eligible for combat so we weren’t weapons trained but we did complete the confidence course and every morning for six weeks, we ran a mile and a half, in formation.  I loved the morning run.  Four girls wide and eight long, lined up by size with the shortest at the front right of the column and the tallest at the back left.  Being of average height, my place was three rows in and second from the left. 

We started the run in the dark, keeping pace with our T.I., silent except for the sound of rhythmically pounding feet and heavy breathing.  The sun would start to rise about lap five of our trip around the track, just when you’d stopped struggling to put one foot in front of the other and fell into that effortless glide, thirty two bodies working as one.  It was beautiful watching the sky on the horizon burning red and gold as the sun rose. 


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Veteran’s Day Cinderella and A Flash from the Past

20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindra  |  November 12, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Kat, Wow. Beautifully written. Sure gave me a different perspective…it’s just a gorgeous, raw image. Thanks.

  • 2. vanessa  |  November 12, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    The seventies were something. I almost enlisted back then, too. I got through most of the process but stopped just short. All I could think was that I’d end up in the brig because I am VERY bad at doing what I’m told and keeping my mouth shut.

    Plus, I wanted to fly helicopters and they wouldn’t let me. Girls didn’t do those kind of things. And they said I could do whatever job I wanted, but they kept trying to get me to agree to go into code breaking and I didn’t want to.

  • 3. John Linna  |  November 12, 2006 at 7:31 pm

    One of the things I like about blogs is learning to know things about people. I loved your history in today’s blog because it told me some things about you but also about the army in 1977 that I didn’t know before. Thanks.

  • 4. tony  |  November 12, 2006 at 7:35 pm

    Wow, Kat. Great post. Written so effortlessly, with pride. Thanks for sharing a piece of your life with us.

  • 5. katcampbell  |  November 12, 2006 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks Cindra, that’s how those times live in my memory. Mostly fuzzy, with a few three dimensional events, usually of no consequence.

    Nessa, the secret of my success was that back then I was basically passive-aggressive. I also wanted the free college money.

    I like blogging for the same reasons Dr. John, it’s fun to see the different perspectives of the same historical periods.

  • 6. katcampbell  |  November 12, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    A veteran’s day peak at the “olden days” Tony!

  • 7. Velvet Sacks  |  November 12, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    Thanks for the beautifully written guided tour of a part of life that’s totally foreign to me. It’s fascinating. I hope you’ll tell us more.

  • 8. jackie  |  November 12, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    Kat, your recall is great (and of course, your writing) – it was like being there. And like most good stories, now I want to know ‘the rest of the story’!

  • 9. katcampbell  |  November 12, 2006 at 8:41 pm

    Velvet and Jackie – You people are relentless! I’ll try to do some more “living in the past”, but there’s some really cool stuff going on here in the present I’m just itching to write about! Thanks for the encouragement.

  • 10. DaveM  |  November 12, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    A tremendous experience which I guess had a big influence on the way you are today.
    Your story about the early morning run reminded me of something similar. A couple of years ago I was cycling in France and one morning passed a platoon of Foreign Legionnaires out running. All eyes ahead and running silently, the only person who spoke was the instructor at the rear. It was only after about 20 miles when I passed their camp did I realise how far they had run. That is fit. Put my teenage idea of joining the marines into perspective.

  • 11. NMOTB  |  November 12, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Hi Katt, Thanks for sharing that – I really enjoyed reading that!

  • 12. The Rev. Dr. Kate  |  November 13, 2006 at 12:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this – we never know just how foramtive some experiences are in our lives. Your post reminds us that there is room for both unity and indivduality in uniformity. What an image of all of you running – different sizes in the early morning light!
    Thanks for sharing.
    P.S. I LOVED “Private Benjamin!”

  • 13. Hammer  |  November 13, 2006 at 12:54 am

    You paint a vivid picture. Thanks for sharing that with us. Keep it coming!

  • 14. katcampbell  |  November 13, 2006 at 3:39 am

    Dave – I can honestly say it was pivotal in making me the person I am today. I was a lucky kid, but what I know about accepting diversity, compromise, respect, and patriotism – I learned in the Air Force.

    New Mom, Dr. Kate and Hammer – thank you.

  • 15. Stacy  |  November 13, 2006 at 7:12 am

    That was great and really took me back. I was in the Civil Air Patrol during my high school years in the 70’s. Your descriptions captured a lot of what it was like for girls in CAP, as well. I very seriously considered joining the Air Force, but ended up not doing it. It’s one of my kind of regrets.

  • 16. katcampbell  |  November 13, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    Stacy – Several girls in my flight were from the CAP. They saved me on many a day – I still have a hard time recognizing the titles for all those stripes.

  • 17. sunfloweroptimism  |  November 13, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    Wow, I’m in awe Kat. I was a junior in college and you were doing this! I also would love to hear more. Having been in a male dominated profession (engineering), I always love to hear what other women in the same situation were up against and how they dealt with it.

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for serving.

  • 18. LauraJ  |  November 16, 2006 at 3:44 am

    wow! a beautiful writer you are!! i was beginning to miss you. thank God for bloglines for letting me know you moved.
    Nice digs!

  • 19. katcampbell  |  November 16, 2006 at 6:26 am

    Sunflower – How ironic! It was because I didn’t want to be an engineer (my parents career choice for me) that I enlisted in the Air Force!

    Laura J! I wondered where you’d been! There is a link to here from my old blog.

  • 20. Gela Words  |  November 17, 2006 at 6:50 am

    Oh, that was such a nice read. I totally enjoy reading your present day stuff (they’re a blast, totally fun) but please feel free to go back, I enjoy that as well.


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