It's Off to MEPS We Go!
Hello! I'm Dave, and I recently began the long paper-trail to join the Air Force reserve as part of the Security Forces. This is a detailed description of my MEPS experience in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is not sugar coated, and his highly detailed. I hope potential recruits find this helpful.
I arrived at the Double Tree Hotel in New Orleans around 7:00 PM that night. Having driven myself, I parked in the neighboring garage (which turned out to be free parking). Armed with a backpack containing my information packet and a change of clothes, I entered the very nice lobby and approached the information desk. The lady behind the counter sent me to another desk for MEPS check-ins.
The man behind this desk wasn't as nice. He reminded me of an evil Roy (from "Wings"). "Siddown, I'll be with you in a second," he said. After a few minutes, he asked my name and handed me a clipboard with a form on it. "Read everything and sign at the bottom."
I did and signed. The note said, in effect, don't leave the hotel, be in your room by 10, don't drink, don't do drugs, don't cause trouble.
"Here's your key. Sit over there and wait for a briefing," he stated, pointing to a cluster of couches in the corner of the hotel lobby. Already seated were a few others, mostly female. A petite girl was holding a Marine Corps packet. Two others were clutching U.S. Army National Guard folders. Another fellow approached and took a seat, U.S. Army packet in hand.
Soon, "Roy" approached and loomed over all of us. He handed out more guidelines for the hotel stay, and meal tickets. He then broke into machine gun rapid-fire instructions for the stay, reminding me of a Training Instructor, only without the yelling.
"Read everything I give you because you WILL be held accountable for it, even if I don't cover it. You are permitted only on your own floor, the lobby area, the dining area, the exercise area, and the movie area. A movie plays every 3 hours. If you leave those areas, you will not got to MEPS. If you are not wearing proper attire in the exercise area, you will not go to MEPS. If you behave inappropriately, or wear anything inappropriate, you will not go to MEPS, this includes cutoffs, white T-shirts, obscene material, midriffs, flip-flops or tanktops.
Dinner is served until 10:00 PM. It is a buffet. If you do not eat by 10:00 PM, you will not eat. Breakfast is served at 4:15 AM sharp. The bus leaves at 4:45 sharp. If you have not eaten by 4:45, you will not eat. If you are not on the bus by 4:45, you will need to find another way to get to the MEPS, because I will not help you. You must return your room key by 4:15 AM. If you do not, you will not go to MEPS. You may not drink. You may not do drugs. If you do, you will not go to MEPS, and in the case of drugs you will go to jail.
Be in your rooms by 10:00. If you are not in your rooms by 10:00 you will not go to MEPS. You may not use the phones in your rooms. There are phones here, here, and here. Wake-up call is at 3:15 AM. That is all."
Me and the tiny Marine Corps girl headed for the elevators to find our rooms. Without thinking, as soon as the door opened we both walked out, soon realizing that it was neither of our floors. We laughed and walked back in.
"You're joining the Marines?" I ask.
"Yes," she said.
After arriving on my (real) floor, I exited and headed for my room, #1130. After sliding the card key, the door opened revealing two full-size beds, a television with wrestling on, and a couple of desks. My roommate had obviously been here before me. I set my bag on the desk, unloaded my meal ticket and packet, and tried to change the channel on the television. (To no avail, as I could not find the remote, never thinking to just use the buttons on the TV).
Regarding the hotel: bring a swimming suit and workout clothes. I didn't, and regretted it. You may have considerable time on your hands. It's a lot more fun swimming than staring at the TV. After 30 minutes of killing time, my roommate entered, glowered at the stranger in his room, and sat on his bed.
"I'm David," I said, extending my hand.
"Tom," he replied, weakly shaking my hand. (Name changed to protect the innocent).
Then nothing. He was certainly quiet, and I wasn't interested in preserving a sinking conversation, so I excused myself and headed for the restaurant on the 14th floor.
The "buffet" consisted of bread, hamburger patties, lettuce, tomatoes, and french fries (Gee, whatever could we make with those ingredients? Fortunately, I remembered the 1980s Big Mac [or was it Whopper?]commercial and built my very own hamburger). The restaurant (which was actually a large meeting room converted specially for MEPS) was empty except for... Marine girl! I was actually quite happy to see her, as the ice had already been broken. We chatted about why we were joining, and what expected, and our nerves about the next day.
(Incidentally, her reason for joining is what I heard throughout the night, "I wanted to get away, and if I didn't join, I'd be here forever").
Soon another guy entered the room. He was thin and tall with light blonde hair. "What are you joining, I asked," (Which was the pattern of conversation throughout the night. I don't know if names were ever exchanged).
"Army," he proudly announced, "and you?"
"Air Force Reserve."
He turned to Marine girl. "You?"
"Marines," she coyly stated.
"Wow. You're brave."
He chatted about what he'd heard about MEPS, how they do everything they can to disqualify you.
Another girl entered and sat at another table. I called her to our table and she enthusiastically joined us. She told us she's joining the Army. We responded with our respective branches. She then turned to Marine girl.
"What are you joining?"
Marine girl was getting nervous, but we reminded her of how proud we were for her, and how she'd do fine.
Three gangsta-rapper looking guys entered (complete with gold chains!). Such types are not my usual crowd, but I pulled them to our rapidly filling table anyway. I remembered what Sgt. Hartman said in Full Metal Jacket: "Here you are all equally worthless!"
The gangsta rappers were just as nervous as all of us. One was joining the Army National Guard and the other was joining the Army.
"What are you joining?" they asked the Marine girl.
They soon reassured Marine Girl. "Every Marine I've ever known REPRESENTS!" (I deduced that this was a high complement).
Long after finishing our food, we sat at the table killing time and exchanging stories about joining, "Roy" in the lobby, and soon the topic of war came up.
"I want me a desk job," said Guard Man (Formerly Gangster Rapper). "I want to get me an MBA and the Army will pay for it."
Army Man was different. "I don't mind if I go to war. I know that sounds weird."
I didn't think it was weird at all, I told him.
The conversation took on an interesting dynamic after war came up. We became less nervous and more at ease with the direction our lives were now taking. We were willingly joining the service of our country in a time of war. Not many would understand why. We did.
Ten minutes to ten, we decided to call it a night, splitting into our respective directions. It was one of the best evenings I have ever had.
I arrived back at my (empty) room and noticed my silent roommate's card-key on the desk. I soon heard a knock at the door, and opened it for my embarrassed roommate.
"Sorry," he sheepishly stated.
I spent 45 minutes tossing and turning. My bed was uncomfortable, and my blanket was terrible (Not in bad condition, just unfamiliar). I could tell from across the room that my roommate was not sleeping either, so I decided to chance one more conversation.
"This bed sucks," I stated.
"Mine too," he replied, "So what are you joining?"
"Air Force Reserve. You?"
"National Guard," he responded.
He must have been nervous because he then spent a good hour telling me about his recruiter, the town he's from, his job, how delighted he was that he'd get to train all over the world. He was actually a very nice guy.
It was time to get sleep. 3:15 would be here before we knew it.
Blink. It was here.
I took a quick shower, freshened up, and dressed comfortably (blue T-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes). I then bounded out the door and down to the restaurant below for another "buffet" experience. Waiting there was a man in a suit who took our keys and checked our names off on a list.
The buffet: Eggs, bacon, cereal, milk, orange juice. The meal of warriors everywhere.
My recruiter gave me instructions to take my own car to MEPS, so that I could leave when I finished. In her words, "There's always somebody with a bizarre problem that takes forever."
When I saw the bus arrive, I told the driver I'd be following him. "Sure thing, but when we get there, I make a left turn, you go straight. I'll be taking the back entrance. You will need to check your car in."
I tracked down my car in the parking lot, and exited. The tollbooth was closed, so my overnight parking was free. I waited near the bus, and when it departed, I followed.
The drive was quiet (as are most roads at 4:45 AM in the rain). Within 30 minutes were were at the New Orleans MEPS facility / Naval Support Academy. My check-in was smooth. There were guards at the gate, who looked at my driver's license and pointed me to a building where I'd need to get a pass. Inside of the said building was a man who needed my license, registration, and proof-of-insurance. I supplied them, signed a form, and went on my way. He directed me: "take the right past this building, go straight until you can't go anymore and go right.
The parking lot and MEPS entrance is there."
His directions were precise.
What followed was straight out of a movie. The bus was unloading in two straight lines (one of which I joined) under an awning outside of the facility. It was still very dark, thunder rumbling overhead, rain coming down.
Three men in BDUs holding flashlights walked down the lines examining our clothing. One of them men announced, "Is anybody carrying any guns, knives, or drugs?"
No response from the terrified audience.
"Set down your bags and unzip them!"
The men then waved "airport security wands" over our baggage. No incidents.
"When we enter the MEPS facility, you will be divided up by branch and sent to your liaison! Store your bags in the marked closet!"
The entrance reminded me of an airport terminal. There were several rows of seating, a long desk, and lots or uniformed personnel moving to and fro.
"Air Force here, Marine Corps here, Army here and Navy here!" announced another, pointing out the different offices.
I stored my backpack and headed for the Air Force liaison with fellow future-Airmen. Upon entrance, a line formed, where our packets were collected and our names were called. We were given nametags to put on our shirts, and sent to another line at the "Control Desk" in the main lobby we entered from. This line was quite long and slowly moving. Along the wall were photographs of the chain of command and prominent military leadership. At the front of the pack was Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld and Commander-in-Chief George W. Bush.
I am proud to serve under these men.
Soon, I was at the front of the line and was handed a gray folder filled with forms and documentation. I was instructed to enter Room #1 down the hall on my left. There was a large sign pointing my way, and opening the door revealed a classroom filled to capacity. The last handful of people entered and took seats, and a tall man in camouflage entered and stepped behind the podium.
"Good morning. I am _________. Welcome to the New Orleans MEPS." He then proceeded to cover the rules and regulations of the facility in detail. "There is a snack room with an arcade inside. It is there as a privilege. You are expected to keep it clean. If we find trash on the floor, it will be locked and your only snacks will consist of water from a fountain. Lunch will be served from 1000 to 1300. When you hear last call and you have not eaten, stop what you are doing and get your food. If you do not, you will not eat."
He also covered the no-slouch rule for the lobby. "There a places to sit in the lobby. Do not slouch. Do not fall asleep. There are 4 branches here. I can assure you that if a Marine catches you asleep, his response will be a lot different from anyone else's." There is no smoking in the facility, except for a picnic table outside the main doors. He advised anyone wearing "baggy pants" to secure a belt from their liaison ASAP. "Pants too low will not be tolerated."
He then covered Fraudulent Enlistment. "You will answer many questions and fill out many forms. If you lie to anyone or on anything, it will be considered Fraudulent Enlistment and you will be subject to two years in prison and dishonorable discharge. Do not do it."
The next person to enter the room was a funny lady wearing a pink nurse's outfit. She handed out pens. "Don't put these pens in your mouths." She then walked us through every question of the medical form. She also covered the Privacy Act. "Do not share any medical information with anyone here unless he is a doctor. Do not let anyone examine your records. If I catch you showing your paperwork to somebody else here, I will lean over and whisper 'You better stop that.' If a Marine catches you, he will scream very loudly at you and send you home.
If someone warns you once, don't to it again. There are lots of people here, and you are always being watched."
One guy raised his hand. He had to go to the bathroom.
"No you aren't going to the bathroom. If you do, I'll be here all day waiting for a urine sample from you."
He had to go NOW.
The lady was exasperated. "Come with me." She then added, turning to the classroom, "Don't you do nothing wrong in here. I will not be responsible if people have to come mess with you."
She soon returned, and we finished filling out the comprehensive paperwork. "Who here has to take the ASVAB?"
I raised my hand, as did 20 others. She handed out small, white tubes to everyone and ordered the ASVAB people to form a line. "Take the tube from the wrapper and hold it with the little hole on top facing me."
The tubes were for a breathalyzer test. She affixed the little hole atop the device, and we were instructed to breath into it. "Don't you be blowing hard. Blow like this."
Everyone in my line passed, and we were herded down the hall to the test room. It was filled with computers, and we were each assigned a station. Waiting for us were terminals, two sheets of paper, and a pencil. We were instructed how to use the computers. There were 5 buttons across the keyboard home row labeled A B C D E and the spacebar was labeled "ENTER" There was also a red help button at the top. The test, we were told, lasts 3 hours, and we can leave when we complete it.
They weren't kidding. The test was long and grueling. I'm preparing to graduate from LSU, and I've taken some mean tests. This ranks among the worst. It was divided into around a dozen categories of various length, type, and difficulty. (GUIDE NOTE: See ABCs of the ASVAB, for more information).
The Medical Exam
After completing the test, I was sent to get my blood taken. There was a line of 5 or so ahead of me, but the wait was just over 10 minutes. The medical staff member asked my name and made me verify my social security number. He then sat me in a chair and drew the blood. If you're squeamish about this sort of thing, don't worry: it doesn't hurt. It did take some time, however. Be patient, stay relaxed, and look away.
After my blood was drawn, I was up to give my urine sample. The line in the bathroom wasn't long. I was given a little cup, and you go to the urinal and "give a sample" (Half full). Yes, there is an observer, but no, he is not "in your business."
He just sat to the side and made sure there was no questionable activity. Afterwards, I stood in a line holding my sample, waiting to check it in. It was a little awkward, and the line moved very slowly.
Please don't make the joke, "It looks just like beer." It's old. He's heard it.
Next up was the blood pressure test. I sat in a little chair next to a machine that did the readings. It was very similar to the machine at most drug stores in America, only an observer also checked my heart rate. The entire process lasted only a couple of minutes.
The eye exam was quite interesting. The "read line 9" was the same as at your local Department of Motor Vehicles or eye-doctor, but the depth perception test was a killer. There were 10 or so rows of 5 circles, and I had to locate the circle closest to me. I had some trouble with a couple of rows, and the examiner told me to close my eyes and rest for a second. I did, and was able to spot the closest ring right away.
The next station was the dreaded physical.
Actually, it wasn't that bad. About 10 of us were brought into a large room with a doctor, and he instructed us to strip to our boxers and stand in a line facing the opposing wall. The doctor walked up and down and gave us a cursory evaluation for tattoos or piercings. We were then instructed to touch our toes with our next straight down.
The doctor walked up and down, examining our spines. Then, we were instructed to do various balance and motor skills tests. We had to stick out our left legs and move our toes, then rotate our feet, move them up and down, kick, and so on. Same with the right leg. We also had to do similar motions with our hands and arms. We had to duck walk, which wasn't as goofy as it sounds. We had a visual acuity test, where we followed the doctors fingers with our eyes, and he turned out the light and checked out pupils.
Air Force people also had to "pop" their ears.
The whole process lasted 20 minutes at the most. Then, a large screen was put up and we had to individually meet with the doctor. We had to "Turn your head and cough" and bend over and let him check for any Hemorrhoids. Of course it was awkward, but everybody had to do it, and I'd take it any day over a thorough "finger check".
After I was released and dressed, I was up for the hearing test. It was lunch time, and several of the staff were eating. After a 15 minute wait, the nurse from this morning put me in a supposedly soundproof booth where I donned a set of earphones and was given a "Jeopardy-buzzer" that I was to click when I heard a beep. This was a long process, and coupled with the sound of my own breathing and the sounds of the people outside, it was quite stressful.
When it was over, the nurse opened the door and recorded my score. She made a funny face when she looked at them, which worried me. "Is it bad," I asked.
That was a relief, and I was on to my last stop of the day: the personal interview with the doctor.
The line lasted 15 minutes or so, and I was pretty nervous about it. I had a potentially disqualifying breathing problem on my medical form, and I was afraid he'd DQ me. Prior to leaving for MEPS however, I did my homework and got necessary documentation from my doctor regarding my status, including pulmonary function test results. I'd also broken a bone when I was quite young, but didn't have any details or paperwork (I wasn't even sure which bone).
The doctor called me in, and had me read a paragraph to him to check for literacy. If you can read this, you shouldn't have any problem with it. He then asked me about my "yes" questions on the medical form (He didn't seem to care about the injury when I was 5). I had rehearsed my description prior to going to MEPS. That's not to say I was dishonest or withholding in any way -- quite the opposite. It was detailed, accurate, and concise, and covered my history and current status (I left NOTHING out).
He was pleased that I had taken a pulmonary function test, and signed off on it.
I was in.
Because I am joining the Air Force, I was sent to a little room with a weight machine in it. The machine itself resembled a guillotine, with a large lifting bar in front. The nurse demonstrated it sans the weights. There were 4 different weight levels to lift. I was able to lift all 4, although the 4th was certainly the most difficult.
The desk clerk took my folder of information (which I had on hand throughout the day) and sent it for the day's final processing. He told me to go eat lunch, which was a great relief because I was starving.
I walked to the snack room, where an attractive Subway girl was preparing to give the "Last Call." There were 6 sandwiches left, all ham, so my choice was pretty easy. Bottled water was the drink of choice, and I had one as well. It was delicious, and I woofed it down in minutes, and started on the potato chips and cookie. After guzzling down my water and cleaning up my trash, I headed back to the medical room where I awaited my final documents.
I was given my folder, and brought it to my Air Force liaison "You're finished with MEPS!" the airman said.
My day at MEPS was complete.
I collected my bag from the closet and returned to my car and left the base. I visited my recruiter and told her the good news, and began selection of a job. I intend to join Security Forces.
GUIDE NOTE: Because Dave is joining the Reserves, the job selection process is done through the Recruiter. Had Dave been enlisting on active duty, the MEPS experience would have included job selection, a Security Interview, and (likely) enlistment in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP). Additionally, Dave took the ASVAB and physical on the same day. At many (most?) MEPS facilities, today, the ASVAB is performed on the afternoon of arrival, and the medical/job selection process is accomplished on the following day.
Some final thoughts on MEPS:
- Don't expect much sleep the night before.
- Eat your breakfast.
- It's not that bad, and if you pay attention you won't have any problems.
- Keep it together during the ASVAB. Yes it's long. Yes it's difficult. Pace yourself and do your best.
- Be honest in your medical background. If you have a potentially disqualifying problem, get all the documentation you can squeeze from your doctor, and get a RECENT examination. Have your verbal medical description ready: keep it concise and detailed, and keep it accurate. Let the facts speak for themselves. The doctors are very reasonable.
I hope you find this helpful! Good luck in your MEPS experiences!