Graduating from basic is apparently now a Big Deal. When Kirk graduated he did it pretty much on his own, celebrated with a free head shave (mandatory) and showed up at the local airport a day later bald, limping and about 15 pounds lighter. For Child 2 I was sent a large packet about two weeks in explaining all about graduation and what the FOUR DAYS would involve. Four. Days. High school graduation was all of 3 hours (two if you don't count trying to find the darn Child in the scrum after). There was information on hotels, on travel, on getting cars on and off base and, right at the end, a tasteful note pointing out that graduation was not guaranteed and so travel arrangements should definitely be of the returnable variety.
There was also a large section on the Very Exciting DVD which would be available for purchase! It was hours and hours long and had footage of every last important moment, really, with up-close bits of all the recruits's agonized little faces. Just imagine!
Still, I do quite like the Child and so we did make a hotel reservation (non-returnable. I'm just living life on the edge baby) and inform Child 3's school that it would be missing a few days. Then we drove through enormous amounts of Texas (note to self: never, never ever again, never no matter what ever, NEVER go through El Paso) and arrived tired and only slightly cranky on Wednesday night.
Thursday we opted to skip the Family and Friend Briefing because A) it was at 0-early in the morning (and would then leave us sitting on bleachers for 2 hours) and B) given the choice between sitting for an hour or so and being bored or counting on Child 2 to know approximately what we were and weren't supposed to do I totally decided Child 2 would be on top of things. So we had a nice leisurely morning and managed, with only three u-turns, to arrive at the right place in more than enough time.
In fact, we thought for a moment that we had inadvertently arrived in time for the briefing because there was a man cheerfully haranguing a large crowd of people. There was also a huge line right in the middle of the concrete pad but I have learned not to line up for something without first knowing what it is and we instead decided to find a place on the bleachers, preferably of the Easy Exit variety. It quickly became clear that the man was giving a detailed and enthusiastic pitch for the Very Exciting DVD, a pitch which went on for another 30 minutes, and the people in line were waiting in the sun for the chance to wave-and-smile for their particular recruit. Yup, along with muddy children with concrete guns and glimpses of your own child running around the base there would be about 2 hours of total strangers doing a two minute 'Hi BABY!!' humiliation message for their kid. We decided, with only a few pangs, not to purchase the DVD. However, the line of people provided at least moderate entertainment while we waited for the actual event to kick off.
This began with the traditional Introduction of the Worthies which started off with Colonel In Charge, And Wife Rhonda. For some reason that struck us as incredibly funny and for the rest of the morning we kept inserting 'and Wife Rhonda' into every announcement and giggling. We could see blocks of blue sort of arranging themselves down the street and were all getting a bit antsy what with the sun being rather warm and the bleachers rather hard so it was rather a relief when they finally set up the Drum and Bugle types (recruits - wasn't clear if they will Drum and Bugle for the rest of their careers or if they just happened to be Drumming and Bugling aficionados who volunteered out of a deep and abiding love of Sousa) and began marching in the kids. I was maintaining a dignified pose, natch, while trying to see if it was possible to tell the difference between one blue-clad person and another (answer - no. With luck gender is at least guessable, particularly as they clump the genders together and Never the Twain Mix) and had to be elbowed in order to appreciate the fantastic move the recruits were doing. They would get their little block of people into approximately the right place and then the In Charge Scary Person (they were) would bark something and the entire group would do this fantastic penguin shuffle until everything was beautifully lined up. We got to see it about eight times and it never lost its charm - 30 or so blue people all waddling rapidly in formation. Fantastic.
After all that the ceremony took about two minutes flat as each recruit was handed a Basic Training coin, were led in a Group Shout and finally announced to be released. Our bleachers swayed disconcertingly as the Rather Large Family members all stampeded forward and we all sort of cautiously approached the recruits. And there was Child 2! In blue! With a coin (that she nearly dropped during the Group Shout but saved due to clever use of Parade Rest hands)!
She wasn't allowed off base that day and had a curfew so we spent the rest of the day sort of wandering around the mini mall (being a) allowed to admire the Place Where Child 2 Shopped; b) shown the Off Limits Area; c) told that the most valuable, wonderful items in the whole wide world ever are small packs of toilet paper and disposable toothbrushes - the green ones taste best apparently). We fed the Child (ice cream) hugged it and deposited it back in its designated return area before heading back to the hotel.
Day 1 was just warm up for Day 2 though. Day 2 found us in a totally different set of bleachers (unfortunately in full sun), 2 hours before the start of the Official Graduation. We did get to see the TI's (Training Instructors? I think?) practice the parade part of the whole thing which was entertaining as apparently there wasn't a lot of communication at first so they solemnly marched past, the important types at the front peeled off and marched beautifully to one side and the rest sort of continued on, disappearing into the distance until a runner was sent to retrieve them and make them quick march back (with some choice shouting) for another go around. There was also a loud and probably normally unbearable man behind us who told a very funny story about how, when the minister at his daughter's wedding did the 'if there be any here present who knows any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined in marriage, I require him now to make it known or ever after hold his peace' bit this guy stepped forward, opened his mouth and paused a second, then snapped a photo. He said his daughter's face was a treat. I figure he was lucky to have survived the experience.
At any rate, we sat, baking and gasping in the now extremely hot sun and, at least me, wondering WHY ON EARTH they couldn't have just done something quick and simple yesterday and let us have the rest of the weekend to frolic (only I understand the military is a bit down on frolicking in general) when they finally paraded the recruits in and stood them all on the grass in their neat little rows. At which point we were all asked to rise while the base chaplain gave an invocation.
'Oh Lord,' he started, 'you formed us out of this DIRT.' there was a snigger. It wasn't me.
'The DIRT these recruits have crawled through...'
'... as their TI's SQUEEZED THE WEAKNESS OUT OF 'EM!' there were several more sniggers. I held it together.
'For their perfume was the SWEAT of HARD WORK'
'the FUNK! Of gunpowder and steel!'
At which point I lost it completely and had to be supported.
It was the best darn invocation I ever heard ever, in my whole life. And I know Child 2 will never forget it.
I'll make sure of it.