It’s official. On the evening of March 29th, I’ll be driving to Raleigh to check into a Hilton hotel for the evening so that I can be up at the ass crack of dawn to head to the Military Entrance Processing Station (better known as MEPS) to begin my minimum of a month long wait for the Surgeon General of the Air Force Reserve’s blessing on my enlistment process. Fingers crossed I get the green light.
But in the face of this exciting event, I’m reminded of my last time at MEPS. Granted, that experience was over two years ago and in a completely different state (my first attempt at enlistment being made in Louisville, Kentucky), but I can only imagine it’ll be a very similar process. The biggest difference, aside from state location, is that the first time I went, it was a two day event. I drove up there one afternoon, took my ASVAB, went back to the hotel, slept, got up at the ass crack of dawn, then went and spent all day at MEPS doing their physical examination.
I don’t know how much, if any, things have changed since then. Looking over the “rules and regulations” paper my recruiter gave me, things are pretty much the same. I’m sure if you’re looking to face your time at MEPS your recruiter has given you the low down of what to expect, but here’s what I can tell you about it. From one recruit to another, these are the things the recruiters may not mention to you.
1) Get real comfortable with your body.
I’m not going to assume I know how confident you are in your naked self, but if you’re not super confident you might want to work on that before you go up. The doctor will examine you completely naked but they (and possibly a chaperon) will be the only one(s) to see you naked. If you’re a female, you’ll be separated from the males who are processing and be asked to strip to your skivvies but you will be with other females. Males, you’ll be with other males. The only person of the opposite gender who could see you in your underwear are official MEPS doctors and technicians but you will always be in the presence of at least one of the same gender as you. They’re job is to make sure that you’re anatomically clear to serve and that’s really all they care about, so there’s no need to feel self concious. As for feeling weird around all the other recruits… well the likelihood of ever seeing a majority of them again is slim to none so don’t feel too bad.
2) Drink lots of water the night before and the morning of the physical.
If you’re a coffee drinker in the mornings, I would consider passing on a cup just this once. Too much caffeine or sugar could mess with your blood sugar and cause you to be disqualified. They also do a urinalysis once you check into the MEPS center, so having to pee is a good thing. WARNING: you will be watched while you “pee in a cup”. Sorry, but someone has to have eyes on you the entire time you do it. This is where being comfortable with your body comes in handy. I’m pretty comfortable with myself, but even having someone watch me go to the bathroom was weird. If you’re having issues doing your business, try closing your eyes and imagining a rushing river or some other flowing body of water. It sounds cliche, but it really does help.
3) Eat the morning of the physical.
Don’t eat a whole lot, and especially avoid anything high in sugar, but you need to eat something. You’re getting up at the ass crack of dawn (I say that a lot) so you might not feel like eating, but trust me you need to. Once you get to the MEPS center, you’re likely going to be standing outside/in the lobby (depending on the temperature outside) for a good chunk of time and you won’t get to eat until lunch (which is at noon). If your recruiter advises you not to eat because he or she doesn’t want you to be over at the weigh in, tell them you’re not ready to go to MEPS. There was a girl in our processing group whose recruiter told her not to eat the morning of so she didn’t weigh over the limit for her height. She passed out four times while standing in line waiting to go upstairs. She was disqualified before she even got started. I get wanting to get the process started as soon as possible, but if there’s a chance you could be over in your weight class, I would hold off on going to MEPS until you know you’re in the green.
4) You’re gonna get cold.
Just accept that now. You’re basically going to be sitting in a doctor’s office for an extended period of time in nothing but your underwear. While they tell you to wear socks there, you will be asked to remove those at some point (though they let us wear them while we were sitting and waiting to keep our feet warm). If you like the cold, more power to you. You likely won’t feel the affects of sitting on a plastic chair practically naked. For the rest of the normal world, you’re gonna get chilly. Sorry.
5) If you have any piercings, take them out before you even leave your house.
Piercings aren’t a disqualification (unless you have stretched ears in which anything too large could prevent you from passing), but it’s a good idea to take them out before you even leave your house to go to the MEPS center. You’re not allowed to wear them into the physical and taking them out before you even go gets rid of the hassle of having to remember to take them out and then trying to find a place to store them. The first time I went, I forgot to take out the small gauges I had in my ears (they were maybe a 16g). They were actually lip studs. But I digress. I got one of them out and into my purse (which I had brought to put my cell phone in because you’re not allowed to have that on you while you’re processing) but I wasn’t able to unscrew the little ball on the other one. The Air Force liaison gave me the weirdest look when I asked if he had access to a pair of needle nose pliers so I could hold the flat back of the earring while I twisted the ball off. Luckily, he found me a pair and I was able to get it out. Otherwise, I’d have been disqualified for that instead of my heart surgery.
6) A disqualification isn’t the complete end of the road.
In my case, I went to MEPS knowing I would be disqualified. Heart surgery in your medical history is an automatic “no”, no matter what. But if you have documents that prove your heart surgery doesn’t hinder your health at all, you can appeal the disqualification and MEPS will send your medical records and their examination of you to the Surgeon General of whatever branch in which you’re trying to enlist for review and he or she will decide from there whether or not you qualify for a waiver. The first time I tried, he decided I didn’t qualify. But he decided this because he was worried about the affects of the heart surgery on my sternum. Only they didn’t crack my sternum open in my surgery (which is the normal procedure). So I’m appealing my initial disqualification this time. Now there are some instances where a disqualification at MEPS is the end of the road. It really just all depends on why you were disqualified. Talking to your recruiter about it afterwards will help you determine if you can try again.
7) You are in no way obligated to enlist if you pass the exam.
Just like a disqualification isn’t the end, a pass isn’t always the beginning. I don’t know how the process goes after you pass the exam (because I was disqualified), but I know some of the girls weren’t 100% sure they wanted to actually enlist. It all depended on what jobs they got offered based on their ASVAB scores from the previous day. But you are in no way obligated to sign that contract just because you passed your physical exam. Hell, you’re not even obligated to sign the contract if they offer you the job you want. You’re not even obligated to sign that day if you’re still not sure. Though, if they have a job you would like to do, I suggest signing anyway. Until you ship to basic and sign your final contract, you can still technically back out. MEPS isn’t the real day you sign your life away as they say.
8) Your time at MEPS is all in what you make it.
When I processed in Louisville, it was like one big party at the hotel. There were at least thirty other recruits there trying for all the different branches. We had an entire conference room to ourselves to play video games, watch movies, play board games, eat snacks and just hang out. Or you could go to your room. You had access to the pool if you wanted to swim, but it was recommended that you didn’t because the recruiters didn’t want you to be too tired the next morning. But your time at the hotel/MEPS could be fun or it could be a real bore. At first, most of the girls in my processing group were a bit nervous but it didn’t take long to break the ice and by the end of it all we were laughing and making jokes. I haven’t seen them since that day, but I still remember all their names, what branches they were going for and where they were from.
I’m sure there are other things I’ve forgotten to mention. After all, I went through the process over three years ago, but this is what I can remember. In my post-MEPS entry I’ll touch on anything I’ve forgotten or needed to add. Or if you can think of something I didn’t touch on, lemme know!