Yet Another MEPS Experience

My Day at the Indianapolis MEPS in October 2003

Indianapolis MEPS
The Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Indianapolis, Minnesota.. Official DOD Photo

by Courtney Elmore

After your recruiter pre-screens you in his office and determines that you are a valid candidate for the U.S. Military, he or she will send you to the MEPS, or Military Entry Processing Station. (As you are about to learn, everything in the military is an acronym). As your recruiter will probably tell you, MEPS is a bad, scary place where everyone is out to disqualify you from joining the service.

This doesn't necessarily have to be true! (Read on, young recruit, read on).

Getting There Is Half the Fun

If you are going to MEPS to process in for the first time, it will normally be a 2-day experience. Your recruiter will have you come to his office on day one. He will complete any leftover paperwork and hopefully make sure he's briefed you on all that's to come. If he doesn't, then you will have read this page and saved yourself much pain. Then, he'll either drive you to the MEPS center or put you on a shuttle that takes you there. I remember when it came time for me to get on that shuttle; my recruiter was like a mother watching her only child leave. As I was climbing up into the van, he kept shouting remarks of encouragement and reminding me not to change any of the answers that we'd talked about in his office (so as to not disqualify myself or delay the process). And as the van pulled away, I think I may have even seen a tear in dear SSgt Daugherty's eye.

He'd done all he could do; it was now up to me to make him proud.

The shuttle ride to MEPS was interesting. I was the only female, among 10 men. There was one other Air Force, one Marine, one Navy, and 6 Army. The Army boys were shippers. At MEPS, a vast number of recruits will be "shippers". This means, simply, this is the day they ship to Basic Training for their respective branch of service.

The other guys were doing things like going from Reserve to Active Duty and whatnot. Because the "shippers" have nothing to do on day one, they were dropped at the hotel, along with the other boys who didn't have anything to do, and then the shuttle driver took me to MEPS.

Arriving at MEPS

The shuttle driver walked with me to the Main Control Desk (which my recruiter would have done if he had taken me), and then was on his way. When you go into the MEPS building, there are two very important rules.

  1. Don't wear anything on your head. Take off your hat, sunglasses, and/or headphones.
  2. Don't put your feet up on the chairs. I know, you're tired and you want to relax, and maybe you "forgot". DON'T DO IT! You'll thank yourself later.

In addition to these two rules, just use common sense. It's a federal building. Don't carry any weapons (that includes a pocket knife), don't use profane language (you're not at Marine boot camp just yet), and most certainly do not harass your female counterparts (or vice versa).

There were 3 females (total) who "processed in" with me at MEPS, compared to about 40 males. I didn't really appreciate it when some young, punk 17-year-old, Marine-hopeful told me how the guys were all talking about how I was "f***able". If anyone important hears you've been pulling this kind of crap, good luck making it through this particular MEPS experience. They don't tolerate this stuff lightly. Lucky for Marine boy, I didn't tell the higher-ups. I did, however, wish him luck at boot camp.

The Main Control Desk

The Main Control Desk (I feel that this really must be a proper noun, and therefore capitalized) is where I got my very first taste of MEPS. My first important piece of advice to you is not to piss off the nice folks at this desk. There was a female Petty Officer (Navy) and she was not very friendly as she asked for the packet of information that my recruiter sent along with me. She took what she needed from the packet and handed it back to me.

"Do you need to use the restroom?" she asked.

Even if they don't offer to let you go, GO! You are about to take a really long, important test, so do yourself the favor and ask if you may go. I did so, and then upon returning to the Control Desk, Miss Congeniality directed me down the hall to the test room.

The ASVAB

When you see the sign that says, "turn off all cell phones and pagers," do yourself the favor and turn it off. "Silent" doesn't count. Just do it; the guy inside the door will like you better. Once inside the door, you'll be instructed to put down your backpack and he'll show you to a computer. This is where you'll take the ASVAB - Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. This test is somewhat like the SAT, except it covers more subject areas like electronics and car maintenance. I suppose you could study for these things, but then you might end up in a career field you know absolutely nothing about. So, unless you are a complete idiot, don't worry about studying for the ASVAB. I personally know very little about car repair and even less about electrical engineering, and I still got a 91 of 99, which is considered to be a high score. My sister--who has probably never even checked her oil--got a 94, and she's only 17 years old. On the other hand, if you know how to wire a house and change a transmission, but failed high school Algebra, you'll probably do alright, also. Where you lack in one area, you can make up in another. Like I said, don't worry!

One thing you should start doing right away is to pay attention to the directions you're given. Not just on this test, but from the people in charge. The Sergeant who administers the test will probably give you very explicit directions about what to do if you need help. Pay attention!

At the End of the Day

When we were done, Miss Congeniality (the first Petty Officer from the Control Desk) patted us on the head and put us on the shuttle. Well, maybe not exactly. She lectured us about what would happen if we were caught drinking while staying in the hotel and told us to stay out of trouble. (That is the nice, paraphrased way of saying it). Once you are on the shuttle to the hotel, you are out of the eyes of the MEPS folk. Loosen up! Make a friend. Talk to the people around you, and at least you'll have someone to sit with at dinner.

When you get to the hotel, just tell the folks at the front desk that you are military, and they'll send you where you need to go. You'll sign a paper saying you won't tear the room apart, get a dinner pass, and get your room key. You'll probably have a roommate. If you get to the room and you are alone, expect to come in the room after dinner and find them there. Enjoy this time. You may never see this person again, but if they are shipping, be sure to wish them luck. They are probably scared out of their mind, and they need all the encouragement they can get.

Go get yourself some dinner, enjoy the company of those around you, and get some sleep. Your 4:30 a.m. wake-up call will come entirely too early. Also, remember that if you incur any room charges, you are responsible for paying them. MEPS only picks up the tab for the room, not phone calls and movies.

Day #2

On the second day, you need to be ready to get on the shuttle back to MEPS no later than 5:00 a.m. They will take off at 5, if not sooner. (This may vary by MEPS station. You should have been paying attention before to find out!) Don't expect a wake-up call . . . set your alarm. It's a good idea to go downstairs and get breakfast at the continental breakfast that the hotel offers, because lunch isn't till 11:30 or so. It's a long day if you are hungry!

Once you get to MEPS on the second day, they will be even less friendly than the first. They'll line everyone up in an entry area, debrief you about entering the building, and then single-file, everyone will go through the metal detectors. Be quiet. Even if you know the routine and you've been here before, be quiet. You don't want to piss off some Marine Sergeant at 5 a.m. It's not worth it! Maybe he was just saying it to scare us, but apparently the day I was there, he pulled three shippers out of line and they were going to have to wait another six months to ship because of their conduct.

The Liaison

This will probably be your first contact with your branch of service at MEPS. You'll check in with whichever branch you are entering. Sgt Heronimus checked me in (I'm Air Force). You sign a little paper, get a little nametag, and if the guy is as cool as "Hero," they'll give you a little review before the physical, just to make sure you didn't forget anything.

"Ever do drugs?"

"No."

"Ever been sick?"

"No."

"Are you gonna' change any of your answers for the doctor?"

"No."

"Outstanding. Good Luck."

As you can see, these guys are on your side! Plus, any liaison who has Puddle of Mudd's "She Hates Me" on their computer play list just has to be cool.

The Physical

The physical exam is just as important as the ASVAB. If you don't pass this, you can't get in. Now, that's not to say that there aren't waivers for certain ailments, but remember how important this is. Your answers must be clear "yes" and "no" answers. An answer like, "well, let me think . . ." or "kind of" means "yes." Make sure you haven't done any drugs in the last 45 days, because it's not even worth your time to go down there if you have. This is the most thorough physical exam you will ever take in your entire life. We're not talking about a high school athletic physical, here.

The lady running the show was not very nice. She's not supposed to be. She will try to scare you into putting down any little thing by telling you about the $10,000 fine or time in jail, but really, she's not as scary as my recruiter said she'd be. Remember that anything you answer "yes" to will require medical documentation, and itdelays the process. You should know this up front, and any medical documentation should have been provided to your recruiter in advance. Waiting until the MEPS trip to do this is not good. It's simply going to result in your disqualification until the medical documentation can be obtained and reviewed.

They will test your hearing, vision, depth perception, and take blood. You will also have to give urine with someone watching you. Yes, this means you'll pee in front of someone. The guys said their person was really watching, but for us girls, the lady just stood there facing us, but looking above us. You will have a short visit with one of the doctors, who will check you out and also ask you if you've ever done drugs or anything like that.

The last part of the physical is in your skivvies. Make sure you wear brief underwear, girls! If you wear a thong, you'll have to go to your liaison and ask for a pair. They'll give you some brand new undines if you do--granny panties! After everyone strips down, they'll weigh you, check your height, and look at the arches in your feet. Then another doctor will come in and watch you perform various exercises like arm circles, a duck walk, and walking on tip toes. I don't know exactly what happens for the guys--I assume it's "turn your head and cough". The girls go one at a time into a small examining room with the doctor and a female NCO (Noncommissioned Officer). The doctor will give you a brief breast exam, check your breathing, feel your lymph nodes, and make you put your feet in the stirrups. He will briefly look at you below. It's not really bad at all.

If you pass everything, you are all done! The Air Force also requires that you lift weights to see how strong you are. This isn't hard, but try not to let them rush you! Now, you're all done, and you can take your physical paperwork to the Main Control Desk. If you haven't yet found out what your ASVAB score was, ask them now. They'll have it in front of them.

Job Counseling

You'll go back to the liaison to let them know you passed the physical inspection, and they may go ahead and job counsel you right there. It just so happens I was the only person processing into the Air Force that day, so I had plenty of time to look at jobs. Try to get an idea of all the jobs before you go to MEPS. Once you find out what you're qualified for, you won't have to ask quite as many questions. You can spend more time deciding which jobs you like best, and put them in order of preference. This may seem like a very rushed time, but do not choose any jobs you wouldn't want to do. It is possible for them to book any of your preferences. On the other hand, be open to new possibilities. I had never imagined myself being part of EOD -- Explosive Ordnance Disposal (blowing up bombs that didn't blow the first time), but I was originally booked in that job. I would have been very happy with that career field, and I had never even known it existed! This is why you should have several job options in mind before you go. (As it turns out, I passed an additional test (the Defense Language Aptitude Battery) that I took in order to become a linguist, so upon my request, they booked me a new job the next day. I had wanted the linguist job the primarily.)

They'll send you to lunch, and hopefully, when you're done, they've booked your dream job! If not, don't worry. You'll be put on a Q&W (qualified and waiting) list until your job opens up. After you find out if your job was booked or not, you'll be on your way with your recruiter, or wait on the shuttle.

Waiting at the End

Once the day is over and you don't have anything to do, you'll be very tired. You are not allowed to sleep while at MEPS. Don't you wish you'd have gone to bed earlier last night? I had to stay for a 3rd day so that I could take the DLAB (Defense Language Aptitude Battery) for the linguist job. I had to wait all day to take a test that lasted 2 hours. I promise you, even after a full 8 hours the night before, I wanted to sleep very badly. But this is when I realized that MEPS is not nearly as scary as Sgt Daugherty, my recruiter, said it would be.

I took smoke breaks with the Naval Petty Officers, I shredded paperwork for the Air Force Sergeants, and joked around with the Army Sergeant at the Control Desk. Because I showed them respect and followed directions, they were friendly to me. In fact, MSgt Eakins, the head-honcho-USAF-liaison guy bought me a Coke and a Snicker's bar for helping them out! You'll notice that the liaisons are on your side. Assuming you're not a total punk, they are glad you've decided to join the Air Force (or your respective branch), and they also appreciate your help if you aren't doing anything else.

So, young recruits, be respectful, follow directions, don't put your feet up on chairs, don't sleep, give firm answers during your physical, be prepared, and MEPS will be good to you. It doesn't have to be as scary as your recruiter said! By the time I left, I was no longer "hey, you", I was "Ms. Elmore". It could happen for you, too! Good luck.

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