I served in the Women's Army Corps in the years from 1968-1972. The Corps no longer exists, but is now a part of history. Our methods of organizing our gear was totally different from anything I'd ever known. My mother was a taskmaster, an excellent housekeeper. Our house was always spotless, so I didn't think I had too much to learn about organization. I couldn't have been more wrong!
Let's Talk About WAC Organization
My first introduction to military service was at night, having come in from the bus station in Anniston, Alabama. We were sent to Processing where we met a rawboned woman in an immaculate uniform who ticked us off by name on a roster, then informed us: "My first name is Sergeant, my last name is Bell. Whenever you refer to me in any manner, even answering roll call or a question, you will answer with my full name." WOW! I thought, "Oh man, what did I get myself into?" If she asked a question and you answered simply "yes or no," you can bet she'd be standing nose to nose with you in an instant, yelling "WHAT DID YOU SAY?" And you knew you'd better answer properly, "Yes (or No) Sergeant Bell." After a couple days of listening to Sergeant Bell give us instructions about how to address her, we were relieved to be moved to a platoon. My platoon was Alpha-3 and my Platoon Sergeant was Sergeant Valentine. Believe me, that was a misnomer if I ever heard one.
Basic training took place in Ft. McClellan, Alabama. We came in from all parts of the country, from all races, creeds and colors. We lived in a single barracks (known as a bay,) where we were totally responsible for its cleanliness. Some of these girls had never had to sweep a floor, much less use an electric buffer, but we set to work to do what was called for by Sergeant V. We pushed and pulled each other, and by the time basic was finished in eight weeks, we worked together as a team.
The beds and lockers were all aligned so that there was a center aisle we were never allowed to step foot on, unless we were cleaning and buffing it. It was known quietly between us recruits as "God's Aisle." This was where the NCOs (non-commissioned officers, i.e., sergeants) and Commissioned Officers (Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, etc.) did "walk through" inspections. If we were lucky, we got those instead of individual inspections. Many times they went down the center aisle, only to turn back up the center aisle and then around to our individual areas. We never knew when it was to be what we called a "real" inspection.
Details Are Not What You Think
When someone was assigned a "detail" in the WAC, it meant you were responsible for the cleanliness of such area or item, for the entire platoon. "Details" were assigned by Sergeant V daily, and inspected closely to see they were done properly. The first day, we were asked to place a check mark beside our name on a roster to indicate if we were interested in being a Squad Leader. These would be the Sergeant's team to help inspect our details. I did not check my name, I wanted no responsibility until I figured out if I was going to stay. Right then, it didn't seem likely.
Details, Demerits, Recycling
The walls and floors of the bathroom showers were scrubbed each day with a brush and cleaner/disinfectant. The bathroom sinks and commodes were scrubbed each day. If a speck of dirt or filth was found upon inspection, the person responsible for that detail that day was "gigged" or given a demerit. If someone racked up too many demerits, they could get "recycled," which meant they were sent back to begin the first week all over, in another platoon. Nobody wanted to repeat any more time than they had to. Demerits or gigs were far too easy to come by, as I was about to learn. The floors of the bay area were swept with a large commercial broom, mopped with water and a commercial mop and bucket, then buffed with an electric buffer to a high shine.
I Knew My Time Had Come!
Inspections were held almost daily for the first few weeks. On my first inspection, they opened my locker and I received a BUB (button unbuttoned) for each button on each jacket and skirt hanging in my locker! GEEZ! Nobody ever told me, if you weren't wearing them, they had to be buttoned! I also got gigged for every zipper unzipped, a ZUZ. My brass wasn't polished enough, my shoes weren't shiny enough...and on and on. This gave me a humongous total, and I figured I was done in, my time had come! But oh no, they weren't done yet!
Goddess of Wisdom and War
Symbol of The Women's Army Corps
Other Violations Noted
I had a tissue waving out of the top of a Kleenex box, that also got me a gig. That was my introduction to the tucked and covered Kleenex. Then they went to my footlocker, which we were taught belonged at the end of our bed. Nobody told me it had to be lined up exactly with the bed posts of our metal frame bed. Another gig! And when they opened the footlocker I was already in agony, because I knew there'd be even more things wrong! Sure enough, pantyhose were just beginning at that time, but we weren't allowed to put them in our footlocker, but had to put nylons (we didn't wear) there, rolled tightly. Sergeant V picked up each one of my nylons, gave them a swift yank and they fell open, resulting in two more gigs! We never wore a garter belt, because we wore the new pantyhose, but yep! you guessed it! It had to be there in the footlocker just the same, in a particular divided area, placed just so. Of course, mine was wrong! Gigged again!
A Quarter Will Bounce If It's Right
Then they proceeded to my bed. Beds in the WAC at that time, were metal, just the size for one person. They were to be made with a bottom sheet (not fitted!) a top sheet, and an Army blanket, pillow and pillowcase. Our Sergeant turned to her aid who was writing down the gigs, said "quarter please." The aid handed her a quarter, which she quickly threw in the center of my bed and it just laid there. I'm wondering, "What on earth is that for?" when she reached down to the cover on my bed and gave it a hard yank, jerking the covers off. Then she picked the mattress up and threw it on the floor. Gigged again, several times! The quarter was supposed to bounce off the blanket, the sheets were supposed to be folded a certain way before being tucked tightly at each corner, and only a set amount of inches of white sheet was to be visible at the top of the blanket (YES! they measured with a yardstick.) I figured I was on my way out before I ever really got IN. Sergeant V kept up a flowing list of my faults, that the aid dutifully took down on the yellow legal pad. Then Sergeant V turned to me (I'm standing there at attention with my heart in my throat) referred to the fact that I was older than most of the women in the platoon, told me I needed to "get my act together," if I didn't want to be part of another platoon, and all I could say was, "Yes Sergeant V," and pray she'd move on before she found something else. She did. Each member of the platoon was given a pretty hard "rake over the coals," and it was all done in the presence of the rest of us.
Courtesy of the Author
Did Those Inspections Help Us Bond?
You bet they did...we had a common enemy, as well as a common need to show her we could do this. By the time we graduated, we were the best Platoon in Company A. Organized? Sure, we were, but I can tell you this...I doubt any of us EVER lived our lives like that again! By the way, Sergeant V was proud of us, and she wasn't so bad after all.
Author's Note: The Women's Army Corps was disbanded in 1978, when male and female forces were integrated.