I rolled into Camp Atterbury around noon (Sunday) and dragged my tons of gear into the one-story Building 303, as instructed on the flyer. There was one long, wide room with a bare concrete floor. Some small wooden desks were arranged along the outer edges of the room under the small windows, no doubt salvaged from a school that had been condemned in the 1970s. In the wide center of the room were some mismatched couches which put me in mind of that Volkswagen commercial of a few years ago (Dah dah dah…), all facing a surprisingly nice Visio wide-screen TV at the end of the room, tuned to a basketball game. The room was empty, but a door next to the TV had a laser-printed, Scotch-taped sign that said “IRDO Checkin.” I opened the door and a uniformed enlisted man who was lounging on a small love seat, watching his own TV, leaped to his feet and made a half-hearted attempt to look business like. I started to tell him who I was, but before I could finish he told me to take my stuff to Building 408 then report back here. As I hoisted my burdens and turned to go, he said “Oh wait. You’ll need these.” From a couple of cardboard boxes he pulled a pair of folded sheets which perhaps in their youth were white, and an olive drab wool blanket that felt like it had been woven at a steel wool factory. I could see my nightly repose shaping up real well from that point on.
As instructed I hauled and dragged over to 408, which was about 100 yards to the north. From the outside it was clear that this was one of the original structures from when Camp Atterbury was built in 1942. From the inside it was even more obvious. Long rows of bunk beds, tall gray lockers, and pairs of battered black wooden footlockers stretched into the distance. Same bare concrete floor as the “day room” in 303, same tiny windows, same thin layer of grime and filth on everything. I looked in vain for a bottom bunk that didn’t already look occupied (signified by a green blanket on it, in some form of kemptness) but there were none. I resigned myself that for the next week I would have to be climbing over someone to get in and out of my bunk, and I vowed not to drink anything after 4 PM every day so that I wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the night. Even though no one else was in the barracks at that moment—something which gave me pause for concern that I was missing an important briefing—I stowed some of my stuff in an empty locker, and tried to squeeze and shove my suitcase and armor vest into the locker. I was trying not to make too much noise, banging the empty steel lockers, but that just made my movements clumsy and I had a flash of vision of myself as a cross between Bill Murray in Stripes and Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin: “Where are the beaches? Where are the condos?”
Eventually stuff was stowed securely enough and I trudged back to 303. There were a few other folks there at that point, sitting on the couches. Just after I arrived a white school bus pulled up and we filed out. It creaked and rattled its way down to the south end of the base and disgorged us in front of a low steel building. We went inside where in-processing was already, well, in process. After picking up our “welcome packets” I furiously filled out fields and signed signatures in an attempt to catch up, and eventually succeeded. After all forms were filled out to the instructor’s satisfaction, we queued up to turn the forms in. What they didn’t mention at that time was that different instructors the next day would be asking us to provide those very same forms, so most of us had to fill them out all over again. Then we were to take those forms and sit down at computers and fill in computerized versions of the forms. At this point, we can pretty well recreate those forms in our sleep. What became of the original versions we filled out, we’ll never know. They probably went right to the incinerator.
After busing us back to Building 303, they informed us that we had no more scheduled activities for the day, and that we were on our own until the briefing at 0700 on Monday. I retrieved my laptop and took it over to 303, hoping to catch up on email and fill out my timecard, but found there was no WiFi signal in 303. Nor in 408. Nor anywhere on this 65-square-mile base, apparently. Which is why you’re not reading these posts in real time. Thwarted, I decided to act on a conversation I had overheard and seek out the one “restaurant” on post, a Subway sandwich shop, about half a mile from the barracks. I found it, along with a PX at which I bought a towel (I had stupidly sent my towels on ahead to Bagram, thinking the Army might furnish them; ha!) and a barber shop, launderette, massage parlor (a legit one, not one of THOSE kinds), and a Blackhawk tactical store, which was closed on Sundays. The fact that a weapons store was closed for the Sabbath but a massage parlor wasn’t, struck me as funny. I went in and enjoyed a small sandwich while reading a book, then went back to the barracks. By that time all the residents were in residence, and I was stigmatized by the fact that I was the only person in a top bunk. Fortunately my bunk-mate, a friendly, ruddy, blond-haired fireplug of a Texan named Ray Clark pointed out that a bottom bunk across the way, while appearing occupied, was probably in fact abandoned since no one had slept in it the night before and no one had been seen there all that day; also, the locker was empty. I decided to wait until 8 PM to see if anyone showed up to claim it, and when no one did I pounced, and moved all my stuff over and made the bed for the second time that day (wishing I had rubber gloves to remove the toxic waste of someone else’s sheets and pillow). The simple fact of having a bottom bunk made a world of difference in my comfort and well-being; how easily we’re satisfied when deprived of our normal creature comforts.