My first time to New Orleans didn’t exactly endear me to the town. I was 15 and part of a group of around 100 AFJROTC cadets set to perform in several of the big Mardi Gras parades. In the pre-dawn hours, we gathered in the high school parking lot and stuffed our belongings in the belly of a bright silver charter bus. It seemed to take hours to get everything sorted and indeed the sun had risen before we ever left the parking lot.
The officers – myself included – had ignored all dress code edicts and appeared in sweats and pajamas for the 14 hour ride. We played cards, told dirty jokes and mooned passersby before the early wakeup call wore us down and we all fell into various states of unconsciousness. Lunch was a bleary eyed stop at some interstate fast food spot and the travel quickly continued. It was dark when we finally pulled into New Orleans and, even the flickering lights and music weren’t enough to garner much emotion from any of us. Instead, we poured out of the bus, grabbed the luggage nearest us (not bothering to glance at the tag) and trudged up the exhausting gangway to the Navy ship we would call home for the week – the USS Guam.
We found our Air Force group staying on a Navy vessel an amusing anecdote to the trip but the soldiers who blocked our way seemed anything but amused. Apparently, some of our group had failed to pass the security check to to incomplete paperwork. As our ASI went off to deal with the issue, we plopped the bags down in the entrance bay and laid down in traveler’s exhaustion. Hours later, we awoke to badges being thrown at us, commands being shouted and with the lack of respect only teenagers can show, we grudgingly fell into ranks while the Navy officer bellowed out rules of our stay.
The only rules that we actually took notice of were the curfew (3am) and that women were not allowed out of the medical bay unescorted. We girls, it turned out, were being housed in the currently empty medical bay which was undergoing refurbishment before the ship returned to its battle group. The upside was that we would be without adult supervision (no men allowed in the bay). The downside was that while we were more or less sequestered, the boys had the full run of the ship and were allowed to mingle with the crew, evening working out in the ship gym and taking breakfasts in the dining hall. Sufficiently chastised for whatever actions we might be considering engaging in during the next few days, we were finally sent on our way with the most embarrassing security tags draped around our neck on glow in the dark lanyards (I would, it turns out, purposefully lost the ID tag every single day during the trip because I loathed it so much).
Being the only female officer of the group, I was tasked to get the girls where they needed to be on time. I spread them out among the surprisingly comfy beds and we crashed for three hours before it was time to be up again.