learning to trust my own opinions and expertise
When you think of the Australian Defence Forces, what do you think of? I am guessing that you think Army. And if that thought took shape as a person, I bet you are thinking tanned, fit, strong bloke wearing khaki camouflage gear.
Now, if I said, Navy, there are probably two lines of thought: Is that the one with the boats? or, if you were a fan of the TV show Sea Patrol, you might be thinking tanned, fit, strong bloke wearing grey camouflage gear.
And if I said Air Force
Oh dear. I know it’s poor form to laugh at your own jokes, but I did get quite a giggle out of that. Of course NO-ONE thinks about the Air Force. But, to get back on track, if you were to think of the Air Force probably the best you could do is conjure up an image of Top Gun tanned, fit, strong Tom Cruise wearing ray-bans. (And yes, I know that the movie was ACTUALLY a Navy movie, but it’s still probably what you’re thinking of because of all the jet planes and stuff.)
And now I am going to shock the heck out of you: Mild mannered, struggles-to-do-a-pushup, wuss-bag ME commenced my career as an Officer in the Royal Australian Navy. So I can, with some authority, burst your bubble and let you know that there are a heck of a lot of not-tan, not-fit, not-strong blokes and gals in the Navy. In fact there’s a whole variety of different people that serve in the Forces, just kind of like in normal life. I definitely fitted into the incredibly average mould.
However, the one place in the Navy where you will find a consistent group of hard-core, muscled-up, fitness-crazed men is in the Clearance Diving Teams. Strength and fitness are an integral part of the work of Clearance Divers, and as such it plays a huge role in their professional life.
Back when I was 22 I was attached to one of these teams in order to provide logistics support. I was this team’s first female Logistics Support Officer. Did I mention that Clearance Divers are all male? So unfit, tubster Katrina was posted to a unit made up completely of gym-junkie guys. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and never really fit in. The guys were all very nice and polite to me, and I got on with my job no dramas. But one day each week was a NIGHTMARE.
The Team would always commence their day with a fitness activity, but every Friday morning the support staff were expected to participate. Probably in the Divers’ heads, they scaled down the activity to fit with the not-elite fitness levels of the support team, but in reality every Friday morning was an exercise in humiliation for me. If I was lucky it would be a friendly game of touch, and I could get by for the most part running vaguely up and down the field as far out of the way as possible, but without fail at some stage a sailor would feel compelled to include me, and with a solid Here Ma’am pass the ball to me at which point (if I caught it) I would run randomly for a couple of steps before being tagged or lobbing the ball wildly in the direction of anyone. All game I would be chanting under my breath Please don’t pass to me. Please don’t pass to me.
The pinnacle of this humiliation, however, was early in my posting, when the Friday exercise was a run through North Sydney. It was a convoluted route along the bay, following gorgeous winding roads around Blues Point, up and down hills, in and out of tiny lane ways… actually I am kind of guessing at the route because I couldn’t keep up with the pack. I had to stop strangers on the street and huffing and puffing ask where the group of running men had gone. Sometimes before I could say anything people would nod sympathetically and just point – the look of desperation and degredation on my face made words redundant.
After about 20 minutes I was completely lost. I eventually found a street that I recognised and started walking back to base. I was crying a flood of tears brought about by the shame, self-pity and physical hurt I was feeling, only to have to quickly wipe them away and plaster my face with a smile and a series of cheery nods as the pack passed me in dribs and drabs on their way back. I think I bit my lip so hard that it bled.
I laugh about it now – it is one of the funny stories that I tell about my time in the Navy. I like to get a laugh out of my embarrassments – and Oh God, there are many – but writing this down does bring back the dread that I used to feel heading in to work on Fridays, and the pain of the humiliation, but thankfully, also I remember the triumph and strength that I felt every time that it was over. I was not beaten. I had survived again and again, and I would always go on surviving. Knowing that about myself is a gift, and is worth the pain.