Angie Rinker: The Real Story of a United States Navy Recruit
Find Your Absolute Best in Being a Beautiful Disaster.
What is stopping you from doing your absolute best?
This question is difficult for some to answer because they’ve never been asked that question. For me, the answer has changed since my diagnosis. I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in June 2015. I felt depressed and alone but I wasn't any of those things. The feeling was overwhelming and it took me down a spiraling path. I gained 30 pounds quickly and I remembered in the past how I was always a fighter and never gave up.
Before I was diagnosed with MS in 2015, I was a new recruit in the US Navy nearly 20 years ago. I tried college for two weeks and decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. Seriously, at the time, I don’t think I followed through with anything and the United States Navy would be that. I remember always doing what I was told by superiors. Instruction always came easy to me. One of the first days in boot camp, I was caught whispering at the chow table. I couldn’t get anyone to pass down the salt and after trying several attempts to reach it without getting up from my seat. Little did I know, breathing down my neck behind me was a Petty Officer. I named her ‘ghostface’ because of the very white skin, she caked it with some sort of makeup or baby powder.
“What’s your name recruit?” she growled. Yep, she growled and her voice will stay with me forever.
“Rinker. Petty Officer.” I responded.
“Rinker, eh? Well, I know where your berthing is recruit, and it is down the hall from me. I expect to see you at my door at 1800 hours. We are going to have a party.”
I knew Ghostface’s idea for a party wouldn’t be had with cake or balloons, but the very thought of what I would have to do frightened me. As always, I tried to remain calm, and I was going to do exactly what was told to me. I was going to follow instruction all the way through. My division petty officer approached me and said, “Stinker, no worries, she will have at least three other recruits at your party. She seeks you weak ones out.” We are going to have a party.
So not only do I have to party with Ghostface, but I am labeled a weak one. Something was going to have to change for me, like the way I see myself. If I am putting myself out there as weak, then I am seen as weak?
I didn’t want to be seen as weak and that was bothering me the rest of the day. I was shining my boots and thinking, I cannot be showing her weakness. I can not. I will not.
I prayed at 1700 hours as I was washing up my face in the bathroom sink. Nothing big but a simple, ‘Jesus I need your help.’ It wasn’t the best moment for me but collectively I look back on boot camp as life lessons. I grew up a lot in Great Lakes and that third day of boot camp was the day I decided to do my absolute best.
If I am viewed as weak in my absolute best then I would be okay with that, because I know that is my best.
My Petty Officer called my ‘stinker’ name and sent me across the hallway. Petty Officer Ghostface was standing near her door to let me in. She was waiting for me and a few others trailed in behind me, just as my PO suspected. She seeks out recruits to break them. There were four of us recruits from my division and she had us in front of her division for her idea of a party. It was an intensive training party. How long could this take?
She yelled at us to drop and push ups started. A few minutes in the push ups, a blonde girl next to me started to cry. Petty Officer Ghostface yelled out, “NOT ON YOUR KNEES!” Needless to say it didn’t help us much. If anything, the tears, it pissed off Petty Officer Ghostface even more and immediately were asked to do high knees. After a forever amount of time doing high knees, we followed up and did sit ups. It was a never ending cycle of pushups, high knees and sit-ups. She didn’t break me but she found my weakness. Sit ups. I don’t know what it is about sit ups but always had a problem with them. Is it my torso, my dip in the lower back?? I really don’t know. We were on the hard tiled floor completing sit ups and she pointed at me and said, “You! Rinker, do sit ups and everyone else high knees.” At this time, I don’t know what time it was or how long this party was, but my whole body ached. I struggled pulling my upper body to my knees for the sit up and then as I was descending back down, I smacked my head on the hard tile floor. Petty Officer Ghostface got close to me and said, “That doesn’t count. Again.”
I struggled this time in a sit up, by pulling myself up off the floor to my knees. Again as I came back down, I was so weak and I bashed my head against the tile floor. She got even closer to me. At this time, I was the only one of the four, not shedding tears but sweat and a lot of it. I continued to push myself in completing the sit ups but every time my head would collapse back on the tile floor. This went on for at least ten tries.
“Rinker, do another sit up and no one is leaving here until Rinker sheds tears.” She growled because we already have established she is a growler. I believe I was done. I tried everything within my being and everything I could muster to complete just one successful sit up. I started to feel a knot on the back of my head developing from hitting my head back on the tile floor so many times. She just stood there looking at me and finally said, “Go to the head and wash the tears off your face Rinker. Come back to finish.” She knew as well as I did that I did not shed tears this entire time but I wasn’t in the position to correct her either. I was drenched in sweat. It was my blue button up shirt, my t-shirt and my bra were completely soaked. I needed to cool off quickly and my head wouldn’t fit in the sink. I tried splashing water upward but it didn’t work. I then went to a toilet, flushed it and put my head in it. Gross you say? Well, I’ve never seen a toilet cleaner than in boot camp. Now, it was just raining and before I could finish drying myself, Ghostface came and got me.
At this point, the lights were dim, the other three recruits were gone and I was the only one left. “Figures.” I thought to myself. My head hurt so bad from banging it on the floor, my body had no strength left for anything and I think she knew that.
“Sit ups Rinker, go! Are you done Rinker?”
“Not until you say I am, Petty Officer.” I replied.
“Then do them.”
“Yes, Petty officer.”
I think she was impressed on how well I followed instruction. I wouldn’t quit and I would keep trying until she told me to stop. I got to the ground to begin sit ups and she watched me again, collapse back to the ground banging my head once again.
“Rinker get up off the ground! We can’t have medical here this time of night.”
I started to get up off the ground, holding onto the wall behind me. I was in a squat position when she shouted, “Hold that. Turn around and hold that squat.”
Believe it or not, it was an answer to prayer for me, because, my legs are strong. I remember in high school using the leg press and I could really push my legs.
By this time her division were all turned in to the bunks sleeping and I was squatting by her office staring at her division sleeping during my squat performance. She was at her desk sipping a coke and chewing on potato chips. My legs were shaky, but I planned on holding that squat to the very end. So much time passed by and she finally said, “Rinker, stand up.” I started to fall over and reached for the wall to hold me up.
Petty Officer Ghostface gets out of her chair and said, “Do you know why I kept you here and not the other three?”
Before I could form a response, she finished with, “Because I knew that you wouldn’t quit and give me your best effort.” I smiled but remained silent as I exited her berthing and went to my own. I really wanted to say something about the me not crying part, but didn’t say anything as I passed her office on my way out the door.
My Petty Officer was in my berthing and said, “You better shower and get some sleep Rinker. You will have to wake up in a few hours.”
I had no idea that I was over there for five hours! This really showed me that trying is fine if you give it your best. Your absolute best is completing something that there is no shrivel of doubt in your mind was the greatest you could have done.
I tell this story to say, my absolute best has changed. My absolute best could change on a daily basis. When I was told that I have multiple sclerosis, it folded me in a way I can’t explain. It was a disaster. When I was told that my MS lesions were near the central part of my brain and down my spine which is more for disability aspect of the disease, I rose up and said, “No. I don’t think so.” I wouldn’t give in to this disease that is trying to do me in nor would I settle for anything less than MY best. I will continue to live my life in a way that is beautiful. I'm not perfect but I am a beautiful disaster.