I remember the first time I drove on base alone, armed with my new military ID card and on a mission to buy groceries. Yes, I was heading the commissary and I was hoping and praying that I wasn’t going to get in trouble or do something wrong. 

My-first-time-shopping-at-a-Commissary-1024x748What first made me hesitant was the sign that loomed outside the door stating “Proud Civilian, Proud Marine”.

I took great pause and looked my shoes, shirt and jeans over. Spaghetti straps, flip flops, really?? Didn’t the Marine Corps know that it was hot outside?

What would happen if they found something I was wearing that they didn’t like? The Marine Corps can surely  control my husband, but can they tell me what to do? Who knows, this Marine Corps world is a bit crazy I’ve heard.

As I walked into the commissary I immediately notice this strange phenomenon of people filing in a single line to check out with their groceries. Oh no, I didn’t get the memo about this! No one told me I’d have to do things differently than just being in a normal grocery store.

What else was I going to mess up? I nervously wandered from aisle to aisle, looking at the ground each time I saw a green uniform. I’m a fairly confident person, but I had met my match with the government.

My husband had warned me about my speeding habit, relaying that any tickets received would go towards my driving privileges being revoked on base (sort of a problem when you live on base). I figured that I had met my match with the Marine Corps; they had a history of snuffing out troublemakers like me.

After some time, I found most everything that I needed and headed to the long linestretching around two corners of the large store. I then discovered I needed to pay attention to pay dates by chatting with the individual in front of me.
She informed me that it’s best to shop several days before payday or else pay the consequences: this means standing in long lines and fighting the crowds. Since then I’ve also learned that if you go a few days after pay day, most of the necessities have been cleaned out.

I finally arrived to a checkout line after hearing the peculiar computerized version of “next please” and sought out the appropriate counter number.

As I unloaded food onto the conveyor belt, the checkout girl asked to see my military ID and informed me she can’t start scanning anything until my ID is verified. Of course she needs this; it’s conveniently  buried underneath about forty pounds of groceries. I frantically start digging out my purse and locate the coveted item and flash it.

As my bill begins to add up, I notice this wooden box that states “baggers work for tips only”. What? How much am I supposed to tip? Do I even have cash in my purse? This experience is all a little overwhelming for me. I find a couple dollars and stuff it into the box waiting for the next hurdle to jump over. To my delight, this is the end of the commissary journey. Now I’m setting my cruise control to 35 as I head home to avoid those on base speeding tickets.

Like many of you, I had to navigate my way through many Marine Corps alone. I wish that there would have been a resource to consult when my husband first joined. I did find a great deal of information when I attended LINKS and believe that this website serves as a condensed online version of the class.

If you are new to a base, I strongly encourage that you attend LINKS and learn about everything local. The USMC Life website is for you, welcome to the journey! And yes, I still set my cruise control when I drive on base almost ten years later.

The article was originally published on USMC Life.