So why would anyone want to join the Navy? Well, to see the world, education, job skills, to escape jail time, you know, just about any reason.
Why did I join the Navy? Well, that’s a good question. And believe it or not, the answer has changed over time, up to and including now. But before we get there, and the subsequent stories that came along with a 24 year Navy career, we need to back up a bit.
I didn’t just join the Navy and poof, have a great and stellar career. Well, actually, yeah I did. However, before my Navy days were my Army days. Yep, I was in the Army. And actually went through 2 bootcamps. Yep, I’m weird.
My Pop was in the Army National Guard. He joined the Guard to help out, because he was exempted from the draft, as his family already had a male lost in service and he just got lucky. But he had taught me early on that service to community was important and hey, he was going to get an extra paycheck. Starting a new family required money, just like now but credit and loans weren’t as free flowing as they are today. And his family didn’t have the resources to help.
And let’s face it, back then, the Guard was a good deal. A bunch guys from the same hometown sign up for the Guard, one weekend a month, they go to ‘drill’ and spend the weekend fucking around and being dudes. Then, you get to go away for 2 weeks in the summer for ‘training’. Yeah…grills, coolers, beers, and cigars got loaded first.
Regardless, a lot of us kids growing up in a rural county in Georgia didn’t want the life of graduate high school, go to work at the textile mill in ton and get a trailer in your parent’s yard and marry the first local girl you knocked up. Some of wanted out and I was one of those.
I enlisted in the Army at 17. The only way I could do that was through the local National Guard. I went to Army bootcamp at 17, had to come home in the Guard until I turned 18 then I could finish advanced training and be on my way in the Army. I went to bootcamp at Fort Jackson, SC the summer of 1981, 2 weeks after graduating high school. Old Army vets that went there may remember Tank Hill.
Tank Hill was situated on a hill, rows of old 2 story WWII open bay barracks. 4 barracks per row, 4 platoons per Company, 1 Company per row. Entire hill was the Battalion. Each barrack had room for about 40-50 dudes. Bunk beds, footlockers, open bathrooms (latrines, soon to be heads) all the comfort of home.
My first engagement with a Drill Sergeant was with a little 5’4” female. I was skeptical, but when she picked up a footlocker and threw it out a door, I wondered what the hell I was in for. I was in for training and lessons. Army Training, Sir!!! (old movie reference).
I was lucky, I was a disciplined kid who didn’t like conflict, respected authority and knew to keep my pie hole shut and do as I was told. The perfect military specimen. For as I would learn, in battle, there is not time to question, no time to ponder, do as directed, complete the mission and get out safely. Trust leadership. Trust the process. Today, that seems counterintuitive, and it seems alien to the new generation but it works. We could use it more today.
Anyway, I already knew how to shine shoes. I knew how to listen and learn. It did me well. One of the first lessons Learned was attention to detail. I was working in the Mess Hall, on KP duty and was tasked with cleaning the coffee pots. Not the fancy Bunn filter coffee machines with little pots, noooo…these were the industrial metal basket percolator coffee machines. The task was to dump the grounds in the grease trap outside (yeah, EPA and Food Safety would have a shit fit these days) and then rinse it out with the hose nearby.
Well, I did. I turned to my task and was determined to make those coffee pots shine. I went out and dumped the grounds. Little did I realize (at the time) that in my zeal, I had dumped the little metal tube that carries hot water up and over the grounds basket. I dumped it in a 6 foot deep grease trap.
The Specialist 4 and the Staff Sergeant in the Mess Hall let me know REAL quick what I had done, and quickly proceeded to instruct me to remove my head from an orifice that is quite impossible to have your own head in, and get the metal tube. Don’t dare ask a military organization to operate without coffee. Ever.
Well, I had a choice. Jump in waist deep into a mix of water, grease and various other sludge or try to improvise some method to retrieve the errant tube. I decided that there was no way I was ruining a brand new uniform and have to explain that. So i took 2 metal coat hangers from the dining room and unbent them and straightened them out and improvised a little hook at the end. I went Army fishing. I laid down flat, stretched my arms out and proceeded to try to hook that little metal tube.
Well, I did and I retrieved the missing piece and cleaned it and reassembled the coffee urns and returned the US Army to full functionality. Whew.
The lesson, you ask?
Pay close attention to what you’re doing. If unfamiliar with the equipment, process or procedure, ask, despite any ass chewing that may come your way. Know what you are supposed to do, confirm it and then pay close attention to what you’re doing.
That lesson would come back to me years and years later, oddly enough in the middle of the night working on a P-3 Orion aircraft.
So while this wasn’t technically a Navy story, it sort of sets the background for what the next 24 years to come.
Until next time, Semper Fortis.