33 years ago today, a Navy recruiter, ( I remember he was a 2nd class, can't remember the rating, think he was a snipe) came to my house at 6:30 am, to drag my young dumb ass to the AFEES station, (They weren't called MEPS back then) in the Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh. I remember the tears in my mother's eyes as we drove away. Most people don't know that I actually joined the Navy after my junior year in high school. I went in a year later on Delayed Entry, exactly three months to the day after I graduated from Allderdice High School.
For the next ten hours, I was poked, prodded, signed enough paperwork to kill of a decent sized Amazonian rain forest, told to hurry up and wait countless times, told to bend over, turn my head and cough, hurried up and waited some more, ate a truly forgettable box lunch, hurried up and waited some more, and eventually was herded into a small room with the flags of all the armed services with a bunch of other freaked out recruits going to all the services and I swore an oath to protect the Constitution of these United States. I was bussed to the airport with the other guys I was going with, and I was assigned my first Navy duty. An officer gave me the personnel records of all the guys who were with me and told me to guard them with my life.
I was scared shitless, and kept looking down at the precious papers firmly clutched in my hands all the way from Pittsburgh to Chicago. We landed in Chicago early that evening, and on the way up to the base, all of us were laughing and shooting the shit just like all young goofballs with more bravado than brains, but as soon as we saw that fence with the barbed wire and the 'Property of US Government' signs, you could have heard a pin drop. We were herded off the bus by what were actually other recruits on service week, but we thought they were real petty officers, they were screaming at us like were whale shit at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. We were marched to Receiving Division, given a wrinkled up old raincoat, a scratchy blanket, a padlock, a ditty bag, and we sat in a large room waiting until the rest of the cattle arrived.
After the room was full, we were yelled at, told to dispose of any contraband we brought with us, told to remember our seven digit billet number: 09-10-056 was mine. And we had our first drug test, the CC's telling us not to piss in their shit stalls. We were threatened with all manner of nasty punishments if we lied about whether we took drugs. Finally after more yelling and screaming, they finally put us to bed, only to be woken up a couple hours later with the traditional garbage can being rolled down the middle of the berthing. A bunch of bedraggled recruits were mustered on the 'grinder' and marched the length and breadth of RTC GLAKES to get our taste of Navy chow, a designer haircut, a five minute call home, and more poking, prodding, and hurrying up and waiting. Eventually we were issued uniforms and assigned to out divisions. I spent my 18th birthday crying my eyes out in my bunk with 79 other guys in Company 280, 21st Division, RTC GLAKES. I ended up being transferred to 24th Div, Co 939 Triple Threat company because as a result of an audition, the higher ups found out that I can sing, more or less. Eight weeks, countless inspections, PT's, mashings, three days in IT due to gear adrift, and 29 flags later, I and my company passed in review in a drill hall in front of enough brass to make a spittoon. I and the other members of the Bluejackets Choir had the privilege to sing before Bob Hope, who reportedly loved it.
Fast forward to Sept 9, 1986. After: 2 ships; 2 deployments (A World Cruise and a WestPac); 4 bases; 19 ports of call in 13 countries; 1 emergency leave; 2 tattoos; 2 Shellback initiations (1 receiving, 1 giving); countless shorter at-sea periods( shakedown cruises, sea trials, indy ops off the USSR, etc); and more than a few beers drunk in some places of questionable repute and a few activities I will not discuss because this is Facebook, I walked out the East Gate of NAS Alameda, California, DD214, and about a grand in travel pay, leave rats and a bunch of memories in hand. I was set on doing 20, but due to a lot of immaturity that still needed to be addressed, I settled on just doing 6 years. If I knew then what I know now, I would have become more mature and did what it took to pull myself up to go for 20 years. I have no regrets, I'd do it all over again, if my body would let me do so. I had a helluva lot of fun, and worked my ass off. Other than going to college in the '90s, my Navy tour was the defining time of my life, which I guess is kind of sad in a way that the greatest and most formative time of my life was a period almost 30 years ago, and I haven't done much since then to eclipse it. But that's my fault, and I own my issues, which are many and varied. That's my story, for better or worse, and I'm sticking to it.