"Non sibi sed patriae" (Not for self but for country) -unofficial US Navy Motto
Yes, I used to be in the Navy! From March 1993 until May 1998. I did it partly out of tradition. Four of my brothers served in the military. My brother, Mark, is still in the Army after 25 years. I was also a big fan of those ingenius recruiting tools, air shows! When I lived in California, my brother, Bob, took me to see the Blue Angels at NAS Lemoore and the Thunderbirds at Castle Air Force Base. Exciting stuff. When I was going through training in Pensacola, Florida, there was many a time when I saw the Blue Angels flying in formation above me as I was on my way to school.
I like to think of my time in the service as my longest acting gig (for five years I acted like a sailor)... but it certainly was not my best performance. I don't regret joining the Navy, I did a lot of growing up in those five years, but in the end it just wasn't the right life for me. I'm a creative person who has issues with authority. That might have had something to do with the fact that after five years, I never made it passed E-4.
Like most people in the military, I had to go to boot camp. I say "most" to distinguish Officers from Enlisted people and the Air Force from the military. (Now that my nephew Nathan is in the Air Force, I have a greater appreciation for inter-service rivalry ;-] ) On March 25, 1993, I went to boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois.
While I was in boot camp, I attended one company inspecting and then found myself mysteriously placed on watch for every inspection thereafter. Actually, the reason I was kept "at the house" was because my dark beard made me an inspection liability. I shaved right up to the moment the company left for its first inspection. The inspector didn't even stop for a second glance when he saw me and said, "One shave R-Poc" (R-Poc was a simple way of addressing the "Recruit Chief Petty Officer," the senior recruit in the company.)
Being one of the shorter members of the company, I brought up the rear in formations. I also had the distinction of wearing a bright orange vest and running out into the street to halt traffic when our chicken outfit crossed the road.
When I completed boot camp (which eventually did happen) I took some leave and in July of '93 I went to my first base in the Navy... That just happened to be an Army base. Ft. Devens, Massachusetts. Home of The United States Army Intelligence school. But this school wasn't just for the Army. I trained there with Marines, Army Soldiers and those guys from the Air Farce... er... Force. We were all training to work for the National Security Agency through what are called "Service Cryptologic Elements." For the Navy, it was the Naval Security Group Command. The Navy presence on Fort Devens was known as The Naval Technical Training Center Detatchment Fort Devens or NAVTECTRACENDET, for short. What were we detatched from? you ask. Naval Technical Training Center Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida, where we would all go to complete our "A" School training.
Fort Devens was just the first half of "A" School. And what was I learning at the U.S. Army Intel school? Believe it or not, Morse Code. It was a requirement at the time for Navy Cryptologist in the Collection specialty.
When I was at Fort Devens, I was what they called a "Code Rock." I had joined the Navy after spending a year in college. College teaches you to be analytical. You can't analyze Morse Code. The trick is to learn home row typing and train your fingers to just respond to the sounds so that when you hear "Di-Dah," your left pinky automatically hits the "A" key.
I eventually got through, as I eventually get through most challenges I undertake. Morse Code is no longer a required course for CTR's, but, last I heard, it was available as a "C" School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
In January of 1997, I was transferred to Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida. It was there that I completed "A" School and attended "C" School where I learned to be a High Frequency Direction Finding Operator.
I remember when our orders came in and our instructors were to announce where we were going. I was hoping to go to Spain. When one of my instructors asked me if I spoke Spanish, I thought I got what I wanted. Then she said that I was going Panama. I was a little disappointed but was glad that at least I was going overseas.
Before I would make that hop across the Carribean, however, I had to complete DF Training. My dad, my brother, Mark, my sister, Christine and her fiance, Derek, were able to come to my graduation and I left Corry Station with them to take some leave before I went on to my first duty station, the Naval Security Group Activity (NSGA) Galeta Island, Panama. Another Navy presence on an Army base. Fort Davis in the Canal Zone. I served there for 7 months before transferring, in April of 1995, to NSGA Winter Harbor, Maine.
I was stationed at Winter Harbor until my discharge in May of 1998. Counting the six months I was at Fort Devens, by the end of my tour, I had served in New England for over three and a half years.
It was there that I earned a good conduct award and became a Third Class Petty Officer or CTR3. I also made an effort to involve myself in different committees on base and in community activities, in particular, joining the Winter Harbor Historical Society and participating with The Hammond Hall Players in three community plays, one of which I directed.
If I could give three words of advice to anyone entering the military service it would be these: Education, Education, Education! Being in the service, your first responsibilities are to the uniform you wear but you are also provided opportunities to attend college classes on your free time. Not only that but the Navy offers tuition assistance that knocks out a major portion of the costs of going to school. All you pay for is a portion of your tuition and any text books your class requires.
In addition to educational goals I would encourage members of the armed services to try and make a positive contribution in whatever way they can to their duty station and the surrounding community. One of the other ways I did that when I was in Maine was by contributing quarterly articles for my division to our command newsletter, "The Acadian." I always enjoyed putting a unique twist on the events that occured in my division. When someone read one of my articles, it was never the same style twice. One issue might read like an episode of Star Trek, another like a movie review or even a detective novel. I think my division chief summed it up best when he said, "You enjoy this job way too much!" He was right! ;-)
As a writer, being in the Navy has helped me to learn about people and how they react and work in different situations. It's especially interesting to see these men and women from different backgrounds and environments essentially thrust together and told, "Okay, here's the job... get to it!" As I advanced in rank, I learned more and more about leadership and managing others. A lot of times I was the one getting managed, but you make your observations where ever you can.