Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In the Navy, you can sail the seven seas...

So, this morning I was down at the coffee shop and the barista asked me "Say, you were in the Navy, right?"

This wasn't exactly an out of the blue question, I don't know her personally - only that she is a very nice lady who works the early morning shift and makes a dammed good caramel machiato - and it's a very small town, you see people around on a daily basis. We often chat like people do while I'm waiting for my coffee, and the fact that I'm retired has come up once or twice. And then there's the way that I look, very short hair in a military cut (I'm not growing it out long now that I'm retired, it's been short my whole adult life and I like it that way), and I almost always can be found wearing an Australian Navy bush hat with "HMAS ANZAC" and the Fast Frigate ANZAC's silhouette embroidered on the front (the hat is a whole other story, some day maybe I'll tell you how I ended up with it and why it means so much to me). So, again, the barista's question wasn't exactly clairvoyance. When I answered in the affirmative, she asked if I would stick around for a moment. I could tell something was on her mind, she looked nervous and her mind really wasn't on making coffee this morning. Sometimes people act like that around vets, uncomfortable, but I didn't think that was it. She made a couple of coffees while I pursued the donut selection (the Starbucks is in the bakery section of the local super market) and then came over and said,

"My daughter wants to join the Navy. She told me this morning. And she's going to see the recruiter this afternoon. She has no idea what she's getting into."

At first I thought she wanted me to talk the girl out of it. Nope, she was pretty taken aback by her daughter's decision, but supportive. Her real question was, "Could you talk to her? Give her some advice?"

Well sure, of course. I gave the woman my card and told her to have the daughter call me, figuring I'd never hear from the young lady (really, mom met some guy in the store and he'd like to give you some unsolicited career pointers, suuuure okay). But, an hour later - the girl called me.

She wasn't as young as I'd assumed, 27 actually. Which is quite a bit older than the average recruit. Her life was a mess, for reasons I won't go it here, but she'd gotten her shit together and was looking for a major change in her life - which, of course, the Navy will certainly do, in spades.

Is a "major life change" a good reason for joining the military? Good as any, I'd say. Everybody joins for some reason, education, adventure, regular if unspectacular pay, regular if unspectacular food, learn a trade, running away from a failed marriage, and the ever popular see the world and get the hell out of your crappy little home town (which is how I ended up in the military), meet exotic hookers in foreign ports, whatever. I once knew a guy who joined the Navy specifically because he'd heard the Navy issued "free" shoes (he'd grown up in some dirt poor Kentucky holler, the youngest of a dozen hand-me-down children and had never owned a pair of shoes that 4 or 5 other kids hadn't had their feet in first. The Navy gave him new shoes. It was important to him). Some kids join because it's a family tradition. Hell, some people actually join to do their bit for "Freedom and Democracy." All of those things qualify as a "major life change," I guess.

Why people join the military is irrelevant. And it's sure as hell not for everybody, it's hard, and it's dirty, and it's dangerous even in the best of times, and it can suck the life right out of you, and I don't look down on anybody who chooses another path. But for those who do join, I guarantee that it will change your life. I talked to this girl for an hour, giving her what advice and insight I've learned from 23 years of Navy life. I don't know if they'll take her, like the Offspring song goes she's got issues. But there's a war on, and so she might be accepted into Naval service.

I wished her luck.


  1. Good luck to her, indeed.

    While I could certainly make a case that a woman's experience in the military tends to vary greatly from a man's, I'm glad she at least had the foresight to talk to a (non-recruiter) vet before speaking to a recruiter.

    I've always wondered if older recruits have a different experience in terms of their initial military career. I was 17 when I enlisted, so I came of age in that environment, and it's shaped me in ways that affect every aspect of my life. If I had already "come of age" prior to joining, I wonder what the end result would of been? Something different, I'm sure.

    As for justifying your reason to join the armed forces...like you, I believe everyone has a different and very personal reason for "raising their right hand." I never thought it was up to me to determine if someone's reason was sufficient or not. As long as they were willing to sweat and bleed alongside me, that was always good enough for me.

    On a side note, why are people sometimes uncomfortable around vets? I don't get it.

  2. Yeah, I mentally gave her points for having the sense to get some information before talking to the recruiter.

    Age wise, I was older too when I joined, I've always been the "old guy" in the unit. On Valley Forge, I was a month older than the Captain, and we were both a couple years older than the Command Master Chief (the senior NCO, for you non-Navy types. The CMC is usually the oldest person on the ship by a good deal), I think only the HMC was older than me.

    I don't think the reason you join matters, but I think the reason you stay does.

    I don't know why people are sometimes uncomfortable around veterans. I've had it happen on a number of occasions. Strange.

  3. My father is a Vietnam vet, and he makes lots of people uncomfortable. (Myself included at times) War messed him up. Bad.

    I think part of the "standard" discomfort is a feeling of guilt. Really, vets risked their lives for folks they don't know, and that's something I've not done, nor do I plan to do.

    Every time I speak with a vet I don't know personally, I feel like I should be gushing over how thankful I am. I mean, they deserve that.

    When I look at my own little world-contributing, it seems quite pale in comparison. Yes, I manage to help keep kids away from pr0n at school. Whoopee.

    So thanks Jim. In true Bill & Ted fashion, "I'm not worthy..."


  4. Damn, I got my 80s reference wrong. That should be Wayne & Garth.

    Proof I should be working instead of reading blogs...

  5. Double damn. Not 80s, 90s.

    I'm going to eat lunch now. Maybe I'm having blood sugar issues. ;)

    ...like my brother in law always says, "You can't fix stupid."

  6. Shawn, I guess I can see that. What makes me feel guilty though, is when people thank me. Because I didn't serve as some selfless act, I stayed in the Navy because I loved it. I loved the ships, I loved being at sea, I loved the people I served with (for the most part), and what really makes me feel guilty sometimes is that I loved being in the war zone. I'd trained my whole life for that moment, I was doing things that mattered, men I respected respected me. It was high speed, low drag, and sometimes I really miss it (like anything the adrenaline rush can become addictive). I don't know that I should be thanked for doing something for me didn't seem like much of a sacrifice, but I accept your thanks in the spirit offered.

  7. ...like my brother in law always says, "You can't fix stupid."

    Yeah but you can fix low blood sugar, get some lunch, Shawn.

  8. Being thanked for my service never makes me feel guilty - it makes me feel grateful that at least a portion of the citizens I swore to protect all those years get it. Gushing makes me squirm, but a sincere expression of the sacrifices that are inherent in military service is a good thing.

  9. Friend of mine wanted to go into the Army to drive tanks, it was his dream. The recruiter was more than happy to feed this dream. Fortunately two of us who had been in were able to get him to allow us to go to the final meeting where we started asking the tough questions.

    "(friend) want to drive tanks, can you guarantee him a slot?"

    "Well, sure," says recruiter.

    "I want it on paper that he has the slot for tank school," says other friend.

    "Well, you know it doesn't work like that," says recruiter, all smiles.

    We then explained out own service records.

    "We want it on paper," says we.

    Recruiter pulls out manuals to actually find the requirements for tank school when we discover our friend sits 1" too short to qualify.

    The two of us look at our friend and say, "There's no slot for you at tank school, no way short of war that you're getting in. Do you still want this?"

    That's when the three of us walk out without him signing up. It always helps when there are people that know the whole process to help out the new people. Not all recruiters are like this, but it's been my experience that most would have promised our friend the moon to get him to sign.


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