By lex, on Thu – August 26, 2004
Well, my paean to the world for sea stories has already borne fruit – I’ve written in these pages the glories of the US Navy Chief Petty Officer’s mess, but Steve, a DoD contractor, has his own story to share:
Not exactly a sea story, but the exact moment when I decided that the Navy was a good thing:
I enlisted right out of high school, shipped off to boot camp the day after graduation. I was a Nuclear candidate, and knew I would “look forward” to two solid years of school. After a mediocre “A” and “C” school, I was doing well in the last six months of “Prototype” – a submarine up on blocks where we learned how to apply all that theory we’d studied.
I finished my quals – I was a Naval Nuclear Reactor Operator, a push-button third class about to re-enlist for an obscene amount of cash, assignment to the Truxton. The world was my oyster. Living large. Enjoying suburban Connecticut in the spring.
A week before graduation, I went to the green table for a judgment call I made as class leader. CO didn’t agree with my call, busted me a paygrade, and kicked me out of the Nuke program. (As an aside, I’m not sure if he realized NJP was on the day before my 2 years’ service point, so I was docked about $6/month – E-4 under 2yrs to E-3 over 2yrs, but I digress.)
They sent me to the Transient Personnel Unit at SUBASE New London. TPU sucked. The Nuke washouts (still PO3’s) were there, as well as those less-than-desirables from the riverfront that were “awarded” base restriction by SSBN/SSN CO’s – the real dregs of the submarine community.
I was no longer Nuclear. Having heard nothing but how great the Nuclear Navy was for the past 2 years, I was pissed to have spend the rest of my contract in “the conventional” Navy, you know, with all those *other* people.
Classic depression set in – I was a textbook case of a sailor gone bad. Drinking and brawling and all the other bad things folks do in self-destruct mode. In hindsight, pretty understandable, but pretty dumb, too.
Until STSCS(SS) Dra~, the crustiest, saltiest department head I’d ever (or since) met, called me into his office for missing afternoon formation, or something just as assinine. My attitude was that I was basically about as low as I could get, what could he do? Take away my birthday? Send me to the fleet? Bah, that was already going to happen.
No sooner than he picked up on that, he’s around the desk and I’m up against the wall, feet six inches off the deck, his hand on my chest firmly anchoring me to the wall. (Note for all you young’uns out there: no yellow card, no timeouts, no counselors worried about my emotional well being. The door was closed and I now knew why.)
“Look, you dumb ess-oh-bee, you’re not an effing nuke anymore. You sucked. You’re not good enough. You’re not in that pretentious club anymore. They don’t want you. Get over it.” …or words to that effect.
(cue the dramatic music, some dust in my eye because Senior Chief couldn’t make *me* cry…)
“So, you’re at the bottom of the top 2% of the Navy. Or your at the top of the bottom 98% of the Navy. Think about it – you can do whatever the hell you want. Captain’s Mast? Hell, I’ve got four!”
(cue lightbulb) Dang, I thought, all those really cool things that the “real” navy does that nukes can’t do (like go topside once in a while) – all at my fingertips. The whole navy, outside of nuclear engineering spaces, was available to me. All I had to do was get it.
Senior Chief took me under his wing for the next three weeks, showed me everything about the “real” Navy, and sent me off to the fleet as one smart(-ass, but less so) quad-zero non-rate.
I have never worn E-3 stripes on my jumper more proudly than at his retirement ceremony two months later. Because I knew why it was important. And I knew he was talking about me (and others, no doubt) when he said what’s become a cliché – getting young sailors onto the right track was the greatest thing he accomplished in 27 years.