By lex, on June 21st, 2006
When I was a mid (he said, impervious to the sound of four thousand young people’s groans) there were two qualifications required to get a billet for flight school in Pensacola: An adequate GPA – this was, after all, a competitive process – and 20/20 vision, or better.
Believe it or not the higher hurdle was often the vision requirement, a fact for which your correspondent, who graduated solidly in the top 95% of his class, was eternally grateful. Those who whose vision did not support duties involving actual control of aircraft could do many other things, including drive pilots (naval flight officers), drive ships (blackshoes professional surface warfare officers), drive subs (?ºber-blackshoes submariners) or acquire coastal properties (Marine Corps officers).
Assignment to SEAL training was not available to graduating midshipmen in those days, SPECWAR being thought an over-specialized backwater – there was a Cold War on – and staff assignments such as the supply or medical corps were much frowned upon. In fact, I only ever knew of one guy to go supply from USNA, a brutal, rugby-playing first classman from my plebe year who claimed, by dint of numerous knee injuries on the playing pitch, to be not physically qualified for duty in the unrestricted line. Sometime after graduation but before heading to supply school, his knees miraculously recovered in time for him to get physical therapy under the tender mercies of the instructors at BUD/S – Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school.
Which many of us bruited among ourselves, not always generously, had been his intention all along.
Those of us with perfect vision but imperfect study habits were quite happy to see the pool of potential aviation candidates reduced by the attrition attending to those who had spent too many late nights studying, and too few eyeing the ladies across the dance hall.
For generations, Academy graduates with high grades and bad eyes were funneled into the submarine service. But in the five years since the Naval Academy began offering free eye surgery to all midshipmen, it has missed its annual quota for supplying the Navy with submarine officers every year.
I dunno: Finish four years at the pressure cooker on the Severn, only to head down to another year and a half’s skull-packing at Nuc Power School, only to join a group that not only gleefully feasts on their young but requires the almost monastic devotion – strike that, monks aren’t quite so devoted – of a two-year CHENG tour as a prerequisite to wearing the command pin that more and more seems to be attached with explosive bolts, or…
Or dance “the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”
Which of these things?