Friday, November 2, 2012

So this is how you make an officer and a gentleman.

I had intended to become a lawyer, but that’s not what happened. Instead, what was supposed to be a temporary detour on life’s path turned into a thirty-year naval career. There are three routes to becoming a naval officer: you can attend the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD; you can graduate from a university with a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program; or you can do as I did and earn a commission after just three months at Officer Candidate School in Newport, RI.

Less than two months after graduating from Tufts University, a bus dropped me off in front of King Hall, my home for the next 90 days. It was just past midnight. I was greeted by few a senior midshipman; they were officer candidates who had completed the first half of their training and were in charge of indoctrinating new arrivals. Descending from the bus like Neil Armstrong descending from the lunar module, my feet hit the parking lot pavement and I entered a new world. I made no profound proclamations, though I was quickly tempted to utter a few profanities. Someone was screaming in my ear and ranting on about marching and squaring my corners, which I apparently I wasn’t doing correctly. WTF?  All the yelling and screaming really wasn't necessary. If someone had simply explained what they wanted me to do I would have gladly complied. They yelled at me all the way to my room. 

My door closed but the screaming continued, fading away as my escort walked down the hallway. There were two bunks but no roommate, he would arrive the following day. I threw my bag on the floor, striped to my underwear and climbed into bed wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into. I had to pee, but my bladder was larger and stronger back then so decided it could wait till morning.

I didn’t have to wait long. At 5 AM, excuse me, 0500, someone thought it would be a good idea to kick a trash pail down a cinderblock lined hallway while screaming, “On the line.” I had no idea what on the line meant, but I figured it was my wake up call. This was clearly not a five star establishment. With my heart pounding, I scrambled into the nasty, sweaty clothes I shed the night before and opened the door. Not knowing what to expect, I bent over and stuck out my head. I looked left. I looked right. About thirty or forty young men, and a few women, were lined up outside their rooms standing at attention. Damn, I was the last one to exit his room, and standing there hunched over swiveling my head like I was looking for a break in traffic made me appear lost and in need of some assistance, which I promptly received. This was not a good place to draw attention to one’s self. Within seconds someone in a white uniform was standing in front of me and screaming, "Are you on the line?" I had no clue, but judging from his volume, tone,  and dripping sarcasm, I concluded that I was not on the line.  Searching for a hint, I looked up and down the hall again to see what the others were doing. This action only encouraged the screaming machine to become more agitated. Eventually I realized that I was supposed to stand at attention with my heels on the line formed by the junction of the first two floor tiles just outside my door. He could have just told me what to do instead of screaming at me for five minutes while I figured it out. 

Having mastered that drill, I assumed that the screaming would stop. Bad assumption. He just shifted to a new topic. The screaming machine began interrogating me. “Are you in space?” he shrieked repeatedly.” There were many ways that I could have answered that question. I was a double major – physics and philosophy. From a physicist’s perspective it was quite obvious that I occupied space. From a philosophical viewpoint the metaphysical possibilities were endless, and I began to consider the alternatives. I don’t think the screaming machine was in the mood to wait while I contemplated the universe. He just kept screaming unintelligibly until I noticed a little locator card hanging on the door to my room. Attached to it was a paperclip. Typed on the card were all the places where an officer candidate might be located: in space (duh, my room), on the line (the afore mentioned tile joint), the mess hall (where you eat like a ravenous pig), etc... Four years of liberal arts education, a degree in physics and philosophy, and it took me ten minutes of getting screamed at to recognize that I was supposed to slide that paperclip down to wherever I was presently positioned.  

It it was 5:15 AM, excuse me, 0515. Only 89 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes to go.

Hey, I'm hanging with the dudes again. Check it out.

Dude Write


  1. I had 2 older brothers in the Navy. I was close to signing up myself. I did all the stuff required to join but was halted at the swear in process when they discovered I owed restitution from a legal dispute which we shall not disclose.

    Sometimes I wished I had joined but I'm not too fond of getting yelled at for no good reason.

  2. I hate getting yelled at by anyone especially a scary, angry dude! I as kinda nervous for you the whole time but obviously knew you ultimately made it through. Too bad no one showed you the ropes.

  3. This is a riveting account of someone's introduction into the military and I'm enjoying it very much, especially having never served myself.

  4. You know I love it when you write these stories -- so cool to get s glimpse at a different world! Glad to be sharing a line with you over on the Yeah Write NaBloPoMo grid. Cheers!

  5. I sometimes wonder how I would have done had I gone into the service. Never was much for getting yelled at, but maybe the discipline would have done me some good.

  6. Damn, quite a stressful start. But I guess learning under pressure through screams is a qualification they expect you to have?!

  7. You are a better man than me, Joseph. I don't think I would have handled that situation as well as you did. I've had several family members and close friends serve in the military, and have nothing but respect for those that serve, but not for me. I suppose every good solider, Marine, Naval Officer, or otherwise, learns to adapt and overcome.

    Enjoyed it Joseph.

  8. I have a fairly deep seated resentment of all that is loud authority. Fortunately, I knew that about myself and that the military was full to the brim with it. So, despite my great respect for the military and my patriotism, I felt that I was likely not a good candidate to make any progress in a uniform. Thank you for your service and your willingness to share what you learned.


  9. I had an Uncle who retired from the Navy and many other relatives who served our Country, I have all the respect in the world for those of you who served with honor.

    As for me, the louder you talk the less I hear, so with this said once the screaming started there is no telling what I would have done with that paperclip.

    Laying all jokes aside it takes a dedicated person to endure the training and proudly wear the uniforms that protect our Country.

    Excellent Post

  10. I think I would have started panicking in that type of situation. This is some fine writing, and I'm really looking forward to the next segment!

  11. I love reading about all the nitty gritty details of being in the service. But it also reinforces to me that I could never, ever handle it. Im way too soft and would have been balling the first time he screamed at me.