My Boot Camp Experiences ….. or the beginning of Manhood
Today’s offering will be about my time in US Navy Recruit Training or bootcamp, at the US Naval Recruit Training Center in San Diego CA. Depending on how this flies I may add chapters dealing with the rest of my Military career. The recalling of this came about because earlier this week (4/29/13) I spent the afternoon judging high school seniors “Senior Projects.” These 6 minutes presentation was on a subject of their choosing, and will make up a significant portion of their senior English grade. I am sure you’re asking how is he stretching high school senior projects, to his being in the Navy. I am glad you asked! Of the 13 presentations I listened to and judged, 6 of these kids were choosing the military as a pathway to their future. Of the six kids, 4 had already completed at least 3 years of JROTC, and the other 2 had completed 2 years of JROTC. Five of the 6 had already enlisted, and would be off to boot camp shortly after graduation. And for those keeping stats 3 of these six students were young ladies. None of these kids have actually been to boot camp, soft smile, but soon they will find out.
I enlisted in the Navy on April 13, 1969. Joining the Navy was a choice I made, it wasn’t something I did completely willingly, I had few pushes from adults in positions of authority that made a good case for me using the military as an opportunity to grow up, and not spend time in an 8 x 10 room.
After being sworn in at the Naval Recruiting Center in Louisville KY, taking a physical and a million other little things I flew from Louisville to San Diego CA. I arrived in San Diego about midnight and gathered with other new recruits. Sometime around 1am we were herded (and I do mean herded) onto a bus which took us to the US Naval Recruit Training Center (NRTC), San Diego. It had been a quiet uneventful trip, I was excited because it was my 1st airplane ride, I was excited because I was becoming a sailor, and I was excited because I wasn’t going to spend 6 months in an 8 X 10 room in Kentucky. But I was not prepared in the least for what was about to happen.
With my arrival at NRTC (at approximately 130am 4/14/69) my world change. Within 10 minutes of getting off the bus at NRTC my vocabulary increased by a couple dozen words. And I heard combinations and grouping of words I had no idea went together. I also found there was an entirely different level of being screamed at, my parents and coaches had screamed at me up until this point. I thought these folks were pros and knew how to scream at an individual, but they were whispering lullaby’s to me compared to Sailors we were introduced to at NRTC. And this was before we even met our “Company Commander” BT1 (forgot name)…. Once he was introduced he took it to an even higher level, explaining to the 60 men in the company (we were Company 281), that he pretty much hated everyone. We would find out later that he did hate us all. After these introductions we were marched to our barracks, arriving at our beds at approximate 230am.
The 1st full day of boot camp started at 0400, and last unlit 1730 that evening. My very last thought before marching to the barracks, as I looked out on the residential area outside of NRTC was I wanted to go home, that I didn’t want to be a sailor. But that wasn’t an option. I wasn’t going to be allowed to go home for 8 weeks.
For the next 8 weeks I was given intense training in; G.I. Bill, Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), U.S. Navy Ships and Aircraft, First Aid, Rank/Rate Recognition, Uniforms and Grooming, Conduct during Armed Conflict, Military Customs and Courtesies, Naval History, Conduct and Precautions Ashore, Weapons Familiarization, Firefighting, Basic Seamanship, Intense Physical Training and on and on. Besides these basic skills and information boot camp also provided a foundation by which I grew into an adult. It helped form my attitude and work ethic. Folks, let me also say that the navy taught me about team work, depending on that sailor standing next to you. It gave me a skill that I used for the next forty years. And it taught me how to fold my cloths and how to neatly put 10 lbs. of crap into a 5 lbs. container. It also taught me about respect both giving and getting.
I will break my story into two parts here, part 1 the first third of boot camp, the 2nd part the final 2/3’s of boot camp. If I were to go into any great detail this could end up being…. well long LOL.
Our companies’ (Company 281) first commander (CO) was every negative thing you have ever heard or seen about what military boot camp was like. He was a sadistic SOB, and truly enjoyed inflicting pain, both mental and physical. Humiliation was his flag bearer. As I said earlier he took screaming at an individual or group, to a level I have not seen since. I will offer 2 examples of his inhumane actions. Once a recruit gave him an improper rifle salute, and he stood before this recruit and slap the recruit in the on the face using both his right and left hands until the recruit was bleeding from both sides of his mouth. The other incident the CO stuffed laundry into the recruit’s mouth and crawl around the barracks going “oink oink I’m the company pig” until the recruit had blisters on both his palms and knees. This second incident caught the attention of local media; the CA Bureau of Investigation did a cursory review and turned it over to NCIS. NCIS investigation lasted 7 days. At the conclusion of the investigation the BT1 CO was arrested and charged with 10 counts of cruelty, abuse of authority, and a list of other charges that ran the length of my arm. He was convicted on all counts, he was reduced in rank from an E6 to E1, had to serve 2 years in military prison, lost his retirement and given a Bad Conduct Discharge.
CSCS Brooks became the Company Commander for Company 281 during the NCIS investigation. 99 percent of my learning during boot camp was guided by him. As a group the sailors in 281 started bootcamp in a very rough way. But we finished strong. Senior Chief Brooks was a short stout guy, (kinda like me today fat but not quite), we called him the Pillsbury Doughboy behind his back. He didn’t scream at you when you screwed up, but his quiet chats made dang sure you didn’t make that mistake again. The Senior Chief was required to march with the company to any and all training exercises (physical or classroom), medical exams and shots, and just about any other activity the company had to attend. CS Brooks had short legs, and he had a hard time keeping up with 48 guys marching in column, taking at least 32 inch strides. So whenever we would get too far ahead he would order “to the rear march” which had the 48 of us turn 180 degrees and march back the way we came. When we marched back past him going the wrong way, he would again order “to the rear march,” we kept this up until we got to the destination. Generally we marched twice as far as needed. If we had upset him as a group (i.e. screwed up) he would have us march in half steps to the destination, I would much rather do “to the rear” marching all day than take half steps, everything below your waist hurt after marching 2 miles at half step. Yet I don’t remember a single sailor in Company 281 complaining about this method of getting from point A to point B.
Under the guidance of CS Brooks Company 281 graduated on time. We had started with 60 and completed the training with 48. He was proud of us and we were proud to have served under him during training. Upon completion of training, the Chief treated the entire Company to a pizza and beer dinner. It was the 1st non chow hall meal I had in 2 months.
All of this is to say, that in the next couple of months we (the United States) will have 6 more young people, both men and women, joining the ranks of the US Military. Some will serve in the Navy, some in the Marines, some in the Army, and some in the Air Force. These are extremely smart kids, and they are dedicated to our country, and they are dedicating their lives as well. They are doing this because they want to. No one is forcing them, no one is threatening them. They want to serve and I am so damn proud of them. This was 6 student soldiers and sailors out of the 13 presentations I witnessed. I am told over 200 seniors gave presentations over 4 days. I suspect a lot more than 6 have chosen a career in the military, I am equally proud of them.
Folks as always your thoughts and comments are welcome. Please take care, Bill