My Boot Camp Experiences ….. or the beginning of Manhood

02 May

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


Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Grandpa Stories, Observations, Ramblings


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9 responses to “My Boot Camp Experiences ….. or the beginning of Manhood

  1. Chatter Master

    May 2, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    What a great opportunity for you to listen to and help score their projects. We need to hear more about these students. So often we hear the negative about what this world is coming to and the bad rap “young” people get who will be taking over our world. I think there are a lot more young people out there like your students, then what we hear the good news about. Great post!

    • FlaHam

      May 3, 2013 at 1:14 pm

      Chatter Master, Thank you for the kind words, and you are so right, it was a wonderful opportunity, and I felt honored to be involved in these young people’s “senior projects.” I have been a judge 4 of the last 5 years, and this was the best total group to date, but each year you encountered a standout. This year they all stood out in one way or another. Again thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my posts, I truly appreciate it. Take Care, Bill

  2. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

    May 3, 2013 at 11:22 am

    What a post, Bill! That training officer — the description made me feel nauseated until I read that they got his comeuppance. That abusive kind of behavior, especially toward our bravest… I just don’t get it, not really. Okay, moving right along, that all was quite an experience and it was so great to learn that you were reminded of this from working with the students, love that! And, I wholeheartedly agree with what Colleen wrote. Thank you so much.

    • FlaHam

      May 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Paulette, It was stretch combining my boot camp experiences with those young adults getting ready to join our military. Had I really thought about it as I started writing I would have made it totally about the kids, and what they would experience in Boot Camp. I really didn’t need to interject my experiences. There were great kids, and it was the best experience I had being a judge. That was my 4th opportunity to be a judge, and I have enjoyed it each time. I assume that Colleen = Chatter Master, and she was spot on, our society is build around hearing the negative, and digging into the negative, and exposing it, while doing little to re-enforce the positive. Our kids are our future, and these kids impressed me. I could have written over 2,000 words on the 1st three weeks of boot camp alone. My description of the CO made him look like a gentle angel, compared to what he really was. He got everything he deserved. Shortly after this incident the Navy changed it policy, and it’s training methods for future Recruit Company Commanders. Take care, Bill

      • The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

        May 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm

        Thanks, Bill. I hear you about the school kids and boy it’d be great to hear more about that but I have to tell you that what you wrote really impacted on me and I learned something important. I felt better about the ethics/legal system within the military when I read that the nasty drill man was dealt with. I don’t know why I had that idea perhaps from movies and I feel a little naive about it but it’s how I thought. It was a relief to know that these things are not tolerated. I also thought it would make an incredible book or movie, where there’s redemption at the end, sorta like in “The Shawshank Redemption.” Be well, friend. Paulette

  3. Wanda

    May 4, 2013 at 6:04 am

    I was relieved to read that your company commander finally got his due. I can only imagine how much physical and emotional trauma he inflicted on your company as well as all the ones beforehand. Hopefully his conviction made a good example to other company commanders so they didn’t abuse their charges.

    As for the young people that brought this to mind, I wish them luck. I’m sure they will struggle with some aspects of military life but I hope they will find it as fulfilling as you and I did.

    • FlaHam

      May 4, 2013 at 7:01 am

      Wanda, This was one of my most poorly thought out and written posts to date. It was to focus on the kids and what they were about, and I made it about me. It was to focus on the surprise bootcamp would be for them, and how abrupt a change in their lives it would be, and how grateful I was for them making that decision. I know that message wasn’t lost, but it was overshadowed by the story. A lot of change took place in the Navy shortly after this incident, change that was good. Please take care, Bill

  4. Linda

    May 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Wonderful post Bill, I look forward to reading about the rest of your experiences in boot camp. I’m am so happy that the first person in charge of your boot camp experience got “caught” and went to jail. People like that do not belong in a setting where they they have”control;”over your people. They do too much damage. I am sure you were quite impressed with the quality of the it is a great reflection on your daughter’s teaching ability. Hope all is well We are back from VA Beach and had an awesome time. What a beautiful wedding and commissioning ceremony. God Bless

    • FlaHam

      May 6, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      Linda, Thank you, I thought this was one of my worst posts. I really didn’t stay on track, I wanted to talk more about the kids and how proud they made me, then I got into telling the bootcamp story and didn’t really give the kids their due. I am thinking of writing a post purely about them, and how I have seen such vast improvement in these presentation over the years. I am in the middle of my next post which will be out later in the week, it’s not a fun one, so if you choose to not read it I completely get it. The title will warn you LOL. Take care, Bill PS — i am so glad you liked VA Beach, when I was in the Navy I hung out there a lot. But being honest, my money lasted longer in downtown Norfork than Va Beach. But it sure is pretty


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