So, I did check those boxes because I’m 95% honest and to ensure Big Navy that I was okay, I had to provide documentation from the respective service providers indicating I was indeed okay and fit for duty.
The counseling part was easy. I was recently in contact with my therapist and she gladly provided a clear and concise letter explaining my situation and that I was A.J. Squared Away. The kidney stone part…that caused a bit of a hold up.
First, I had to look up the hospital that I was admitted to; well, the hospital of the emergency room I was admitted to. Ugh. I still remember that time; physical pain on a scale I’ve yet to match. Finding the hospital was easy enough, but then I had to get the documentation from my visit.
I called up their records department, talked with a nice lady who was able to help me out, and actually got the records to me pretty quick. I gave them to AM1 who skimmed them and said he’d submit them and see what would happen.
Now, during this time we were also discussing job possibilities, or what rates I might try to go for. The first time we talked about it I told him about the survey I had taken on Navy.com and how it said I’d be a good photojournalist. He explained that was part of the MC rate, or Mass Communication Specialist. He asked if I was interested in it, I said kinda, but I was more interested in exploring other possibilities. He wanted me to be a Nuke, a nuclear engineer. I asked what that entailed and he explained it takes about two years of training after boot camp but that it comes with some sweet financial bonuses.
He wasn’t lying.
Looking over the literature he gave me on the subject, I was indeed tempted by the thousands of extra dollars a nuke gets, but it was very math-heavy. I hated math. I hadn’t taken math since my senior year of high school, more than 12 years. Thankfully, the cut off age was something like 25 or 26; I was about to turn 31.
WARNING – things (i.e.: language) start getting a bit saltier than some may be accustomed to in here.
It took about four months to get all my paperwork processed before the Navy would let me in. Part of it is, these days any swingin’ dick or pair of tits will say they want to join the Armed Forces. Not necessarily because they want to serve their country or defend freedom, but because they want free stuff. Some folks get in to get pregnant as fast as possible so then they have their health care paid by Uncle Sam and get some extra money in their paycheck for then having a dependent. Some do it for the free college, thinking they can coast through their duty and have Uncle Sam cough up for tuition, all the while calling themselves a veteran and demanding society bend over (backwards or forwards) for them because they sacrificed so damn much.
Of course the World’s Finest Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force are going to make it difficult to get in. Gotta make sure you’re dedicated, not predicated.
Me? I was looking for direction. I needed guidance. In addition to that, I’ve always had a heart that wants to help others, to be a voice for the voiceless, to be a guardian for the weak. So why not seek direction while doing something useful for once, AKA, defending freedom and spreading liberty?
Over the course of those many weeks, though, I did go back and forth on the position. One day I was sure, then the next day I wasn’t. One reason it took so long for me was because of a kidney stone I had nine years previous.
The pre-screening involves checking off boxes indicating one’s medical history of both physical and mental health. There’s stuff in there about blood conditions, drug habits, suicidal thoughts, and then the two that I had to check: one about having been in counseling and one about having kidney stones.
And it’s a good thing, this pre-screening process. If you’re out to sea, confined to a floating chunk of technologically-advanced metal with only the same yahoos to interact with for days on end with no contact with the outside world, Navy wants to be sure you’re not going to go postal, or have another kidney stone and be laid up for a few days while the rest of the crew has to pick up your slack.
In retrospect it all just flew by; things always seem to have gone faster once you’re on the other side of them. Yet, I feel like getting to where I am now has been in the works for many more years than just the last five.
Part of me thinks I should have enlisted right out of high school or college. Of course, had I done that, I wouldn’t have had the experiences I’ve had; I wouldn’t be who I am today. While I’m not 100% proud of the choices the who-I-am-today makes, I’m on pretty good terms with him and we get shit done.
So yeah, it couldn’t have happened any other way. My experience in the Navy wouldn’t have been the same, I think. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for life and the gifts it brings that I have today. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the same worldview, either. Maybe close…the more time that passes, the more I’m convinced I was on the right track when I was 17, 18, but for whatever reason I lacked that inner core of confidence to just freakin’ go for it.
Shucks, I am 100% positive I wouldn’t have gotten this assignment to Hawaii with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (neé JPAC) 18 or so years ago had I enlisted then and I would have missed the incredible experiences and interesting people I’ve met and worked with.
From Laos to Greenland it’s been one hell of a ride and a privilege of which to be a part.
Now it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, but the ups sure outnumber the downs and in the end I’ve learned to stand up for myself and for others – not perfectly, and hardly ever gracefully, but everything is a work-in-progress. I only hope I can pass what I’ve learned on to my son, as my father hoped to pass certain things on to me.
So what’s the next step? Who the heck knows?!
I’m about halfway through my first semester at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in the Digital Cinema track (modern filmmaking); working on a couple novels; working on my filmmaking portfolio; raising a baby with my wife; loving the crap out of my wife (we keep each other regular); and meeting each challenge as it comes. We started working on our plan more than a year ago and continue to work on it. Life changes things. Plans change.
Adapt and overcome.
So yeah, I feel like I’ve been waiting for this my whole life and blam-o, here I am in the thick of it already.
He stood up from the desk right in front of me, extended his hand and introduced himself. I shook it, introduced myself, sat down and we started talking.
When you go to join the military, they have to gauge your aptitude for skills and smarts. To do this, they make you take a test, kind of like the SAT, except they call it the ASVAB. To get a feel for what AM1 would be working with, he had me take a mock ASVAB in a little room attached to the office.
I remember marveling at the old computing machine, wondering how an Apple ][ was still able to function after so many years. I proceeded with the test and got a 72. I didn’t know much, but I remembered from my own times in school – as a student and as a teacher – that a 72 isn’t great. However, when I told AM1 of my result his eyes lit up and he said that was great and that I should ace the real thing. Not sure if he was pulling my leg or not, we proceeded to start the first of what would become a cavalcade of paperwork.
I don’t recall exactly how long it took that first day in the recruiting office, but when I finally got to work the cafeteria was opening up for lunch.
I went upstairs to my section and checked in with my supervisor. Instead of an expression of irritation which I feared, she had a look of concern on her face. She asked if everything was okay and I told her it was, took a deep breath, and made the whole idea of me joining the Navy as real as it could get by telling her about my morning.
She smiled, her eyes moistened and she gave me a hug, saying she was so proud of me, congratulating me on taking such a big step. When she let go, I’m sure I was blushing and I thanked her for her encouragement, telling her I didn’t know how long the whole process would take, but that I’d keep her updated and let her know as soon as I’d know when I may or may not be leaving.
After all, I had only taken the first step; I wasn’t sworn in, yet.
So, having decided on the Navy, I started googling around, trying to find the nearest recruiting center. One morning on the way into work I decided to try and find it, just for my information.
The building was remarkably nondescript.
There was a sign, way up on the wall, near the roof that simply said, “ARMED SERVICES RECRUITING”. I parked, walked up to the door and there was a sign that read something to the effect of, “Sorry, sucker, we’ve moved.” And the address was listed below. I checked that out on my awesome Palm Pilot phone and saw it was just down the street. In fact, I had passed it many times during my commute.
So, I got back in my car and rolled back the way I had come and found the office. This one had a sign saying, “MILITARY RECRUITMENT” or something like that. I parked, got out, walked up – this sign simply detailed the hours of operation. There were also inspirational, G.I. Joe kinds of posters and cardboard cutouts of elite, awesomesauce, badass warriors of the modern age, like some amped dudes from a Michael Bay film.
I checked my watch; ten minutes to zip over the freeway and into a spot and to hopefully clock in not too late.
I looked at the hours of operation again.
I stepped inside.
The hallway had signs for all the services: Marines on the left, Air Force in the back, Army on the right in the back, and Navy on the right in the front.
I didn’t even think, I just walked in. Three or four gentlemen, about my age (certainly in better shape than I was), dressed in their service uniforms looked at me and whatever conversation had been going on suddenly stopped.
Today is kind of amazing. We all have amazing days every now and again, right? Well, when three apparently unrelated things converge in circumstance and timing I think that’s noteworthy; blogworthy, even.
So here we go:
On this day, in 1985, when I was just a “kindy-gahdnah”, the Nintendo Entertainment System was released. The Nintendo, or NES, changed everything for me. Up to that point I was well aware of cartoons, movies, TV shows, and sitting in front of the magic box was a passive, though still mostly enjoyable affair (except when mom made us watch old movies, though now I’ve come to appreciate most of them as an aspiring film buff).
The NES made it an active – an interactive – affair. The imagery was in some ways crude at first in comparison to what the Disney artists could produce, but it was effective. The animations of Super Mario, Kid Icarus, Samus Aran, and Mega Man were simple to follow and understand. With a few defining characteristics, the economy of design allows for more empathy and a deeper connection to the character as your avatar in the rich simplicity of the 8-bit worlds.
And though the aesthetic didn’t allow for intricate details, the environments, dungeons, locations were intricately designed – not too difficult in most cases (I’m glaring at you, Ninja Gaiden), but challenging and rewarding enough to keep you pressing start to continue, to write down the passwords, to even draw your own maps and have your parents plunk down some money for a subscription to Nintendo Power.
Those early games are foundational to the cultivation of my imagination as well as logical thinking. Games such as The Legend of Zelda are chock-full of puzzles and mazes, challenging you to guide Link through the dungeons of Hyrule in a quest to defeat the evil pig demon, Ganon, rescue Princess Zelda, and restore the mystical Triforce, returning peace to the land.
I credit NES games for the formation of my reasoning skills, hand-eye coordination, ability to navigate maps, and deepening of my imagination.
Today I sign and may just receive my DD214. That’s the official form releasing a brother (or sister) from his (or her) contractual commitment to active duty in the United States military.
Over in the Anchors Aweigh series I’m chronicling my journey into the Navy and all the adventures wrought by it, and it’s been nothing short of amazing with no deficit of significant challenges. Halloween marks my official last day as a sailor, though after this I’m effectively done anyway, and a whole host of new adventures and challenges await.
I’m a daddy now! Some days are awesome, some days are rough. I’m reentering civilian life and student life, taking classes in a digital filmmaking major at UH. Some assignments are great, some assignments are grating. I’m an entrepreneur! I have book cookin’ on slow burn!
And…oh my gosh…I’m so FREE!! It’s kind of a surreal feeling, going through this process. Anyway, moving on…
I finally got my final evaluation. Basically, in the Navy, you write your own eval and then your Naval superiors chop it and polish it. Mine took a little longer than usual, but I guess since it’s the last they’ll ever do for Petty Office Bailey they wanted to be sure it’d be good; and it was.
So I look it over and, huh, wow, they definitely sailorized it, and they definitely made me look pretty good, so that’s cool. I’m not into self-promotion that much, but what they did will probably be helpful in the future at some point.
And then I get to the final word – it ends a sentence talking about breeding success and what not and the word is: enviroment. Enviroment.
Now, I don’t point this out out of any motive of spite or ridicule – shoot, it was so long ago I submitted it, it may have been I who wrote it. Regardless, I only bring this up because of the poignant meaning this has in my life.
When I was in third grade I made it to the county-wide level spelling bee. I was nervous at first, but soon I was rocking it, watching with delight as my peers fell to such simple words. But, alas, how hard the high and mighty fall.
I misspelled environment. And that has stuck with me to this day, 28 years later.
I spelled it: e-n-v-i-r-o-m-e-n-t.
It’s as is those scurvy sons of gunner mates did some digging into my past to remind me of that bitter taste of failure as I embark on my new quest into civilianhood to help me keep it real.
And yet, the lesson I learned that fateful day in 1988 was to pay attention to detail. And maybe, just maybe, that’s what the chiefs want me to remember as I do indeed embark on this new quest: pay attention to detail.
That’s why I keep a Satanic pitchfork in my office: to remind me that the devil’s in the details.
Then again, excepting the rule of coincidence (there is no coincidence as far as I’m concerned), I’m 99.9999999999999% sure there’s no connection whatsoever.
P.S. Didn’t get the DD214 today. Final signer was in a meeting so I get it on HUMP DAY. BONUS!
My initial reaction was one of disbelief, but deeper within that, within the guts of my soul, I knew this was the answer I was looking for. I didn’t say that right off the bat, no, I said I’d consider it, pray about it and look into it. As soon as I got off the phone, though, I had a mild rush of excitement as I knew this was the avenue I was to pursue, even if it didn’t end as I thought it might, which at that point, I had no clue as to how such a pursuit might end.
I had no point of reference to compare to the military, so I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it might be like.
One thought flashed in my head: BAND CAMP. I quickly dismissed it, though, thinking there was no way high school band camp could at all compare to boot camp or the military experience in general.
I started checking out the different websites for the services – Army.com, Navy.com, AirForce.com, Marines.com – and settled on the Navy. Something about the romance of seafaring grabbed my gut.
I started looking through the different job possibilities, I even took a survey to see which one I might be suited for. The result was: photojournalist. The page said something about how I’d be good at telling the Navy’s story through word and image. I scoffed at that; after all, that’s kind of what I majored in at ECU many moons ago. I felt as though I had already blown my chance at making something of myself in the world of media. Whatever karmic energy there is that gives a brother a shot at doing something he loves, I figured I had used mine up in the media department.
I thought perhaps I could be some kind of welder or work in construction. I didn’t know, just something new, something different. As much as anything I saw this as a way to reinvent myself, to learn something new about myself, to make something better of myself.
I first felt it last Thursday: a scratchiness in my throat, a developing cough, and the occasional minor headache. By Friday night I was coughing and mildly hacking and by Saturday I was fa-reakin’ sick. The Uncommon Cold, I like to think of it.
It continued to grow Sunday and into Monday. The severity seemed to wax and wane, but I knew I was in its clutches Monday night.
This past week has been three parts hell, two and a half parts heaven.
It’s just so frustrating. You can’t do what you normally do. It makes me feel weaker; when my head is all stuffed and aching I can’t focus or concentrate on anything other than the pain and trying to make it go away.
I’m also afraid of getting Jenn and Stormy sick. As a matter of fact, poor
li’l Stormy did get sick. He has this terrible, occasional cough now and sometimes he goes into little coughing fits. It just breaks Jenn’s and my hearts as it sounds so awful and he doesn’t know what’s happening. Fortunately, he also seems to be on the mend after a doctor visit yesterday. We’ve treated him with saline drops (which he hates and I hate administering them), a Vicks Vaporizer and tonight some BabyVicks ointment.
By some miracle Jenn hasn’t gotten sick.
I think the ailment is starting to leave me, too, finally. After this crazy week, today all three of us finally got a chance to catch up on our rest and I started using the saline mist. Not a fan of it going down the back of my throat, but it seems to help.
So then there’s Sunday – a day to catch up on work and cleaning and such, and then Monday all over again.
And soon – very soon – I’ll be out of the Navy.
While this past week kind of sucked, and while the preceding weeks were remarkably challenging, the groundwork is being laid for life after October 31, and it’s starting to pay off.
Work on The Frozen Wastes has all but stopped, but not on the saga as a whole…more on that in another post.
My meager production company, Phazon Media, is starting to see more action.
Other opportunities continue to arise, too.
And by now, if you’re a regular to this blog, you’ve seen my series, Anchors Aweigh! with new installments being posted every Thursday. Thursdays will be my days for serial stories. Soon I’ll be starting one-shot stories every Tuesday with a weekly check-in thrown in there somewhere; perhaps on
The company of friends is a great thing, and when you’re at your lowest, nice strangers are good stand-ins until they become friends which is what happened for me. I was connected with a small group Bible study from another church. Being near about the oldest person in the group – by a margin of a few years – was a bit strange for me at first, but they were just cool, nice people who accepted me as I was.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t know of the recent emotional devastation I was coming out of, and that was okay.
They were younger so their faith was younger, more fresh – zesty, I daresay; and by faith, I guess I just mean their outlook on life. In addition to just being younger in age, some of them were younger in the faith, and I needed newness, freshness, different perspectives to help me heal and move on.
Things were starting to look up. I wasn’t going to the bathroom at work to cry as much, I was generally feeling better, and since I wasn’t dwelling so much on the past I was able to start thinking about my future.
That was when I realized, I had no freakin’ clue what to do about it.
At that point I was qualified to be a schoolteacher, work in middle management, or just management in retail. But I had no drive, no real motivation.
Over the years I had considered becoming a pastor, but that would require more school.
I briefly considered returning to video/filmmaking, but I felt grossly underqualified and clueless about the whole thing.
So while I was feeling better about things in general, I was rudderless, directionless, feeling no push or pull in any given direction, and that got me feeling antsy.
During another phone conversation with my surrogate mom, I expressed all this to her. She said to pray about it, so I did. A few days later during another conversation she said she had been talking to her husband, who among other things is a Marine who served in Vietnam during the war. He suggested I look into the military, the Air Force or something.