Anchors Aweigh Part 11 – A Stone’s Throw

boy throwing a stone into the water at the beach
boy throwing a stone into the water at the beach

PART 10 (click here)

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.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Anchors Aweigh Part 10 – Hurry Up and Wait

Click here for PART 9

WARNING – things (i.e.: language) start getting a bit saltier than some may be accustomed to in here.

I'm waiting for him to get out of the way of my drawer and he's waiting for me to bugger off.
I’m waiting for him to get out of the way of my drawer and he’s waiting for me to bugger off.

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.

END OF TOUR

Five years.

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.

First time ever in Laos - last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
First time ever in Laos – last day of the mission surrounded by such incredibly lovely people.
Greenland - amazing mission with quality people. No one makes 'em quite like the Coasties.
Greenland – amazing mission with quality people. No one makes ’em quite like the Coasties.

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.

Zing.

What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back...
What living on a glacier for six weeks can do to a man. Desperately trying to get this look back…

Anchors Aweigh – Part 9: Stepping Into It

PREVIOUSLY…

Man trying to open door to a new better world. Conceptual change, two worlds, hell and paradise.
Man trying to open door to a new better world. Conceptual change, two worlds, hell and paradise.

“Can we help you?” one of them asked.

“I want to be a sailor,” I said.

Pause.

“Well, AM1 there can help you out.”

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.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Anchors Aweigh Part 7 – Considering Options

PREVIOUSLY…

Sometimes you have to ignore the signs...
Sometimes you have to ignore the signs…

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.