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  • My Naval Career started out on a good note. Boot Camp would turn out to be my most positive experience in the Navy. I had about 10 beers on the flight from Connecticut to San Diego. When I arrived at 9:00 p.m., it was really like midnight for me, and I was lit up.

    They rounded us all up at the airport, loaded us onto a bus, and took us to the Naval Training Center for our introduction to Boot Camp. They herded us all in to process us, sheared our long hair right off, showered us down, and showed us to our barracks. I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight, which was like 3 a.m. for me. It all seemed like a surreal dream to me.

    At 4:30 a.m. sharp, the company sargeant rolled a large metal trash can down the middle of the barracks and started screaming, “Let’s go, you pukes, up outta yer racks, get dressed and muster in front of your rack, on the double – Let’s go – go -go!!!”

    Welcome to Boot Camp! I was so hung over, I just kind of sleep-walked my way through that first day, which was all about processing us in, getting our gear, getting shots, and hard-assed sargeants yelling at us. I quickly learned the art of keeping a low profile. Not wanting anyone to know how crappy I felt that day, I just kept it to myself, and followed the crowd. It worked. I made it through my first day of Boot Camp without incident! Lights out was at 9:00, so I slept like a baby that second night, and was ready for day two when they woke us at 4:30 again.

    I soon discovered that I’d had more education than most of my company mates. Most of them were fresh out of high school. Even though they were mostly my age, 18, I had a year of college under my belt, and in many ways, was a lot more mature. This proved to be an advantage.

    They designated several leadership positions within the company, and I was tapped to be the “Education Petty Officer”, and the Ensign Bearer for the Color Guard. We were a “Special Company”, which meant that we had to complete all of the requirements that “Rifle Companies” took 8 weeks to complete, in half that time, 4 weeks. As Education P.O., my job was to help any guys who were struggling with the material we had to learn and pass tests on.

    After 4 weeks, we would “cross the bridge” and spend the last 4 weeks of Boot Camp in either the Drum & Bugle Corps, the 50 State Flags, or the Color Guard. As a company, we would muster in the morning, then go spend the day drilling with our respective outfits. That’s when I learned that I had landed the choicest assignment in the entire Boot Camp. While everyone else had a “boss”, a drill sargeant that they had to report to and spend the day drilling under, I was my own boss, and had a crew who reported to me, the rest of the Color Guard.

    For the first two weeks, we drilled with the Color Guard who was two weeks ahead of us, and they showed us the ropes. Then, we were on our own. My counterpart in that Guard told me, “All you have to do is learn all of the basic moves, and then come up with a couple of original moves, practice until you have them down cold, and the rest of the time, you can just kick back, relax, and enjoy the scenery”. We practiced our moves on a “grinder” (like a large, empty parking lot) at the edge of the base. Right outside the grinder was civilization, with real people, and pretty girls walking by.

    We developed a routine. After morning chow, we would muster for 15 minutes with the 50 state flags, then the sargeant would say, “Color Guard, go do your thing” and we were on our own for the rest of the day. We’d march over to the grinder, work out our routines and moves for 2 or 3 hours until lunch time, then march to the Mess Decks – where we always got to go ahead of the 5 or 6 rifle companies that were lined up to go in – then after lunch, we just “coked and smoked” on the grinder, eating “gedunk”, watching the pretty girls go by, and telling tall tales of our pasts. Everyone exaggerated - that was a requirement. We'd had amazing experiences for a bunch of 18 year-olds!

    Nobody ever checked up on us. It was a performance thing – as long as we could perform our moves in the parades and the ceremonies, we were jake. The guys all responded to my leadership – “Listen guys, the quicker we get these moves down, the more we get to coke and smoke and gedunk and watch the pretty girls and tell lies to each other” – I was a natural-born leader!

    That was the other great bennie – we got to go off base once or twice a week to perform in parades, ceremonies and competitions. Once, in a competition in Balboa Stadium, the guys saved my ass. I issued the orders as we did our color guard thing, and there we were, marching out to the 50 yard line, in front of God and everybody in a packed stadium, the whole world was watching, and we had to make a full left pivot turn. I barked out the order, “Color Guard, Full Right Pivot, Hut!”

    If they’d listened to me, we would have turned the wrong way, marched right into another marching band, and probably created a whole domino effect of mass confusion and pile-ups, kind of like in the Animal House movie, that would more than likely have found me peeling potatoes in a Rifle Company when we got back to base. But, they knew the way to go, and they did the full left pivot, despite my faux paux.

    Next day, I bought the cokes and smokes and gedunk, and let them tell all the lies. I owed ‘em!
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