Thirty years ago, a Navy Senior Chief, his name forgotten to history, made a lasting impression on an 18-year old Sailor. In what was then the Correctional Custody Unit (CCU) at Naval Training Center San Diego, I was a Petty Officer assigned to escort the nearly-bad-but-salvageable characters who were not sent to the brig for various offenses. On the Monday of the beginning of every other month, a group of malcontent, mostly 18 to 20 year old, “bootcamps” or fresh recruits and apprentices were lined up at 0700 in the courtyard of a nondescript half-century old building with bars on the windows and a locked front gate. This was CCU and the Senior Chief, the LCPO.
The Senior Chief was a burly man with a crooked grin, intense eyes and was all-business. He had spent ten years as a combat Marine and then switched services to the Navy as a Gunners Mate. His deputies were equally salty, the soon-retiring Snipe Chief with weathered skin, alcoholic eyes, missing front teeth — he was busted in the face decades before in a drunken brawl with Shore Patrol in some liberty port. The incoming deputy was a hefty Boatwains Mate First Class (“Boats”) who shared the same passion for the Navy and making Sailors out of these men in their charge.
“You’ve got two rights in this world, shipmates” the Senior Chief bellowed, “One, to live; the other, to die. And when you F*** up, I’m going to take one away from you!!” At this, he usually got a snicker from some fool who also had his hands in his pockets. After an hour of push-ups and eight-count body-builders, while we all enjoyed our coffee, the jokers were then quieter, sweating heavily and not inclined to disrespect their wardens.