scrapbook letters

Sailors have more fun

Reading some of my old letters my late mother kept in her scrapbook, I appreciate jogging memories of my initial service in the Navy forty years ago. At the time, I was stuck in limbo, waiting on orders, waiting on a medical evaluation, and bored. I had spent eighteen months training for a career as an electronics technician in San Diego, in Illinois, in Florida and again in San Diego. When I had received an opportunity to attend the Naval Academy, a medical evaluation accompanying the selection board was possibly going to prevent that. In the meantime, I was assigned to support a correctional unit on Naval Training Center San Diego, to guard and escort sailors confined and others pending transfer to the Naval Brig.

“January 13 1978

I was paid this morning and I have finally got some money in my pocket after being in the depths of poverty for the last week. I’ve been keeping a budget book to account for every penny. Setting aside a $120 to send to you to save for me, I spent most of my last paycheck on a stereo receiver and headphones. I got a great deal as the stereo store said it was a trade-in and not brand-new.

I have been chugging away at BE & E. My Learning Supervisor is better at getting the material across to me than reading the book. And I am frustrated at the computer based training – that I am taking remedial tests every time.

Next weekend I am thinking of the YMCA’s military special to Disneyland – everything including bus ride and ticket, for $14.75…. “

When I read these letters I recall that my focus was split between very difficult technical training, spending money slower than earning it, having a good time, and the things a sailor thinks about: cars, girls, staying out of trouble, and so on. And taking care of my mom.

“February 18, 1978

…it’s been a week since I was home for that short visit…. I’m expecting to finish BE and E School (Basic Electricity and Electronics) in seven working days and then ice and snow! (I was scheduled to transfer for further training at the Great Lakes NTC north of Chicago) I have been trying to spend money and save it at the same time….

I bought two books ” How to Buy Stocks” and “How to Build a Fortune Investing in Land””

“July 3 1978

Class 7825C, ET/A school Bldg 520, Great Lakes Training Center: Thunder and lightning this weekend. Thank you for the ever-increasing moral support. It helps this “screw-up” when I seem to be trying and trying over these multiple -choice tests and I miss the question because I don’t put down my first choice but over think them! Why can’t I learn! Some solace in that I got my PO3 raise today. A whole $10.

Congratulations on your new friend and you both seem to be on the same “astral plane”. And my little sister has a boyfriend! She is growing up fast. I ran into a friend who is very close to a bachelors degree having taking a lot of courses through the CLEP tests. He’s looking at Officer Candidate School and making some career-connections with several officers involved in the program. He’s shared with me several of the courses and tests to take should the Annapolis thing not get accepted. Studying electronics harder will give me a mental breakdown. I need some thing different.

I looked at that Naval Academy application. I think they want someone who is a cross between O.J. Simpson and Albert Einstein, not me!”

In the year between my initial training in San Diego, and returning back to San Diego, I had been undergoing technical training and screening for a government security clearance. Between the training, standing watches, and liberty in Chicago and Milwaukee, I was also trying to figure out if I could afford a TransAm like one in the movie Smokey and the Bandit. It was nearly eleven thousand dollars. I couldn’t. I did learn a lot about weather. Playing pool in the barracks. Guys who were playing some role-playing fantasy called Dungeons and Dragons. A summer music festival at the Navy Pier in Chicago. And working on cars. Being in the best physical shape of my life while in Pensacola, Florida. Running several miles a few times a week that started from a dare between roommates in the barracks while attending CT – school. A circuit of the base, inside the fence was about four miles. We would run it twice a night.

“Letter dated August 2 – 5, and 8, 1979

Dear Mother,

It’s the second day of August, and in one day following the most insane twenty-four hours I have yet spent at TPU (ed: Transient Personnel Unit), I think I shall be ready for the funny farm very soon. 

Let me tell you some of the the goings-on at our “Hotel California”.  Yesterday, we got a new boatload of lunies (sic) plus one who is trying to put one over on us that he’s nuts, and he is getting my goat.

Another case is my boss Chief Heller.  His retiring soon and he continues to drop in on Bldg 23 if only to holler and cuss everyone.  It is just as if he’s giving out a daily dose of castor oil. 

Still another example was last night’s supposed-to-work-flawlessly relief of the day watch. A PO1(Petty Officer First Class) who knew he had duty never showed up, and despite all my efforts couldn’t be found anywhere on-base.  No one knew who I was looking for- even though he was supposedly assigned to the same working area!  So, as a result, an overworked PO2, a good friend of mine, was forced to stay all night as well as his morning workday.

In addition, I was forced to work late (a 13-hour day) which it turns out shall be my regular working hours.  It was either that or work 10 hours plus have an extra watch in TPU every three days.

August 3rd

Today was continued insanity when, in the early afternoon, one of our “mental” cases went berserk and smashed a wood-covered (barricaded) window with a chair. He demanded to go to the brig or he would do more damage! It’s a good thing I don’t sleep there- I don’t know if some night I might get my throat cut by one of these scumbags. 

Tonight I went to the PO Club with two friends, George, who works in the NTC Police/Decal Office, and June who also works there.  We all had a good time.  But what occurred later is interesting. Well, June got very drunk, I was sober and George nearly so. June had to be talked into being escorted to her barracks. George (who went with her) in her car and I followed behind in mine.  June wandered all over the road at speed and I sped up to catch her.  And out of the dark an NTC (Naval Training Center) police vehicle pulled ME over.  Luckily, he was a friend but since I was “rocketing along” at 20 or 30 MPH, he wouldn’t let me drive back to TPU. A quarter-mile walk later I was sober; June was the one all over the road – I’m sure the cop saw her.  That will be the last of my “good Samaritan” gestures.

August 5, 1979

Yesterday I finally bought the 10-speed bicycle I was [going to get you] shopping two weeks.   I’m sure you will love it, as a matter of fact I wanted to buy one for myself from the same people.  Now I have only one detail to work out and that is how to get it home.   Two possibilities are open to me, but I don’t know how much it will cost me to ship it, so if you don’t mind I am going to wait till I hand-deliver it.

 In other news I have been heartened by a lot of mail, especially yours and from Nana, but I’m going through a lot of ups and downs.  I’m almost at the end of my rope as far as this Restriction/ CC (Correctional Custody) “babysitter” job goes.  Today I got yelled at for these a@#$@#$ goofing off even as I have been trying to imitate Attila the Hun with them .

August 8th

I’m starting another entry in the ‘journal’ after putting the pen down for two days. I am just putting down thoughts as they come to mind. My mind is awfully screwed being run ragged.  I think I will drop this topic in favor of other topics to ramble on about.

Tomorrow I’ll begin packing a few things for the trip to San Francisco and I’m going to hopefully make a weekend out of it.  What is your reaction to the earthquake this week? It think it is about time for the city to fall into the sea?

It’s all a bit tedious.  I’ll hopefully be home sooner or later. “

Jerry Reed, Chicago Navy Pier; BEE barracks; Sears Tower, Chicago; New Orleans French Quarter; Gulf beach near Panama City, FL

These letters bring back some of the missing names – and the memory -recalling the faces of those Chiefs at TPU. These memories seem as fresh as having occurred yesterday. The more I recall of those months in school, in training, and time at the transient barracks, I am amused by the complaining, angst, self-righteousness, stubbornness, and shock of having to work long hours. In this particular letter, the reference to “Hotel California” my mother probably would have missed – her musical taste was stuck in the early 1960s and she never heard of the Eagles. But I was fortunate that my mother, who pursued a second career as a college English teacher around that time, and worked a full-time nursing job, never pointed out my ‘overworked’ complaints. As I look back after forty years of military and civilian jobs – on my youngest co-workers and their peers – their complaints about fairness, working conditions, and emotional safe-spaces are more their age than something “we” never did.

working party

My church sponsored a Women’s workshop this weekend at the former Naval Training Center in San Diego.  It’s now the Liberty Station community.  Asked to help set up, I found myself reminiscing about my recruit and technical training that occurred here 40 years ago.

As the former Senior Chief, I expected to carry a few boxes, direct a couple younger volunteers, and drink a little coffee.  Instead found volunteerism meant an ushering, security and cleanup crewmember for the minister.

20171021_120054But military training never leaves you behind.  Planning, process improvement, kicking “lovingly” a few peers (civilians) in the behind who spent the day “lollygagging” , was all in a day’s work.

20171021_130504

 

 

Lessons of a military life

Lesson #1: You’ve got two rights in this world

My early blog post is being retitled and reposted to first in a series of memories that shaped my adult life.  This story is forty years old as of 2018.   

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.

 

You have two basic rights

My old Senior Chief back in the days before political correctness blanched all the testosterone from the military, used to introduce himself to his charges, “You have two rights in this world, one, to live, and another, to die. Gentlemen, when you f*** up, I will take one of them away from you!” I was the Petty Officer assigned to escort prisoners at the NTC San Diego Correctional Custody unit, when NTC was a navy training center and not an artsy community/ civic center.
It was his responsibility – and by association, mine as well, to attempt through proper application of discipline and hard work to turn last-chance misfits – clowns, chronic whiners, and immature boy-sailors into rule-followers, and rehabilitated men. There were of course, two alternatives that several ended finding – discharge at the convenience of the government, or hard time at the Navy Brig.
After those formative days of my youth, I see my responsibility as training young people in my charge, Sailors in my Reserve unit, recent graduate-engineers at work, and especially my sons, to help them develop along the right course. There is a culture in the military that juniors respect the senior enlisted mentors, as this is how the former progress to becoming the latter. In the civilian workforce, particularly in companies which nurture and reward excellence among all employees, there is a lot of the same cameraderie, cross-training, and shared purpose.
As a parent, though, raising boys who were as independent-minded and stubborn as mules, was work! These teens were self-disciplined only to the extent of things which held their interest – guitars, skateboards, and motocross bikes.
Perhaps memory of similar behavior in those young men from the Correctional Custody days, urged me to impart some cautionary pearl of wisdom. Often the effect was wrath and counter-accusation, and exasperated red-faces. It would have been so much easier to find “a fan room”. (a Fan Room is a noisy air handling compartment where 2 could a disagreement with a few fists, without a public display). But political correctness has broken down all the means to apply discipline at any age.
Too much is thought of individual liberties, psyches, and others well-being, to the detriment of everyone from classroom pupil, to those helmsmen of a warship or even public transport operators. Policy which prohibits certain behavior (texting on cell phones while operating a train) is only effective when the individual has ingrained self-discipline.
Were it within my ability, I would like to see a return to the days of the old Senior Chief at NTC. A good butt-kicking would nip a lot of these problem behaviors.