Saturday, April 21, 2012

Too Good for My Own Good

In boot camp, there are a couple of awards that confer extra rank right away.  The two most significant were the overall top recruit and the academic top recruit.  Academic conferred advancement to E-2 upon graduation.  Overall conferred advancement to E-3.

Now, you have to understand, for me, boot camp was a joke.  Everyone tells stories about how boot camp changes people.  My mother had heard for months and months that I would be different after boot camp.  As far as she could tell, I didn't change at all.

You see, boot camp is primarily about discipline.  It is about learning to accept that someone else has absolute authority over you, accepting that and doing what you are told, when you are told to do it and how you are told to do it.  I knew that before I started.  I knew it and I understood the reasons for it.  They never had to break me.  They never had to change me.  I got in so little trouble, that by the end, I had a hard time keeping up with the fitness of the company.  I just didn't do enough disciplinary pushups to keep up.

I literally coasted through boot camp.  Classes were a breeze.  I'd always learned well, and the subjects were not challenging.  I'd done drill in junior ROTC in high school so marching was easy.  I even sang songs to myself while we marched just to make following cadence more challenging.

When every other recruit in the company except the watches was in bed with forced lights out, I was up late into the night sitting with my commanders joking and telling stories.  They even recommended places I should go when I got to Monterey.

The hardest challenge in boot camp was during service week.  The first day, I was assigned to the mess hall.  It was okay, but required you to work before everyone else got up and after everyone else was gone.  The second day, I was ill and went to the infirmary.  When I came back on the third day, they changed my assignment to the worst job in the mess hall, pots & pans scullery.

Pots & pans scullery is where you clean every pot and pan used to cook food for everyone in boot camp.  It is hot, steamy, and disgustingly greasy.  At the end of the week, I had to replace my shoes because the grease would not come out.  But through all of this, I found the job cathartic.  Spraying down greasy, smelly pots with high power water and all the banging and lifting and moving was wonderful.  At the end of a day, I was tired, but relaxed and happy.

So, considering all of this, it isn't that surprising that my company commanders considered me the top recruit.  What actually happened though, might be a little surprising.  They didn't want to give both awards to the same person.  Because I scored so well academically, I was the top academic recruit.  Instead of giving me the overall award, they gave it to my friend.  And that is how I lost my first stripe in the Navy.

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