Monday, December 22, 2008

1975 Revisited, part 2

This is part two of I'm not sure how many. Find part one here.

The whole idea of joining the Navy was a bit intimidating to me but I'd soon figure out that most of the guys I was traveling with on our way to Boot Camp in Chicago were feeling the same so there was some relief in that. My game plan was to keep a low profile and not draw any unnecessary attention to myself. The main advice being passed around among us was to not volunteer for anything. I could only speculate why that was good advice but I'd go with it.

I remember being rousted out of bed the first morning in our barracks to the sound of our Company Commander (CC) banging a baseball bat inside a garbage can at some way too early an hour. This was our first exposure to him and if it was his intent to get our undivided attention he succeeded. This was the real deal and there would be no hiding or turning back.

We spent a good amount of time in the coming days standing at attention beside our bunks while our CC walked up and down the two opposing lines of men telling us the way it would be. You didn't smile or make eye contact with him. I found it best to avoid eye contact with anyone at those times.

The goal of Boot Camp is to remove your individuality and get the group working as a team. Everybody got the same buzz haircut, the same uniform and the same set of rules. If anyone dared color outside the lines we'd all pay the price in the form of what was called 'mashing'. Intense physical therapy. That's not to say that there weren't times when an individual was singled out for some extra push-ups. "Get down and give me 50" was a common phrase.

There wasn't much down-time as they seemed to keep us busy especially the first few days. We had inoculations to get as well as our uniforms and other assorted gear. Order was the key to everything. All of our clothing had to be stenciled with our last name and folded a particular way. That part would be easy for me because I'm good at meaningless details.

Early on in the first week some of us were called into our CC's office and separately interviewed for one of several jobs for which we could volunteer. There was that 'volunteer' word I was told to avoid. During the interview my CC told me that because my penmanship was good he'd like to have me serve as company clerk. What to do? He wanted me for the job and to tell him no could only work against me in the future. I said yes.

I'll pause from the story to add a photo of my company, Company 405. I scanned this a few nights ago. The photo itself is too large to fit in a file drawer so I've had it sitting on an upper shelf in the closet of our den underneath my idled Kenwood KR6030 receiver purchased at the Navy Exchange in Subic Bay, Philippines toward the end of my enlistment. After scanning it I dragged it into Photoshop and did a small amount of restoration work before uploading it to my Flickr account.

Once I got it uploaded I spent some time tagging each individual in the photo listing their name and hometown. Thankfully I had my copy of The Keel with all of our individual photos to help me place the names with faces. Still, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Click here to see the final product. Place your mouse within the photo to see the detail I'm referring to.

It was interesting going through and zooming in on each individual in the photo to match the faces to a face and name in The Keel. That effort brought back a lot of memories I'd totally forgotten about; memories that I had no idea were still a part of my internal hard drive. That's what gave me the idea to blog a bit about my Navy experiences beginning with Boot Camp.

J. R. Bartling was our CC's name. He'd spent his time in the Navy as an Engineman and was finishing out his career working with recruits. I recall that his wife was Asian from some things he'd mentioned to me about her. I always felt that he was watching out for me. I don't know what the motivation behind it was except that I was his clerk and it was my job to make his life easier by keeping track of a whole lot of the small detail stuff. Like I said, I was good at that. I took care of him and he returned the favor although I wasn't expecting him to.

There was the time when he was upset with our company's performance in an inspection. It was late afternoon when he came into the barracks and barked an order for us all to stand at attention next to our racks. And so the 'mash' session began. We weren't more than a couple minutes into it when he yelled out, "Clerk...don't you have some office work to do?" "Yes sir" I replied. As I made my way toward the office at the front of our barracks he said, "You smoke don't you?" Again I responded "yes sir". "Grab your smokes" he told me.

So there I was, sitting in the office sucking on a Marlboro Light doing routine paper work stuff while listening to my company being mashed. It was an uncomfortable position for me to be in but everybody knew it wasn't something I sought out. I didn't want to stand out from the other guys but having J. R. Bartling in my corner was a good thing and would pay dividends a few weeks down the road when I found myself in some pretty serious trouble.

To be continued...


Guess Who? said...

Well, look at how far you've fallen.

You used to be one of the "chosen" ones at work too, until recently...

Kevin said...

Hi Tim.

Tim said...

Hey, Kev!

Have a Merry Christmas!

Kevin said...

But was I really ever one of the chosen ones? After all, I'm still 'just a controller'.

Merry Christmas to you and Kim.