Why I joined the Navy: in High School, I felt attracted to a career in Electronics Engineering. But I didn’t feel that a 36 year old man would let an 18 year old kid pick his job, so I didn’t want to spend college tuition on a career I might not enjoy. There weren’t too many opportunities in rural Idaho to get EE experience. So, I joined the Navy, opting for an Advanced Electronics program to get that experience. My buddy in school also joined, as an Aviation support Mechanic, working on the little vehicles that move planes on aircraft carriers. All initial enlistments are 6 years, mine was 6 years ‘active duty’ meaning I was in uniform, performing my function, for all 6 years. My bud’s was a mix of 2 years active, with 4 years Inactive Reserves meaning that he was at home working in his garage.
What happened: Once in, the school choices for Advance Electronics offered a wide range of experiences. AE programs put someone anywhere from riding a submarine to operating the equipment trying to find submarines, in ships, shore stations, or in aircraft. I volunteered submarines, chose Polaris Electronics, and ended up with more than a year of schooling in Connecticut and Virginia Beach before reporting to the Missile Control Center division aboard a ballistic missile submarine.
As far as previous schooling goes, the more you learn in school, the higher you can score on the military aptitude tests. The higher those scores, the more choices you have in selecting a training program once you’re in the military.
The Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery of tests score your abilities in a number of skills, determining if you can join the military, and what sort of jobs you qualify for. The Air Force requires a minimum of 40 points on the 99-point test. The Army: 31, with no more than 10% of all recruits each year being high school dropouts. A dropout must score at least 50, though. The Marine minumum on the ASVAB is 32, no more than 5% being HS dropouts (and the dropout minimum score is 50 as well). The Navy minimum is 35, 5 to 10% allowed to be HS dropouts. HS dropouts need at least a 50, must be 19, and have a proven work history. I scored an overall 94, and qualified for any program the Navy had available.
Once selected for a training specialty, the Navy gives you the schooling necessary for the operation. Most specialties have further schooling available, once you’ve been serving for a while. The training is specific to the specialty. At the start of my time at Polaris Electronics, we had a two week math course. It went from “2+2=4” on Monday, and by the second Friday we were doing calculus in Polar-Rectangular conversions. This training does not equate to a year of college math, or even a semester. But a number of college programs working with the military regularly evaluate the training, and will grant equivilancy points towards earning a degree. There are also schools available for collateral duties, or jobs not directly connected to your chosen rate.
Over the next year, I was given a grounding in basic electronics, computer theory, computer construction, and the operation and support of the Mark 88 Fire Control System. Then I reported to the USS Benjamin Franklin.
Before I joined, I figured out there were about 6 things I thought were very important in my enlistement. 2 were guaranteed for all recruits, the other 4 were put on a separate contract. The recruiter typed them up, asked if I was satisfied. I said yes, signed the contract, joined the navy. I never saw that piece of paper again in my life. I think about 2 of the 4 were honored, 2 weren’t. But without a copy of that contract, there was nothing I could do about the two failures. So, when they tell you to ‘get it in writing,’ whether it’s military, or corporate or whatever, the ‘get’ part is just as important as the ‘writing’ part.
What I learned: Unlike a civilian job with a job-defining contract, most military obligations are based on the ‘do what they tell you’ system. I did have a specialty, in working on and fixing the computers that programmed the ballistic nuclear missiles for flight and eventual destruction of our enemies. I also had responsibilities for my space, my uniform, my work center, areas outside of my work center but assigned my division, areas outside my division but assigned to my department, the general maintenance, operation and survival of my submarine, and some inter-command responsibilities. There are few options to tell someone that ‘that’s not my job.’ They generally won’t ask someone trained for nuclear weapons to operate the nuclear power plant directly, but if you can clean a deckplate up forward, you are qualified to clean deckplate back aft.
On the other hand, when you learn a job, especially on submarines, you learn the entire job. The best example of this I saw would have been the cooks. On a shore base, most of the people working in the kitchen are civilians, with a few military directing operations and doing the paperwork. On a large sea-going command, like an aircraft carrier, the jobs are divided. A newly reporting cook might spend 4 months cooking vegetable number two for the after Crew’s Mess, for the noon meal. After a while, he might be rotated to the bakery, and spend four months cooking one of the breakfast pastries. Eventually, if his leading petty officer keeps track or if he badgers his LPO, he can rotate through all the aspects of meal preparation. Some are singled out for work in the officer’s or chief’s messes.
On a submarine, the average cook comes ‘on shift’ during a meal. He helps the previous cook serve that meal, then starts preparing the next meal. He cooks the entrées, the side dishes, any sauces or gravies..in short the entire meal. After serving the meal he prepared, he supervises the clean up while the next cook starts the next meal. The night baker has responsibility for the midnight meal and any baked goods for the next day.
For one year of training in advance electronics, my official responsibilities have included Fire Control, Classified Documentation, Data Package Coordinator, #2 Firefighting Hoseman, #3 Thermal Imaging Operator, Ship’s barber, Maneuvering Watch Linehandler, Phone talker topside, small boat handling party phonetalker, XO’s phonetalker, Tracking analysis for torpedo attack, Optical Alignment Group Coordinator, Wharf Supervisor, Forklift driver, Ordnance handler, missile mover, missile alignment handler, missile topside manager, 3rd increment cleaning crew, duty driver, shore patrol, color guard, honor guard, side boy, Department Publications, Ship’s Library, Ship’s store, division/department/ship’s security training coordinator, garbage scow watch, flush-ecology-activists-off-the-anchor-chain-with-a-5-inch-firehose watch, escort for Russians participating in the nuclear weapon treaty violation inspection teams, qualified to operate small arms (.45 and 9mm pistol, M-14 and M-16 rifles, 12-gauge shotgun, M79 grenade launcher) and crew served weapons (20mm, .50 cal and M60 machine guns), instructor, tour guide (for cub scouts, boy scouts, sea scouts, bridge clubs, cadets, midshipmen, generals, admirals, families, fellow sailors, the Governor of Maryland, the ranking Admiral of the French Navy, marines, technicians, one astronaut, and the guy that used to get mauled by tigers while Marlo Perkins sold insurance to the audience).
College: The Navy is adopting a system of continuing college training. The design is for each sailor to have a requirement for a course leading to a degree at almost all times. There are a host of options available to each sailor, including self-paced courses while at sea, intensive course during shore periods, and credits gained from testing or granted for on-the-job experiences.
Promotion: Some rates are extremely popular, like photojournalists in the Navy. Basically, anyone in this rate has to wait for someone to retire or die before an opening for advancement appears. Others have a higher turnover, as people get minimum training and enter the civilian workforce, leaving scads of openings. I cannot overstress the need for researching the exact nature of a rate and how full or overfull it is.
Drawbacks: Navy enlistment tends to lead to Family Separation. Ships in task forces can be sent to sea on short notice, or extended at sea, or scheduled port visits can be deleted in favor of international incidents, training, or other needs of the Navy. Some commands do not allow the sailor to bring his family along for part or all of his time at that command. That said, I have known more than one dental technician who almost completely avoided sea time. They transferred from shore facility to a ‘tender,’ a ship that stays tied up in one spot to support other ships. The few times a year the tender went to sea, they took leave.
On a more personal note, many people are unaware that the Marines are actually part of the Navy. They do not have their own medics, and use Navy hospital corpsmen. A number of people expecting Navy Hospital or sickbay on a 5000-man carrier have been surprised to find themselves in the field with the Marines. I cannot overstress the need for researching the exact nature of a rate.
At the first Persian Gulf War, a number of people were surprised to find that the military they joined for training opportunities expected them to go to a war zone when hostilities broke out. Even guys in my rate, that worked almost exclusively on submarines, were sometimes chosen to be sent to the war zone to help transport the large quantities of water the land forces needed each day. The ‘needs of the Navy’ or of the entire Department of Defense can be surprising, and when ordered to go, you have already signed the contract and sworn the oath to take all orders of those appointed over you.
As far as time goes, the Navy has an option on your time for 24/7. Attention has been paid in recent years to ‘quality of life’ issues, making sure the sailor has every opportunity to spend time with family, limiting the amount of time on a cruise, or improving the conditions while afloat. Still, when push comes to shove, the Navy does require you to operate the equipment you’re trained on.
Rewards: Navy enlistment fit me so well I stayed in for 20 years, 3 months and 3 weeks. Due to being restricted to a specific class of submarine, I didn’t get to travel as much as I’d hoped, but the Navy still gave me a chance to see Scotland and England. Friends of mine on other subs have been to Morocco, Panama, Hawaii, and Alaska. I got experience in equipment and situations only a small percentage of the planet sees. I was very good at my job, and got a great deal of satisfaction from it. I enjoy teaching, and in addition to being a formal instructor, spent part of almost every day of the last half of my career teaching someone how to do their job in informal training.
My medical expenses were taken care of by the military, including dental and physical checkups, reconstructive surgery, and most of the expenses of my dependents.
The Navy has stationed me in San Diego, CA; Groton, CT; Charleston, SC; Virginia Beach, VA; Holy Loch, Argyll, Scotland; Jacksonville, FL, with liberty ports including Puerto Rico, Cocoa Beach, Annapolis.
My current job builds on my military experience, in that I now provide support for the sailors operating the equipment I maintained.
Places to get more information:
Military Pay (click ‘current pay’ to find the most recent pay scales) Pay is based on rank and time in service. For however many years of enlistment (or commision, for officers) one has, line up those years to the current rank. Enlisted start out at E1, and rise up E2, E3, etc as they are promoted. Officers start as O1. In addition to this Base Pay, certain specialties and types of service earn bonus pays. Examples would include Flight Pay, Sea Pay, Hangar Deck Pay, Submarine Pay, War Zone Pay, Foreign Duty Pay and Family Separation Allowance.
ASVAB: to learn what the ASVAB is, what a score on it means, how to prepare.
Navy Rating (Job) Descriptions
Marine Corps Job Descriptions:
What courses do you need to be a pilot?
Generally, a college degree and pass the physical.
What's better, Army or Air Force pilots?
Since they’re both afraid to land a plane on an aircraft carrier I’d have to say Navy.
What do you guys do for fun on submarines? There's no GIRLS!
Movies, card games, video games, bridge tournaments, pinochle tournaments, Tekken tournaments, fantasy football leagues, a weight room…
Do you have to be an officer to be a sniper?
Do snipers have to go into combat?
Have you ever shot anyone?
Have you ever been shot at?
Not on purpose.
Do you know Miss L?
Are you related to Miss L?
Yes, I married her.
Are you Adrian's dad? How'd that happen?
Um….ask your parents.
Why do you have a beard?
To insulate my chin when carrying food from the freezer.
What's the food like?
Depends on the cooks, it can be good, it might not be. It varies.
Don't they have to do push ups twice a year?
Servicemembers face a Physical Readiness Test twice a year, including push ups, sit ups and a timed run. Different branches allow you differing amounts of time to keep yourself fit between the tests.
Were you in Iraq?
No, but I’ve been ‘in range’ of about half of the planet at one time or another.
Can't they like call you back for four years after you get out?
All first enlistments are 6 years. Usually, it’s 4 years active duty, and 2 years inactive reserve duty. During the inactive period, you’re still subject to being called back up, but unless you have a rare specialty, that’s unlikely.
What happens if you swear at an officer?
Depends on the officer, and why you swore at them. And what sort of soldier, sailor or airman you’ve been up to then.
What are the rules for women's hair in the military? (a question I referred to my wife, who spent 11 years enlisted)
How about cornrows? (another question I referred to my wife)
Can girls have tinted hair in the military? (another question I referred to my wife)
Don't you go nuts out there?
Arguable, we were nuts to go out there in the first place. So how could we tell?
If I go into the Army, and get out, can I join SWAT?
Sure. A lot of military people I knew joined police forces when they got out.
Did you get asked a lot of stupid questions today?
What does it mean if you get an '8' on the ASVAB?
I hope it means you misunderstood the instructions.
Is the Coast Guard the military?
The Coast Guard works for the Treasury Department. Nothing against them, they jump onto ships full of drug running psychopaths every day.
Can I be enlisted in the Marines and then go to the Coast Guard Academy?
You can’t join one service WHILE serving in another. If you’re talking sequential, the academies and officer programs all have an age limit. Generally you cannot complete an enlisted tour and get out in time to enter an academy.
Why did that guy on M*A*S*H wear dresses? Does that work?
Trying to get kicked out of the Army for being crazy. Generally, it doesn’t work unless you’re really, really dedicated to appearing crazy. One shipmate rode his invisible motorcycle for 2 years before getting kicked off submarines for being insane.
Is everyone in the Air Force a pilot?
Very few, really.
In bootcamp, do women have to shave their hair bald? Do guys?
You’re thinking of Demi Moore’s movie? No, a very controlled haircut is required, not bald.
What's your favorite submarine movie?
Anything where the number of submergings equals the number of surfacings. Actually, saw a lot of guys I knew on ‘Periscope Down.’
How do you get into Special Forces?
Join the service first, then apply for special forces training. Find out before enlisting what ratings allow transfers to the units you’re looking to join.
Do you need to know English to be in the Marines?
If you’re asking about a need for English Classes, yes, you need to be able to fill out reports and take exams in all the services. Some specialties are more technically oriented than others, but a bare minimum ability to read and write is required. If you’re asking if you can just grunt your way through a four year tour, the answer is not really. Maybe.
Twenty years? Why would you be in the military for 20 years?
Because I enjoyed what I did, where I did it, and a certain feeling of accomplishment at being able to complete a target package shift at battlestations well within the minimum expected time.
What jobs can I get after 4 years in the military?
Depends on your rating while you were in. After 20 years operating three different computer systems that program nuclear missiles, I now work for the company that makes them. IF nothing else, your future employer should know that you can get up in the morning and get yourself to work, take care of your appearance and put out a fire.
Is it fun?
Can be. Often is. Depends on what interests you.
Can you quit?
Not really. Not easily.
How hard is it to quit?
It’s a rather binding contract for your enlistment. It is possible to break it, but you really, really have to want to. It’s usually easier to just go through with it, it looks better on your permanent record than ‘dishonorable discharge.’
How deep have you gone?
At least 400 feet down.
Have you ever been scared?
Stone cold convinced we were about to die as water came into the ‘people tank.’
What if you run out of stuff?
You learn to pack better next time. The Ship’s Store tries to carry a quantity of the basics, but if you have a preferred brand of soap or shampoo, take care to have enough fore the entire time you’re underweigh.
Do you know anyone like that cook on Down Periscope?
Uh, yes. I knew someone like or similar to most of the people on Down Periscope.
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