Why I Joined the Navy

 

023d609e1cc415731fd5bdaa02c89e83I was a third semester senior at NC State — a physics major. I had applied for graduate school in physics at State and the University of Virginia, but hadn’t received word on acceptance. Later that October, I was sitting outside a classroom waiting for my next class, when I glanced up at a poster on the bulletin board. It showed a picture of a guy looking through a periscope, with words like “Join the Navy” and “Nuclear Power.” It sounded cool to me. I was taking nuclear physics and quantum mechanics at the time, and I thought “This sounds like a job opportunity.” I pulled off one of the tear-away post cards, filled it out, and mailed it in to the local recruiter in Raleigh.

Things happened fast after that. I got a call from the local recruiting office. They wanted to meet me. I drove there one afternoon, met my recruiter — a Navy pilot — and we got down to business. I took some kind of standardized test and had an interview. I must have scored well. A few days later, I was invited to fly to DC for a series of additional tests, and possibly an interview with … Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear navy.

So, I flew up to Washington, did the tests and interviews, and the rest was history — I got accepted into the US Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate program. Now, we get to the meat of this post’s title — why did I join in the first place?

As I stated before, I had applied for graduate school, but no word yet on acceptance. What was I going to do in December after I graduated without a path forward? After talking with the recruiter, I realized a few things that added up to my decision:

  1. I was tired of going to school and I wanted to get out there and earn a living.
  2. I didn’t know if I was going to grad school, so my academic future was uncertain.
  3. Well … being an officer on a nuclear submarine actually sounded kind of cool. It appealed to the kid in me that used to play war with all my friends — except this time, I could do it with real weapons!

So there you have it. No patriotic motive like joining after 9/11 (although my patriotism increased 1000 percent shortly after I joined), no initial desire to serve my country (I cringe when I hear liberals talk about writing a bill to introduce mandatory “National Service” when a kid turns 18), no family tradition to uphold (although I had tons of older relatives who served in the Navy and the Marines during WW2 (including one great uncle was in the Naval Academy when Rickover was there). No, my initial reason was simply to get a job. Ironically, my first one and a half years in the Navy was spent going to school (see Reason #1). However, getting paid to go to school made a big difference…

Fellow Ricochetti who have served in the military — what stories do you have about why you joined? Chasing the dollar as I started out, or patriotism from the git-go?

Regardless of the reasons you folks joined, my military service ended up with me loving this country with all my heart and soul.

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  1. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    WTH is a Navy “pilot”? and why did you listen to him? I can only imagine an aviator pitching nuke power.

    I grew up around military. All of my Uncles were enlisted in the USAF and being raised by a single Mom they were surrogate Dad’s and part-time heroes.

    Whenever we’d visit them I just sat and watched planes take off and land. That is all I ever really wanted to do. Patriotism was part of it, but mostly just wanted the thrill of flying fighters.

    I applied to everyone, took all the tests and ended up in Navy ROTC at Mizzou (progressive hell’s gate). I had a distant cousin who was in media or something like that in the Navy, but no real influence outside of Top Gun.

    That is very cool you got to meet ADM Rickover. Do you still have the wheelbarrow they delivered your nuke bonus in?

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Tail. I was chasing tail. More specifically, I was 19, working at a convenience store for $3.45/hr, and in love. I knew there was no way I could support myself let alone a wife on minimum wage level jobs, so I called a recruiter.

    I remember walking into MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) thinking “I’m just here to see what they have to offer. I’m not joining the Navy today. Even if I did join, it would only be for a couple of years. And I’ll never go on submarines.” A few hours later I was in the delayed entry program, signed up for a 6 year enlistment in the submarine strategic weapons systems electronics program. The guy said nuclear weapons and tripped my machismo/ego into overdrive.

    23 years later and I’ve spent my entire adult life serving the nation either in submarines or above them in the cab of a crane as it loads missiles onto Trident submarines so our people can sleep at night knowing that the power of God in the hands of man remains always pointed at those who would harm us.

    Like you, I didn’t have altruistic or patriotic motives. Also like you, I found within me a patriotism that can only be discovered through service.

    • #2
  3. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My dad served in the Submarine Service during WWII. His first two war patrols were completed before his 19th birthday. He went back to the boats after obtaining his degree after WWII. He was the senior watch officer on the same boat that he served on for his first two war patrols. He earned his Submarine Combat Pin and wore both the Silver Dolphins of an enlisted man and the Gold Dolphins of an officer. This photo of my dad was taken on one of the boats my dad served on during WWII.

    Scan_20140214 (2) (300x206)

    • #3
  4. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    submariner

    • #4
  5. Benjamin Glaser Inactive
    Benjamin Glaser
    @BenjaminGlaser

    I was 17 years old, going into my last year of high school.

    Had zero ambition and was halfheartedly thinking about applying to college.

    My dad swears to this day that he didn’t make the initial call to the Marine Corps recruiter, but I know he did.

    But to make a long story short the USMC recruiter, Sgt. Schmidt, called me one day in July 1997 and asked if he could come over, I said, “Sure, I’m not doing anything”. Went through the whole spiel with all the gimmicks and tricks they teach you in recruiter school, but I’d be lying if any of that impressed me.

    You know what did it?

    Seeing that guy in his snappy dress blues get oggled like a swimwear model by my next door neighbor ,who I had a major crush on, as he left my house.

    I ain’t gonna lie.

    Signed on the dotted line for the early entry program a couple weeks later and in August 1998 I was at Parris Island, South Carolina wondering what I got myself into just to be eye candy. :)

    Would not have changed it for the world.

    Easily the best decision teenage hormones have made in the history of this glorious globe.

    • #5
  6. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Year?

    • #6
  7. Brian Wyneken Member
    Brian Wyneken
    @BrianWyneken

    When I was a little kid I thought it was required. After high school you had to join the army and go fight in a war. If you lived through that, then you could come back to your town and get married and have a family and a job. That had been the pattern of my father and my grandfather – I just thought those were the rules.

    As I got older, growing up through the Vietnam conflict, I came to understand that people could make other choices. For me though joining the military it was just something I believed I had to do. I never planned to stay for 31 years though – that happened because of lucky breaks and because I loved the life of flying in the Air Force.

    I’d like to make it all sound more noble, but for whatever notions of patriotism I held I wouldn’t be honest if I did not include the dreams of rose lipped maidens weeping guiltily over my grave after I went down in a mass of flame and twisted steel (having heroically stayed with the aircraft to the end in order to avoid both the orphanage and the bus full of nuns). It’s the sort of thing some (twisted) young fellers think about.

    • #7
  8. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    My dad had the foresight to ask the radio operator of the USS Sandlance for a copy of the cease fire message at the end of WWII. I found it in one of many boxes of photos and documents that my parents had collected in their marriage of 65 years.

    Scan_20131213 (2) (1172x957) (800x653)

    • #8
  9. dbeck Inactive
    dbeck
    @dbeck

    I came from a military family.  My father and his brothers were career types.  I lived off and on in the same neighborhoods as James Jabara, Frank Parr and several others that had been fighter aces in Korea. My dad had been a mosquito pilot flying L-5 and T-6 light aircraft as a forward air controller during Korea and only went to jets and test flying later. They needled him about that.

    The draft was in full force when I graduated from college and the Vietnam War was really spooling up. I considered grad school but too many John Wayne movies had me afraid to miss the war (did I say I was an idiot?). I enlisted in the Air Force and went thru basic on a 28 day, every day a training day program, then selected for 90 day wonder school (OTS) and finally pilot training.

    I liked flying but the service was nothing like my father’s Air Force that I remembered growing up around. I did 6 years, 26 months of it in Vietnam and got out. I never looked back. My brother did the career bit and retired after 28 years. After a 2 year stint as a cop, I finally managed to get on with a major airline using my engineering degree in tech ops aircraft maintenance. I did 33 years and retired for all of 7 months. I do risk management for a trucking outfit now and like it a lot.

    • #9
  10. Fred Cole Inactive
    Fred Cole
    @FredCole

    What year was that, Stad?

    • #10
  11. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    During the Vietnam era I was a long-haired, dope-smoking hippie with a draft number of 360. Didn’t serve.

    After a run-in with the great hound of heaven got me unstuck from stupid, I got married and my wife and I proceeded to have five kids that she (mainly) and I homeschooled. One of them is legally blind and developmentally disabled, so I had a talk about the “financial” facts of life with each of the other 4 when they turned 13:  We’ll get you through high school, then you gotta figure the rest out for yourself and I’m not signing off on any college loans.

    #1 child (boy) decided to join the Air Force. When he told me I said “great.” He was a little non-plussed and said “I thought you’d try to talk me out of it.” To which I replied “heck no, give me the recruiter’s number and we’ll get you on the bus right away.” He ended up as an electric power production technician.

    #5 child (boy) really didn’t like being home, or homeschooled so he hatched a plot to go to the recruiter on his 17th birthday, which he did and dragged his older brother (#4 child) along. For whatever reason they had been totally unable to connect with the Air Force recruiter. So picture two kids looking into the dark, locked, closed Air Force recruiting office when the Army recruiter walks over and says “hey, why don’t you come talk to me?” So they enlisted, both as 88Ms.

    #3 child (girl) is the hyper-competitive one of the bunch, and decided she wasn’t going to let the boys get over on her so she lost 75 lbs and enlisted as a 25P.

    So my military service has been vicarious, but I’m glad my kids were able to do better than I did.

    • #11
  12. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    I’d love to know from you military men: Have things changed substantially? Would you recommend that someone who’s 18 now go into the military?

    Signed,

    Nervous mother of an 18 year old physics major who’s thinking about the military

    • #12
  13. dbeck Inactive
    dbeck
    @dbeck

    katievs: Nervous mother of an 18 year old physics major who’s thinking about the military

    That’s one tough decision. The Army and Marines are seeing multiple tours in real unfriendly places. The Air Force has a presence in Southwest Asia as does the Navy but not quite as exposed. The thing about the Air Force is we always had cold beer and clean sheets and I assume it’s still that way. Has your son indicated a service preference?

    • #13
  14. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    The President of the United States

    Greeting:

    • #14
  15. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    dbeck:

    katievs: Nervous mother of an 18 year old physics major who’s thinking about the military

    That’s one tough decision. The Army and Marines are seeing multiple tours in real unfriendly places. The Air Force has a presence in Southwest Asia as does the Navy but not quite as exposed. The thing about the Air Force is we always had cold beer and clean sheets and I assume it’s still that way. Has your son indicated a service preference?

    I think maybe Navy. I’ve got 2 former SEALS for cousins. Navy put another cousin through MIT grad school.

    I saw 13 Hours last week, and am full of admiration for those men, but also dread, when I think of the kind of leadership they’ve got these days.

    • #15
  16. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    BrentB67:WTH is a Navy “pilot”? and why did you listen to him?

    Maybe one of Silver Eagles were still in service when he joined ;)

    NavyEnlistedPilot[1]

    • #16
  17. BrentB67 Inactive
    BrentB67
    @BrentB67

    Douglas:

    BrentB67:WTH is a Navy “pilot”? and why did you listen to him?

    Maybe one of Silver Eagles were still in service when he joined ;)

    NavyEnlistedPilot[1]

    I recall hearing the term, but that was long before my time. We did have a few NAVCAD’s and I was roommates with a guy that entered that route while we were in the Tomcat RAG.

    • #17
  18. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    BrentB67:

    Douglas:

    BrentB67:WTH is a Navy “pilot”? and why did you listen to him?

    Maybe one of Silver Eagles were still in service when he joined ;)

    NavyEnlistedPilot[1]

    I recall hearing the term, but that was long before my time. We did have a few NAVCAD’s and I was roommates with a guy that entered that route while we were in the Tomcat RAG.

    If you ever get back down to the museum in Pensacola, I recall they have a corner display tucked away somewhere for these guys.

    • #18
  19. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    Mr. Cow Girl (who, in fact, grew up as a REAL cowboy–boots, broncs, cattle, etc.) had his draft number drawn in the early single digits as we finished high school. Sooo….in keeping with family tradition, he joined. Turns out the Navy would take him, when the Air Force wasn’t accepting. This was 1972. All he wanted to do was fix airplane engines. Instead, his good brains got him an award in boot camp for the highest academic score on the tests. So he had his choice. He went to A school and learned all about those new-fangled computerized training devices. It led to fourteen years of really interesting work. Then, the New Navy was all contracted out in the mid-1980’s, so he went to work as a civilian for one of the companies that made the fancy training simulators. Two years later, he got reassigned to go work as the civilian technician for the Marine Corps’ new little unmanned spy drone, which led to deployments to the First Gulf War, and then Bosnia, and trips all over the world to do the scary stuff that Marines do. He’s had an amazing career. Thank you Uncle Sam.

    Now our “baby” is a sonar man on a fast attack submarine, carrying on the third generation of Navy men, that started with my father in WWII.  He chose the Navy because his dad served there. He chose sonar because he loves sound technology. Mr. CowGirl’s brothers and dad were evenly divided between the Army and the Air Force. I love this country, and I loved it before I was a Navy wife, or Navy mom. It’s just the best place in the world, and I’m proud to be related to so many who serve/ed.

    • #19
  20. Bigfoot Coolidge
    Bigfoot
    @Bigfoot

    After an eternity of student deferments, I finally opened a letter which invited me to take a bus to Dallas a few months in the future and meet the US Army as my future. Not being the kind who liked no say in the matter, I immediately volunteered for the draft and enlisted in the Marine Corps. After an interminable series of tests and interviews with Army, Navy and Marine personnel they determined that there was a perfect civilian support job in my future and sent me through 18 months of training to prepare me for it. Loved being allied with the services and performing computer support for Marine Corps personnel.

    • #20
  21. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Hello, fellow Nuke!

    As the token Reaganite at my high school, I was inordinately patriotic. Also, I had several friends a year or two ahead of me who went to college and dithered — or outright quit. Being the typical “smart kid but doesn’t apply himself” throughout school, I decided I needed a kick in the pants if I was to succeed in higher education and adulthood.

    I spoke to recruiters for the Air Force, Marines, and the Navy, and the last one piqued my interest. Like you, I was wowed by their grueling nuclear power program and fascinated by submarines. No one in my family had any military experience (my mom was an out-and-out peacenik), but the combination of educational challenge and the sense of adventure won me over. I signed up halfway through my senior year and officially enlisted a few months after graduating.

    My plan originally was to learn the ropes as an enlisted guy then apply for OCS to make a career of it. However, by the second week underwater, I started missing simple things like the sun and girls. Having ample quantities of both, Arizona State University looked like the best option after my first enlistment was up.

    Although submarines weren’t the right fit for a lifetime, I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity that the Navy gave me. And, compared to Nuke School, Arizona State was a breeze.

    • #21
  22. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    This was an excellent idea for a post, Stad.

    • #22
  23. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    My father was first Army, then Air Force.  I never even considered doing anything else.  I enlisted in 1972 the first time, 1980 the second.  and ended up with a 21 year career.  I miss it greatly.

    • #23
  24. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    katievs:I’d love to know from you military men: Have things changed substantially? Would you recommend that someone who’s 18 now go into the military?

    Signed,

    Nervous mother of an 18 year old physics major who’s thinking about the military

    I joined before women were allowed in the regular services.  We had a separate Women’s Air Force (WAF) until integration in 1976.

    The military today is totally different from the one I was in, but you still get out of it what you put in it.  There are many opportunities in the military.  But there is also danger.  From testing experimental new drugs on military people without their knowledge or consent (see Executive Order 13139) to getting caught in political machinations (force shaping and draw-downs for instance).  The military is inherently dangerous and few dangers involve actual combat.  You can have your career cut short by accidents or the abnormal wear and tear on your body caused by the job.  The Army is hard on the knees,  working in cold hangars may not cause arthritis but it sure doesn’t help.  It’s a risk.

    You get out of the military what you put into it, your attitude counts, you pays your money and you takes your chances.  But I think it is worth the risk.

    I always loved being part of something worthwhile, the sense of mission and the sense of accomplishment always outweighed the sometime miserable duty and sometimes incompetent commanders.

    • #24
  25. katievs Member
    katievs
    @katievs

    Robert E. Lee

    You get out of the military what you put into it….

    I guess this is what I doubt. I worry that some men put everything into it, and then get screwed—not in the sense that they’re killed or injured in honest combat in a just war. That (with God’s grace) I think I could bear. What worries me is the thought that they might be used or betrayed by unprincipled leaders out for themselves.

    • #25
  26. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    katievs:

    Robert E. Lee

    You get out of the military what you put into it….

    I guess this is what I doubt. I worry that some men put everything into it, and then get screwed—not in the sense that they’re killed or injured in honest combat in a just war. That (with God’s grace) I think I could bear. What worries me is the thought that they might be used or betrayed by unprincipled leaders out for themselves.

    You can get screwed through no fault of your own. Vastly more people suffer career or life altering injuries away from combat than in combat.  It’s part and parcel of the job.

    When I said you get out of it what you put into it I mean the attitude you take with you often determines whether your experience was worth the effort.  I spent two tours in Korea and one in Saudi Arabia, taking me away from my family for up to a year at a time.  Lost birthdays, milestones, holidays.  But I looked on it as a duty that was important enough to be worth the sacrifice.  It was a rewarding experience for me.  Some looked at it as a misery and that’s all they took away from it.

    • #26
  27. dbeck Inactive
    dbeck
    @dbeck

    Look at the charges drummed up on General McChrystal all of them falsely written by ROLLING STONE and those lies cost him his career. With this administration you must load up on witnesses and say very little when being grilled by the media.

    Depending on who will be the next commander in chief it could become a silent military

    • #27
  28. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee
    @RobertELee

    dbeck:Look at the charges drummed up on General McChrystal all of them falsely written by ROLLING STONE and those lies cost him his career. With this administration you must load up on witnesses and say very little when being grilled by the media.

    Depending on who will be the next commander in chief it could become a silent military

    Each and every flag officer must be approved by congress.  People like to separate military from politics but it’s not that easy at command level.

    • #28
  29. Old Vines Thatcher
    Old Vines
    @OldVines

    Went to a great private high school and did fine (National Merit Finalist and great college boards). Went to UC Berkeley and flunked out (but did learn to play bridge). Went to a perfectly good Jr. College and hated it. Joined the Army with the intention of going to OCS and did in the last class that included cadets that had not graduated from college. Did I mention this was 1967? Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry went to Germany and then To Vietnam. Got a CIB and a bronze star. There you are, I joined because I hated Jr College.

    Older and wiser I finished college and went to business school on the GI Bill. It all worked out fine.

    • #29
  30. Cow Girl Thatcher
    Cow Girl
    @CowGirl

    BrentB67: WTH is a Navy “pilot”? and why did you listen to him? I can only imagine an aviator pitching nuke power.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Oqx7XOKVkLY

    Go to 19:21 and find out how hard it is to be a Navy pilot…

    • #30

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