March 9. The date has been stuck in my head for the past few days. I finally realized why. March 9, 1993 is when I ran away from home. 19 years old, a year out of high school (which I barely graduated), working for the company my dad owned. I was doing a whole lot of nothing. Hanging out with friends, some partying, etc. I needed to make a change but just wasn’t sure what to do. I could go off to college, but pretty sure I would simply fail out. I could literally run away, but what would I do for money? I hadn’t really had to fend for myself yet in life.
I had actually made the decision about a year earlier. There was a guy who kept telling me I was wanted. I was smart – had scored well on aptitude tests. He was offering me a lot of money, relative to an 18 year old. He was the Navy recruiter. He was showing me a way of life that would be pretty exciting and would be full of adventure. So I joined the Delayed Entry Program.
March 9 was the day I shipped to boot camp.
I won’t go into my specific Navy experiences but will give the two most important lessons I learned in the Navy.
Lesson One. There are times when you are very fearful but must simply have faith and leap. At the same time, the person that pushes you off really has your best interest in mind.
My original ship date was about a week earlier. As I said earlier, I had been working for my dad installing telephone systems. The night before I was to ship to boot camp the Navy put us all up in a hotel. My friends came to give me a final send off. It was great.
The next morning when we were required to swear in a second time, I refused. I was terrified that I was making a big mistake. The leap into the unknown. I said no. The Senior Chief at the MEPS station called my dad, who came racing to MEPS to “help”. Ultimately they gave me a week to “think about it” and sent me home.
I’ll never forget the conversation in the truck on the way home.
“So what are you gonna do now?” my dad asked.
“Go to school.” I half thought of a plan.
“How are you going to pay for that?”
“Work for you.” I answered.
A hearty laugh, followed by “Nope. You gave them your word and backed out. I don’t have people working for me like that.”
And so the conversation went on for a bit – with my decision being made. I called the senior chief back, shipped out a week later and never looked back.
The second lesson I learned in the Navy had a bit of fear in it again, but more importantly was to think through big decisions ahead of time.
In “A” school they had us fill out a dream sheet. I put down Naval Air Station Bermuda, being half funny.
I ended up doing very well in my “A” School – graduated number one. So when time for orders came around I got to pick first. The school administration had written all the available orders on the board before class and then covered it up. They called us all in and explained that I would pick first and then they would go down the list in order of grades. They then uncovered the board.
My family had come to see my graduation so my Mom, Dad, brother and sister, in addition to my class, my instructors, and the school administrators were all stunned to hear me pick Helicopter Mine Countermeasures 14 (HM14) homeported at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA. About 200 miles from home. The Chief asks me if I am sure and I reply yes.
They were stunned because I left Naval Air Station, Barbers Point, Hawaii on the board – I was later informed that this set of orders was specifically “gotten” for me.
The basic explanation was I freaked out – Hadn’t thought about what I would do, and when I saw Hawaii I could only think of my brother saying how expensive it was when he had gone. “How would an E-2 live in such an expensive place?”
“What will I do to get home?” “How will I see my friends?” All questions that came to mind but I hadn’t thought through. Answers like “they provide everything you need to live” and “I’ll make new friends” never crossed my mind. Fear did.
So there you have it. What I did on March 9 was run away to the Navy and I certainly learned a few things. It took me 21 years to finally reach Hawaii and, quite honestly, I can’t get it out of my mind now.