The Navy Rejected Me (Whew!)
To be more specific, the Navy recruiters in Tacoma, Washington rejected me. At first I was pissed, and a little insulted!
I’d scored high on the ASVAB test that’s taken by everyone who’s interested in joining the military, which helps recruiters put the newbies into the right jobs for their aptitude. And, unlike the other potential sailor in the office with me that day, I was a willing recruit. While they were doing the hard sell on the guy, they didn’t have to convince me. I was going to enlist! Where do I sign? With a vague comment that I can’t even remember anymore, the enlisted sailor in charge dismissed my entreaty to join.
Only after I left the office did it hit me that he had prevented me from making a huge mistake. What was I thinking? I get motion sickness, I hate cramped spaces, and bell bottoms were never flattering on me. Ugh – I would have made a terrible sailor!
What I was thinking was that I was 19 years old, living back with my parents, and my life was going nowhere – something had to give. The Navy had seemed like the answer.
Moving Back Home
In the summer of 1985, the Army stationed my dad at Ft. Lewis, Washington. My then-boyfriend and I moved with my parents to escape dead end jobs, and get a fresh start. Due to my dad’s rank, he was given a two story, four bedroom house on base to live in. My parents let us stay with them while we looked for jobs and an apartment.
Unfortunately, the Seattle/Tacoma area was going through a recession at the time. My boyfriend found a job in a warehouse shortly after we arrived, but after three months, I was still looking. I was just one of many applying for the limited pool of jobs available to non-college educated 18 year olds. And, my boyfriend and I only had one car, so that made it more challenging.
My dad suggested that I look into Federal Government jobs on base. I’d taken typing, and office-related courses in high school, and had even worked in an accounts payable office as part of a work study program in my junior and senior years. My spirits were buoyed at the chance of getting a job with more possibilities of advancement. After taking a typing test and filling out a general employment form, the Civil Service office said they would call me if any jobs matched my skills.
A Foot in the Door
In the meantime, I had been hired to work at the soon to be opening Burger King on Ft. Lewis, and had a date to start training. It wasn’t my dream job, but it was in walking distance and getting paid was better than nothing. Then my luck seemed to change. Two days before my Burger King training date, I got a call from the Civil Service office – they had a temporary GS-3 office position at Madigan Army Medical Center on Ft. Lewis. Would I be interested? Yes! Of course I would. That was lowest on Federal Government pay scale, but it got my foot in the door.
I was hoping to turn it into a permanent GS gig, but the civilian personnel center wasn’t hopeful. The economic downturn affected them too, and the money just wasn’t there. By Summer of 1986, I was still a temp, with no upward mobility in sight. I didn’t want to quit working to take college classes. I thought about taking night classes at the local community college, but our combined pay wasn’t much and we wanted to save what we could for our own place.
At the end of summer, my personal life started to unravel, too. My boyfriend and I broke up, which made me feel even more adrift and wondering where the hell my life was going. Then an answer seemed to present itself. My mom was standing at the kitchen window in our house on Ft. Lewis, staring across the road towards the bluffs that formed the barrier between family base housing and where the soldiers conducted training. “I just got off the phone with Marsha,” she casually said. “One of her daughters recently joined the Navy and said she was enjoying it.”
Even though I was an Army brat, joining the military had never been on my radar. But, hearing about Marsha’s daughter was just one of many messages I had been getting that I shouldn’t dismiss the military as an option.
Most of the people I worked with in my lowly GS-3 job were enlisted Army x-ray techs who were my age, or a few years older. One day, one of them asked what I was doing with my life? She had enlisted the day she turned 18 years old, and was now 21 years old. She had a career, steady paycheck, and a future. She, and others there, encouraged me to join the Army.
Making a Change for the Better
I took their words to heart. I knew I had to do something different to move forward, but I wasn’t interested in the Army. Living on Ft. Lewis, I got an up close look at what an enlisted Army person’s life looked like: 5am P.T.; military exercises that included living in tents and low crawling through the wooded bluffs across the street from our quarters (the Army’s term for house). No, the Army wasn’t for me. Hearing about Marsha’s daughter, though, the idea of joining the Navy percolated in my brain.
I talked to the Navy recruiters in late September of 1986. The first recruiter had seemed interested, setting me up to take the ASVAB and get the initial drug testing done. When I went back in October and talked to a different recruiter about next steps, he was less than enthusiastic, and discouraged me from joining the Navy.
So there I was standing in the hallway outside the Navy Recruiters’ office, at a loss on what to do next. I just assumed they would take me; that they would take anyone really. I had psyched myself up for this change, and was excited to see a path forward for my life. And now it was gone.
That’s when I looked up and saw the sign on the office next door. How hadn’t I seen this before? I walked into the Air Force recruiters’ office, walked up to a desk, and asked the Staff Sergeant, “How do I join the Air Force?”
By the look on his face, he was definitely surprised to have this gift waltz into his office. Mid October is a tough time to convince people in their teens and early twenties to leave their family and spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve in Boot Camp.
Probably fearing I was too good to be true, he gave me a skeptical grilling. He was visibly relieved when I told him that I had already been prequalified by the Navy, and had scored high on the ASVAB. He told me that they’d had a slow period, and several potential recruits had decided not to join. So when I said I could leave for Basic Training as soon as possible, he acted as if he had won the lottery.
I left Washington state for Air Force Basic Training the following month, just one week before Thanksgiving. More about that in my next essay.
This post was my first attempt at a personal essay. I’m not sure what my style is yet. Obviously, not humorous, but hopefully my writing wasn’t too dry. I’ll only get better with practice, so I’ll keep plugging along :).