I was setting in front of my laptop, thinking about the last phone call with my son Patrick, when a little metaphysical door opened into one of the slightly less dusty corners of my mind, and a familiar familial spirit sauntered in.
“Long time no spook” I said, almost before he had a chance to sit down it the overstuffed chair (which hadn’t been there a second ago).
“Well the boys are both out of the nest, so to speak, and on their respective paths to whatever life has in store for them.” said my ghostly pater, without even a noticeable wince at my greeting. Speaking of which, I thought I would pop in and see how you were handling the news your middle son dropped on you today.
My fatherly spirit appeared to be not only in good spirits, but had helped himself to the metaphysical bar, a large glass with a generous portion of scotch comfortably nestled in his right hand, and what appeared to be a nice Cuban cigar in the other.
“You know, this reminds me of a time, oh about 36 years ago, when another young man decided to take his future into his own hands … ”
“Damn dad, you wouldn’t be recalling when I wandered into our local Navy recruiting office, now would you?”
” As I was saying before you leaped in there; yes, that is exactly what was on my mind. Your mother and I went through some pretty choppy waters over that. And I know you were chomping at the bit to get out of the house, and out of town.
Your mom was convinced that not much had changed in the Navy since we were under the Union Jack; that newly recruited Seamen were subject to all sorts of skulduggery, including “buggery on the high seas”. ”
At this, my Dr. Pepper made a hasty exit onto my monitor and keyboard.
I also found out a spirit residing in the corner of one’s mind, laughing their butt off, was altogether not an unpleasant feeling. It tended to evaporate the initial anger of the moment, and brought a smile, even as I went to get the cleaner and paper towels.
“Now, now son, you wouldn’t be begrudging an old spook a little “payback” for all the grief I took back then, now would you?” Dad was still chuckling, while taking a drag on the Cuban at hand.
“For all the grief I caused you and mom over the years, this is the least I can do.” I was chuckling a bit myself at this point. “But you know a week or so later, I would have joined as by then I would have been over 18. It just seemed to be the right opportunity at the right time, when I did so. Still, had I waited, it wouldn’t have been the Navy that got me.”
Now it was dad’s turn to raise a metaphysical eyebrow. “Oh? What would have happened had you waited a couple more weeks?”
“Well, I would have most likely gone into the Marines. If you remember, they called the house about a week and a half after I had entered the Navy’s “Delayed Entrance Program”. They had just received my ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test scores, and were quite interested in someone who was a “cat 1” and interested in joining the service. (This was back at the end of the Vietnam War … the Marines were just about doing back flips for anyone above a “rock with lips” who expressed a desire to join at that particular time. -ed)”
“I had gone by their office (in the next town down the road) a week or two before talking to the Navy, but they were not in the office, and there was nothing in the way of business cards or such to take with in order to get in contact with them. They had left no indication on their door as to when they were returning to the office, so I went about my business in town (going to the library as I recall) and returning home after that.”
“So why didn’t you wait, and at least talk with the Marines? You probably wouldn’t have joined until you were 18, thus saving your mother and I at least a bit of emotional exchange.”
“Well, the Marines were my first choice, but the Navy wasn’t an also ran, it was always in my mind, between one or the other. I never gave the Army a thought, and even that many years ago, the Air Force wasn’t a player either. They just came across as too … well… nerdy.”
At that point, it was dads turn to send some of his scotch flying.
“You … You … Damn boy!!! You know I did a couple of years in the Air Force!!”
Now it was my turn to chuckle. Only it seems when ectoplasm in your head spews scotch, you get the same coughing, sputtering fit as well. Fortunately, I did not have any Dr. Pepper outside of it’s bottle at that time. Do you have any idea how hard it is to chuckle and cough at the same time?
“Yes … cough, cough … dad I remember. But your time was done while they were still flying props, and had gunners and such on board as aircrew. By the time I was looking into things, they were already starting to promote the “kinder and gentler” Air Force. The one with manicured country clubs on every base. Where even enlisted had fine dining and the best quarters (as compared to other services at that time). And they were still pretty much at their quotas for any given month as anyone who faced the draft was talking with the Air Force.”
“Now years later, I have had the pleasure of working with a few techs who wore Air Force blue, and have stayed at more than one Air Force Base, and as much as I may tease those folks, I know they are doing all they can in following their oath. It’s kinda like a family. We may fight and bicker with our brother (that would be the Navy and Marines), but when a cousin tries to stir something up, than brothers stand tall together (the cousins being the Army and or Air Force). Now let someone from outside the family start something (the civilians in this case), than the whole family bands together. At the end of the day, we all have our jobs to do, and do our level best to take care of our respective business.”
“Anyhow, I have drifted a bit.”
“I’ll say you have. My glass is empty and the cigar needs to be replaced.” Dad flickered for a second, returning to full strength with a refreshed glass and Cuban.
“Look dad, I know you are trying to put things into perspective. And I admit I was thinking there may be a chance your grandson would be subject to the wiles of his “friendly neighborhood recruiter”. Hell, when he told me he was going in at the end of the month I had alarm bells going off all over the place. I remember how it was when I was recruiting for the Navy 17-18 years ago. You did not want to go in at months end. Granted there were exceptions, if you were going Nuke, or had qualified for that very rare opening in the Navy’s musician rating, you were subject to some pretty lean pickings when talking with the Navy classifier; the fella (or gal) who got you into the “field of your choice”. And once you were in “the clutches” of the folks at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Center) … Well, it took an act of congress, or exceedingly large parental unit, to get the youngster back out on the street, if they were not given what they were hoping to get, instead of them signing up for whatever was offered to them.”
“But you don’t seem all that agitated at the moment, son.”
“As you know, I talked at length with our future Navy man, and he forwarded his recruiters phone number to me. Today I gave her a call. She wasn’t in, but her boss was.”
“So how did the conversation go? Did you see which one of you old Navy types could out bs the other? Did you end up swapping sea stories? Was he an old salt, or a used car salesman?”
“Actually, SHE was more than polite and professional.”
“Yeppers, the RINC (Recruiter in Charge) of his local recruiting station was a female. Liked what she was doing so much in fact, she changed her rating to NC (Navy Counselor). Anyhow, we had a long talk about my concerns. Particularly addressing the end of the month. She was adamant, that if I so desired, his appointment to MEPS could be pushed, quite easily to the beginning of next month. This information was freely given on her part with no (as far as I could tell) pressure from me. So score a couple of points for the recruiter.”
Secondly, she went on to explain, due to the lower overall manning levels verses high demand in number of people attempting to join, they were 180 degrees out from what we had to deal with back in the 90’s; or for that matter what my recruiters had to deal with back in the early 70’s. In short, it’s now a “sellers market”. They are not taking folks with any sort of felony, no GED’s, or other disqualifiers which may have been accepted, from time to time, in the past. Indeed, if you don’t score well enough on the ASVAB, that is going to shoot you down right there … no more “rocks with lips”.
We also talked a briefly about some of his goals. She knew about his reapplying for the Officer program, and there was (on my part) some amplification about his potential educational goals. I was assured at least two of the programs which would meet at least some of his needs, wants, and or desires (assuming he was qualified) would in fact be available. And knowing which programs the RINC was talking about, I felt comfortable in agreeing with her.”
“That’s good son”, said my disembodied dad, “But, how can you be sure? I was also in sales, once upon a time, and I know all about establishing rapport. So how do you know this is going to happen, and that she wasn’t just blowing smoke up your old retired Navy butt?”
I thought about this for a second or two, dad did have a valid point. Fact is these folks are trained in relating not only with their “target market”, but in tactfully dealing with parents of applicants as well.
“Bottom line is, I don’t know for 100%. A phone call is not the same as a face to face meeting, nor would there be any guarantee things would have been any different had I been there in person. Being she was straight forward through out the whole conversation, there was no hesitation on her part at any time, and at least as far as I could tell, I was never “baffled with bs” … you could chalk that up, at least partially to establishing rapport, but she could have just as easily done that by being a skilled bs’er, or playing up to the “old retired Sailor”. The fact is she didn’t. Instead she addressed my questions and concerns as professionally as she could; well, I was left with a good feeling.
Bottom line is, if the Navy can’t give him what he feels is best for him, then thank you very much, have a nice day, there is a long line of folks right behind you. These days they are looking for the best and the brightest to fill specific needs of the Navy, vice taking any and all qualified (marginally or otherwise) individuals and throwing them in the mix and seeing what sticks.”
“It is a different Navy, and different recruiting program from when I was in.”
“So, you are going to the MEPS to see the latest generation raise their hand and take the oath?”
“Already have the day off. And baring any unexpected circumstance, act of nature, or hand of God, I plan on being there. After all, I still want to see what he is ultimately offered. I want to talk with him and know he is comfortable with the choices given. And honestly, now I want to see for myself just how different the process is, not only from when I went in, but from the time I was bringing fresh young faces to the MEPS as they began their adventure on the high seas.”
“Son, I expect you would do nothing less then that. You owe your boys so much, perhaps this is one way in which you can do so.”
“Oh hell dad, that is the least of my concerns. All I want is for them to do their level best at achieving their goals in life. If, in this case, the Navy offers the best route for “our boy” to meet his goals, and more importantly, if he feels it does, than I am all for it.”
It was only a moment or so after this, my father’s phantom visage quietly took his leave. The lingering smoke from his cigar, along with the faint whiff of some obscenely expensive scotch being all that remained of his latest visit to his private corner of my mind. Perhaps remembering, once again, my leaving home, toward the nautical unknown, or his own time spent in Air Force blue. I had a feeling he would return soon enough, for his comfy chair failed to dematerialize … was I to have a semi-permanent resident residing in one corner of my noggin? We shall see.