Personal History : 1986, part two

After talking with the recruiter, taking the ASVAB, and scoring well enough to get into any advanced technology rate I was interested in, on July first 1986 I raised my right hand and became a wholly owned resource of the United States Navy.

Initially I was angling toward the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program, but after hearing some of the horror stories of the schools involved I decide to look elsewhere. For example, in nuke-school everything is classified so there is no note taking in class; you have to hardcore memorize all of the formulas while not getting any sleep from standing watches. I also don’t figure training to run a reactor will lead to a very large pool of jobs post-Navy, so I’ve decided on Radio – specifically in submarines.

Submarine radio makes heavy use of computer systems, electronics, and has the added bonus of a top-secret security classification – which I’ve heard will be a golden ticket when my four years are up. And submarines are about as close as anyone can get to space travel without being an astronaut, and I’m pretty jazzed about that too.

Interestingly, 1986 is a period of intense change for the Navy. This will become evident as I ride the crest of these changes and occasionally got lost in the cracks caused by them.

After my swearing in and medical exams, I spent eight weeks (the rest of July through early September) at bootcamp in Great Lakes Illinois. Which while bootcamp wasn’t ‘bad’, it certainly isn’t something I’d like to do again… I quickly discovered the secret to bootcamp success was to basically become a robot; do what you’re told to do exactly as you’re told to do it even if it’s wrong.

Our first two RDCs (essentially drill sergeants) were replaced about two weeks into it, and the second pair of RDCs were either missing entirely or were trying to sell us embroidered company jackets and other stuff at the end of boot – trying to capitalize on the elation of success much like class rings and yearbooks…

The latter two RDCs for my company were taken to captain’s mast for this as we were shipping out… Welcome to the Navy I suppose.

Anyway, bootcamp passed in a blur; marching, medical, marching, PT, marching, classes, marching, service week, marching… But it was soon over and I was standing at parade rest for an hour at graduation.

My company was the last to use the old WWII era barracks building we occupied, which would be a huge quality of life boost for the companies that came after us.

My parents were on their way to visit my grandparents in Ohio, so they swung by for the graduation. We chatted for a couple of hours before they needed to get back on the road – so that was that.

After graduation there was some freedom for the few days until our flights to duty stations, and I remember heading into Chicago with some of the guys from my company – in dress white uniforms and a rented limo.

It was a day full of new experiences… I did a hard pass on the hookers and drugs, left the guys I was with to walk around Chicago a bit, and then caught a taxi back to the base.

While in Chicago I picked up a new Casio W-50U “World Time” wristwatch because I was in the Navy now and who knew where in the world I would end up. I also picked up a new Sony WM-20 “Walkman” cassette player because it sounded amazing and it was about the size of a cassette case, and space is a premium for Navy folks.

In mid September I landed at the sub base in Groton Connecticut and moved into the newly built seven story Thresher Hall barracks building (Building 492) that was primarily used for fast attack crews.

Thresher Hall was an incredible step up from the WWII buildings in use at Great Lakes and was, in many ways, reminiscent of my old High School, Skyline. The rooms were nice with private storage closets and new “GSA” wood furniture, my roommate was pretty cool, and there was a literal arcade in the commons area on the fifth floor.

Being as my BESS (Basic Enlisted Submarine School) class wouldn’t begin until October, I was placed in a TPU (Transitory Personnel Unit) that reported to the parking lot at a building just down the hill to the south of Thresher Hall every morning. From there we would be assigned various busy-work projects ranging from cleaning some space somewhere to lawn maintenance.

I participated in this for about a week before discovering that the daily roll-call was a green-bar printout of a list managed from an IBM PC/XT in an open office located in the above-mentioned building. And that the list was manually updated as sailors moved into or out of classes with no real oversight, access controls, or change management.

Ten minutes later I had removed myself from said list – and then spent the next two weeks before BESS walking around the base, hanging out in my barracks room, or playing video games in the common area.

My BESS class took place at the McNeill Hall Submarine School, and was the last class to be held there as the new BESS building, Bledsoe Hall, opened for the next class in December.

BESS was simultaneously very interesting and incredibly boring. Learning about things like cascade orifice restriction devices (CORD) which are used to reduce hydraulic cavitation noise in piping was fascinating for the 15 minutes it took to explain it – but then there was the other 4.75 hours needed to make sure everyone else understood it that bored me to no end.

During BESS the Navy begins my TS-SBI investigation. Said investigation looks at you, your family, your friends, and friends of your friends. It’s incredibly thorough…

I remember doing the initial interview with two guys from the MIB. They alternated asking me all sorts of uncomfortable questions for about twenty minutes, and then I filled out a form that basically asked for information on everyone I’ve ever known.

Anyway, BESS was six weeks long and ended mid-November, at which time I moved into SUBGROUP2 while waiting for SSBN 735 to reach a point where sailors were needed.

But the best part of the move to group2 was that I was no longer a ‘NUB’ (pronounced ‘noob’ – Non-Useful Body) but was now a real submariner – and this brought a few changes both good and bad…

The first was that I moved from the very modern Thresher Hall across the base to the 60’s era Scorpion Hall (Building 430) – which was kinda blah. I also started standing watches at the SUBGRU2 building, but fire and security watches here aren’t as regimented as bootcamp, so I’m getting some time to catch up on a few comics. “Unicorn Isle” is a big favorite right now, with its curious blend of high fantasy and science fiction…

But the best thing is I’m allowed to leave the base in civilian clothes! So after buying a couple of t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and some sneakers at the base exchange I’ve been going off-base to the Crystal Mall in New London with some of the guys in the barracks. On odd nights where I’m not on duty at any rate.

It was on one of these trips to the Crystal Mall that I picked up this Pewter unicorn…

One of the 80’s Hudson Pewter unicorns – this one is stamped (C)1984 on the bottom.

Now that I’m settled into Scorpion Hall and seriously doubt my drunken roommate will do much more than sleep, I think I’ll bring my Atari 800XL back with me after my Christmas leave and get back to my programming efforts between duty rotations.

Oh, and yeah, I’m taking a week of leave to fly home this Christmas.

I arrive home for Christmas to discover that in the proceeding six months my parents have sold my car and tossed out most of my childhood; all that’s left is my computer and some clothes… I pack those up to take back with me to Groton.