“Courage is fear that said its prayers.” (Dorothy Bernard)
At eighteen, I joined the United States Navy in hopes of becoming a nuclear reactor technician. In doing this, I hoped to prove to myself and others I could be successful in life, proven by successfully doing Navy’s most difficult and prestigious job. Desperately wanting to rid myself of the shame I felt from previous failings became an obsession my mind wouldn’t forget. Unfortunately, my unknown mental illness and lack of confidence made things real difficult for me in the Navy.
Before I was officially enlisted in the Navy, I had to go through a physical exam in Lansing, MI. During the screening, my bipolar mania embarrassed me again:
I remember that August 24, 1992 day, where I and a bunch of recruits were in rows, standing in military attention, wearing nothing but our underwear. One by one, we waited for our turn to see the military doctor, who was in a booth, with a blanket covering his medical station. Even though no one outside the booth could see what was going on inside, almost everyone could hear the dialogue between the doctor and the recruit.
One by one, the doc instructed each of us to “pull down out underwear” in order to check for hernia issues. When we heard a potential shipmate give a “gulp” noise, I and many others suddenly became nervous, of what will happen to us, when it is our turn to see the doctor.
As I entered into that booth, I felt really nervous as I dropped my underwear in front of the military doctor. As he was touching my privates, I gave a “nervous laugh” as I suddenly felt uncomfortable with what the doctor was doing to me. After I laughed nervously, the surprised physician asked me: “What’s wrong? Does it hurt?” Not knowing what to say or do, I said the only thing that came to my mind, “No, it tickles!”
The doctor seemed stunned at the comment; so did the recruits outside the booth. Many thought I was a homosexual; so I was made fun of by some, and treated harshly by others. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of many mishaps I had in the Navy.
Orlando, FL, was the site of my boot camp. Starting on the first day, we were taught how to fold our clothes, military style. Everything had to be perfectly done in a time pressure situation. Unfortunately mania, my OCD fears, my lack of self-confidence, military officers treating my harshly (like my stepdad), and my inability to handle pressure properly, made learning very difficult for me. What made things worse for me, is that every shipmate in our division had to do tons of push-ups because of my screw-ups.
Everyone laughed at my push-ups, as the form looked like “someone trying to hump the floor”. The fact that “shipmates were laughing” made our drill sergeant real angry; thus, we all had to do more and more push-ups, which would cause more laughter and more push-ups.
Push-ups weren’t the only bizarre behaviorisms of this manic-depressive person . In fear of not being quick enough to pass these timed tests, I would often also dive on the floor, roll around, slide around, jump to my feet, and fall on my knees, as I folded my clothes. I wasn’t trying to be funny, I just felt like I had to save every second possible, especially since my untreated OCD caused inefficiencies in my pursuits of being both perfect and quick in doing these inspections. Not bad for a person going into the nuclear reactor field.
During my boot camp, company commanders would compete amongst themselves to see whose crew was trained the best. Unfortunately, for my two drill sergeants, I became, in their eyes, a hindrance toward success. So the lead company commander had me take everything out of locker and put it all in a sea bag. He then ordered me to hide into a room with a blanket over the door window. A higher ranking officer was supposed to come in our barracks to give a “rah-rah” speech, and I was being told by my drill sergeant, to hide from this guy coming in.
When the “big chief” did “roll call”, and he came to my name, my lead company commander told the individual “I never made it to the division”. I felt both little scared and rejected as my ears were listening, on the other side of the wall, to the sounds made by the group. Unintentionally, I accidently bumped my head on the bottom of the table I was under; consequently, something fell on the floor, producing a noise.
“What was that?” asked the “big chief”.
“Uh, Uh, it was nothing. You didn’t hear a thing!”, I heard my company commander anxiously reply.
Luckily, “my cover was not blown”. Soon the meeting had ended. My two company commanders told me to go in their office, as they wanted to talk to me. Nervously, I entered. The next thing I know, I was telling my company commanders funny stories of things that happened to me in the past. So they decided to hide me from inspections given by officers outside the barracks.
In-house “fold and stow” inspections I participated in; ones led by those outside the group, my company commander would constantly send me to the dentist – just to get me out of the barracks before the inspectors come in. Many times, by the time I get to the dentist’s office, the office would be closed for the day. However, once our barrack’s inspections started, no one outside the barracks was allowed to enter the room, until the inspections were done. That was how I got out of inspections.
In addition to folding clothes, I also struggled heavily in marching correctly. Seemingly every time I took a step on my left foot, everyone was on their right foot, and vice versa. To avoid being kicked in the leg, by the foot of the shipmate marching directly behind me, I would constantly hop to the other foot quickly. Many times, I would get marching commands confused; for example, I would do a “to the rear march” when I wasn’t supposed to, which means “I would suddenly pivot my right foot and do a 180 degree turn”, in the opposite direction, when I wasn’t supposed to do. The net result is that I would run into the shipmates behind me (who were still marching in the same direction as I was before). We would then get chewed out, and then have to do push-ups, etc.
I was our company commander’s “little buddy”. Even though I had to do a lot of push-ups, and got chewed out by him a lot, he seemed to like me (not sexually). One day, another drill sergeant, Chief Britt, approached our group after we finished marching, and asked us: “Which one of you is your company commander’s ‘little buddy’?” I was scared at first, in fear of having to do push-ups, or some other sort of punishment; however, after Chief Britt found out it was me, we later joked around a bit.
Unfortunately, about a week or two later, officers outside our company division came in and gave our crew a surprise “fold and stow” inspection. Since the inspection was unannounced, I had no chance to “see the dentist”. So I was forced to participate in the company inspection, in which I failed miserably.
After failing the inspection, I was sent to a “fold and stow” remedial class. I was the only participant in the group, and there was no teacher. Every day – other than eating, sleeping, marching, exercising, and working – all I did was practice folding my clothes. To avoid doing the same regimen another week, I had to pass the examination at the end of the previous week. Thank God, I passed the test after only seven days.
Held back a week due to the remedial class, I joined the 1082 company division, which was a week behind my previous company. My two new company commanders were Chief Cunningham and Petty Officer 1st Chaney. Unlike the previous drill sergeants, Cunningham and Chaney never caught me any slack. So my new shipmates and I had to do tons of push-ups due to my screw-ups. Again I was either well -liked or well-hated by other shipmates. In spite of my personal strongholds, I made it through boot camp, graduating with the 1082 class.
If not for God, I would have never made it through boot camp. Here are some other boot camp adventures.
Marching to Physical Training
One day our division was headed to march to do some physical training, when our company commander said, “Guys, let’s march! Let’s show them how it’s done in the Navy!”
In the middle of the pack I was – unconfident and fearful of making a mistake – trying desperately to be perfect in another military task that I struggled to do right. Each step I took felt like a pressure-packed situation, as I constantly had to “hop” to other foot, to correct my mistake of being on the wrong cadence. Like with my stepdad, I feared the ire of an angry man who might punish me for screwing up.
As we marched on the sidewalk, I blundered again. Taking a step, I tripped in a small section of dirt, causing shipmates (who were directly behind me) to stumble over the person in front of them, in a domino effect. The net result was, that the crew in front of me kept on marching forward without interruption, while there was a group of about ten marchers on the ground, all because I tripped, causing guys behind me to also stumble. Again, we got chewed out by our drill sergeant, and everyone had to do push-ups because of me.
One day I was use a brush to scrub paint off the barracks’ floor, when I asked my company commander, “What can I use to get this paint off easier?” He simply replied, “Use elbow grease.” I responded, not knowing what elbow grease, “Where do I get some at?”
The next thing I know, I was being sent on a series of “wild good chases” to find “elbow grease”, as my company commander sent me on a journey on foot, with my sea bag over my shoulders, to get some “elbow grease” from an officer, who was about two or three miles from our barracks. Unfortunately, the shipmate I went to, told me “I don’t have any. You need to go to this location (which was also about two or three miles further away) to get it from this person (I forgot the individual’s name)”. This happened to me again by another company commander.
Button missing, zipper down
One day, during a uniform inspection, a female officer chewed out the person right next to me. As I waited nervously for my turn to get my clothes inspected, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling, after she made a funny, sarcastic remark to my shipmate. Seeing my smile, she angrily came to me, to give me a hard time.
“What’s so funny, shipmate? What kind of person would laugh at your fellow shipmate? Let’s see how you are dressed!” As the female officer perused my shirt and pants, she noticed a button missing from my shirt, and “my fly down”. The next thing I know, everyone had to do push-ups because of me again.
Chemical Gas Training
To get us prepared in case a war happens, our company commander trained us, in how to put on and off our gas masks. Unfortunately, after putting on the mask, I was breathing some of the chemical gas, which was real painful. Either the mask leaked, or I didn’t put it on properly.
Being forced to “stand at attention”, we were disallowed to say anything or even move, until it was our turn to take off our mask and say our billet number (like a person’s serial number). Unfortunately, I breathed some of the chemicals as I was about two rows behind the next person taking off the mask. Praying to God to overcome the pain of the gas, it eventually became my turn to take my mask off. After my mask was off, I felt the worst physical pain I ever experienced, as my eyes felt like they were on fire.
Firing a gun
Soon came the day where our company division was supposed to shoot a gun with real bullets at firing range. After being instructed how to shoot, I and others began shooting, each of us in our own firing lane. Confused of the instructions, I became unsure how to shoot as I never shot a gun before. So I tried to mimic how Sgt. Rick Hunter shot a gun in the 1980s TV crime drama series Hunter.
With my arms stretched out and rapidly moving up and down, I fired the gun erratically. Suddenly the gun instructor yelled, “Stop! Everyone stop shooting!”
So the instructor made me sit in a chair while everyone else practiced shooting. After they finished and left, the shoot instructor approached me and said, “These guys probably think I am nuts to come even remotely close to you, while you have a gun in your hand. But I am having faith in you! Now this is how you shoot a gun again.” After spending a long time teaching me, I hit any part of the target 14 out of 30 times.
Graduation from boot camp
Prior to our graduation ceremony, shipmates from our division told Cunningham and Chaney they didn’t want me march in pass and review (Navy term for graduation), in fear my marching screw-ups would embarrass them in front of their families and friends. So they asked the two if I could guard the barracks while they marched, even though no traffic would be near the barracks during graduation ceremony. Feeling rejected, I pleaded to my company commanders: “You got to believe me! I can march! My family is coming from Michigan to see me. Please give me a try. I know I can do it. I won’t let you guys down!” After they agreed to let me march, I fervently prayed to God several times for help. I then marched flawlessly in front of every during pass and review! Thank you God!
Listen to this inspirational song, related to the theme of this chapter:
You’re Gonna Be Okay (Lyric Video) – Brian & Jenn Johnson | After All These Years