“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.” (Florence Nightingale)
A few weeks after boot camp, I began nuclear school. No one believed I could make it through nuclear school, as students were intensely tested both academically, not to mention our capacity to handle extreme pressure. According to the academy, “only very few out of a hundred graduate from the school and become a nuke!”
I incorrectly believed if I made it through the school, I would be perceived “competent” by everyone, including my stepdad and real dad. Unfortunately, my undiagnosed mental illness, my flailing confidence, and my fears of rejection and shame caused me to fail again. Manic depression, OCD, and the pressure of the school, etc. made me feel real sick, as I sacrificed sleep and placed enormous stress upon myself to succeed.
I only lasted four weeks with a 1.68 GPA. This defeat hurt me emotionally for a long time, as my OCD obsessions of “having to prove myself I am good through performance”, my “all or nothing” mentality of defining success, and the highs and lows of manic depression made each day very overwhelming to handle. Especially, with my illness still undiagnosed.
After nuclear school, the Navy had me work as a Navy cafeteria worker. I mopped, washed dishes, assisted cooks, clean grills, etc. Even though I had friends, I still felt rejected by many higher ranking officers. My cafeteria bosses seemed to always look for things I did wrong, seemingly more than they did to other shipmates.
The Mess Hall inspection
One day while working at the galley (military cafeteria), I was cleaning a stove grill using a brick. My Navy work shirt got stained with grease, as I was working very hard and rapidly. Unfortunately, just to give me a hard time, an officer decided to give me a uniform inspection. I failed, mainly because of my grease-stained shirt.
After the inspection, the officer gave me the following instructions: at lunchtime, I must walk to my barracks, take a shower, put on a clean uniform, and walk back to the galley, and be ready for re-inspection, before the half-hour lunch break is over. He then told me: “if you hurry and don’t waste any time, you should have just enough time to be back in time for the inspection”.
After he left, I realized I had a major problem: I had no ironed uniform in my room that was inspection-ready. Realizing there would be insufficient time for me to go to my barracks, iron a pair of pants and shirt, and then do everything else I was supposed to do in the allotted time, I suddenly became very scared and worried. What am I going to do?
Pondering the situation, I conceived a plan. It was a terrible plan, but it was a plan.
About two hours before lunch time started, I talked to a shipmate at the galley, asking the individual: “If I sneak in and hide in the back of your van, will you drop me off nearby by barracks, so I can quickly get a different set of clothes, my iron, liquid wax, etc., and then meet you by the gate in about twenty minutes to take back to the galley, unnoticed?” Surprisingly, my friend said: “Yes”.
After getting in the back of his van, my new friend drives me pass the gate and then eventually, around the corner of my barracks where he drops me off. Once out of the van, I think, “This will be easier than I thought”. Unfortunately, as I started walking, I saw senior chief Bernardo talking to a lieutenant. I thought: “Crap. I cannot let them see me, or I will be in trouble.”
So I anxiously turned around and walked away from the barracks, when I felt my head, and realized I was still wearing a galley hat, and not a Navy cover. “If some officer sees me walking around with a paper hat on my head, I certainly would be in big trouble! What do I do now?” , my brain said.
Walking around the barracks’ restricted area where troublemakers reside, I saw a shipmate and asked him “if he would be willing to exchange his cover for my galley hat”. After promising I would return his cover to him real soon, he agreed.
Realizing I didn’t have much time left before I had to meet the van driver at the appointed place, I decided to try to walk by Bernardo and the lieutenant, as they were standing a few feet from each other, face to face, and still talking. Very anxious I was, as I took one step after another, trying to nonchalantly walk them, praying they won’t see me. Thankfully, I walked by them, without being noticed.
As I entered the barracks, the person at the front desk told me to “STOP”, for he immediately wanted to talk to me. In fear of getting in trouble, I ignored him and ran up to the steps and into my room. I then hurriedly grabbed a set of clothes, my iron and iron board, and a bottle of liquid wax. Instead of going down the steps and pass the guard at the front desk, I exited the building through a door that said “DO NOT ENTER”. Frantically I next made it to the place where I was supposed to meet the van driver.
Standing inside a phone booth, I waited and waited for the van to go by. No dice. In fear of missing my ride, I heavily started praying and worrying. Soon the officer – in charge of our barracks – went by in a jeep. I thought: “Oh crap! I hope he didn’t see me.”
Finally, I saw the van. With my sea bag in my hand, I entered the back door of the vehicle and hid. Soon we made it back to the galley. A shipmate then grabbed my sea bag and placed it in a room: a vacant place to iron my clothes during the lunch hour.
At lunchtime, I started ironing. I thought: “Man I fooled them. I made it through this mess.” Unfortunately, after about five minutes of steaming, I realized I was in big trouble. Both the shirt and pants I was pressing had a button missing!
Leaving the galley building, I ran as fast as I could, heading to the barracks. Fear and anxiety of getting in trouble by the uniform inspector fueled my energies. I knew I wasn’t going to make it in time, but I continued to run fast anyways, in case I was wrong. I slowed down a couple of times to catch my breath for about fifteen seconds each, and then I continued to run again until I finally made it to the quarters.
Enter the barracks building, the guard told me to stop. Realizing I didn’t have much time left, I ignored him as I sprinted up the steps and into my room. I slowed down a couple of times to catch my breath for about fifteen seconds each, and then I continued to run again until I finally made it to the quarters. I hurriedly ironed my clothes, took a two minute show, and changed my uniform. Running out of time, I walked down the steps in defeat. Finally, I listened to the guard, who told me that “an officer wanted to talk to me right now!” Fear of getting in trouble for multiple reasons, I entered the officer’s office.
The female officer told me: “I have orders for you to go to Great Lakes to take schooling in the MM/EM field (machinist mate / electrical mechanical) which is in Chicago, IL. Pack your stuff immediately for you are scheduled to leave the base later today.”
Since the galley officer, who ordered the inspection, had no jurisdiction over the female officer, who gave me orders to leave the base, I didn’t have to complete the inspection. If I only listened to front desk guard when he said: “HALT” the first time, I would have found out about my orders to leave Orlando much sooner, and I would have had no need to continue with my inspection preparation. I went through HELL for nothing!
“Life’s trials are not easy. But in God’s will, each has a purpose. Often He uses them to enlarge you.” Warren Wiersbe
Listen to this inspirational song, related to the theme of this chapter:
Fireflight – Keep Fighting ( Lyrics Video )