This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri December 27th 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Young people who know very little, or nothing, about life in the military, and are considering enlisting, can find volumes of conflicting information. Recruiter’s jobs are to recruit people into their service. Most people who have been in the military, and consider it to have been a positive experience, are prejudiced to that branch. I am naturally prejudiced toward the Army, because I spent a career there and retired from the Army. During my time in the Army, I spent more time with the Air Force than with the Marines or the Navy. I rode in Air Force planes about a hundred times, but rarely landed with them, plus when I was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Pope Air Force Base was a large base on Fort Bragg. We did train with Marines occasionally, and spent some time on a Navy ship, while the Marines who were assigned to the ship slept on the ground.
I know from experience that the single best indicator of how satisfying or dissatisfying life is in a military service is the percentage of people who stay. Those who reenlist after their initial enlistment. The services are very reluctant to make those figures public. In 1998, before 911, the Army had 51 percent of first term enlistees staying in the Army, the Navy 55%, the Air Force 54% (down from 65 in 1995), and the Marines at 22 percent. All the services first term reenlistments spiked after the 911 attack in 2001, then declined as the wars and deployments increased. The Air Force dropped to below 35 percent in 2005, then went back up to just under 50 percent in 2008. The Navy dropped to below 25 percent in 2004, back up a little then down to 20 percent in 2007 and up to just over 25 percent in 2008. The Army spiked to over 30 percent in 2002, then dropped to 25 percent in 2003, but then climbed steadily to over 40 percent in 2008. The Marine Corps stayed at just over 20 percent from 2000 to 2006, then jumped to around 35 percent in 2007 and 2008, which tells me that conditions started improving, in the Corps.
I found that I couldn’t do justice to any service, if I tried to cover them all in one week, so this week is about the Navy, next week the Marine Corps, then the Air Force, and finally I will make my pitch for the Army. I’m starting with the Navy because it is apparently the least popular armed service for this area, and that is reasonable since we are in the center of the country and the Navy is primarily on water, big water.
The difference between life in the Army and life in the Navy is like night and day. The Army lives on land and the Navy lives on water. They have different missions, they have different lifestyles, and they have different languages. In the Army the floor is the floor and the ground is the ground, in the Navy it is the deck. Restrooms in the Army are latrines, in the Navy it is the head.
First, if you consider the Navy, you should be very comfortable with water. Not just be able to swim, you should swim like a fish. In boot camp, a lot of time is spent in the water, plus sailors spend roughly half of their time in the Navy on water, big water.
Enlisting in the Navy is different from enlisting in the Army, in that the Navy will guarantee an area, called a rating and there are sometimes many different specific jobs within a rating. What specific training a person receives within a rating is determined during Navy boot camp. That determination is made based upon ASVAB scores, training (in other words aptitude and attitude) and the desire of the individual, but ultimately on the needs of the Navy. Most Navy enlistees are guaranteed a rating. However, they are not guaranteed a specific school or job within that rating. That is determined during boot camp. Then after boot camp, they attend an “A” school to learn a specific job within their rating.
There is serious competition to get into the Navy, so high ASVAB scores, clean record, physical condition, and college all help in the enlistment process A person can also enlist in the Navy under a program called PACT, Professional Apprenticeship Career Track. There are three areas of the PACT program, Airman-PACT, Fireman-PACT, and Seaman-PACT. Under the PACT program, a person enlists in the Navy without a guaranteed school, but an assignment in one of the three PACT areas. After boot camp the Fireman and Seaman PACT enlistees attend a three week school at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, whereas the Airman PACT’s attend a three week school at the Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC) at Pensacola, Florida. They are then assigned where ever the Navy needs that type of sailor. They are assigned to general duties and they are entered into a monitored general apprenticeship program for some formal training and on-the-job training. Between 12 and 24 months they must submit a PACT designation application for an “A” school.
All Navy Boot Camp (basic training) is conducted in one location, at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, on the shore of Lake Michigan, halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. It is officially called RTC (Recruit Training Command). The first week is all processing, then there are eight weeks of boot camp. The Army has Drill Sergeants, and the Marines Drill Instructors. The Navy call theirs RDC’s (Recruit Division Commander). During the first week recruits take their initial swim test. They must pass a 3rd Class Swim Test before graduating from boot camp. The third class swim test consists of TWO modules. Module one is composed of three separate events, a deep water jump, a 50-yard swim (using any stroke), and a 5-minute prone float. Swimmers who successfully pass module one may continue on to module two. Module two consists of shirt and trouser or coverall inflation. A 3rd Class Swimmer is described as a person who can stay afloat and survive without the use of a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) in open water under optimum conditions long enough to be rescued in a man-over-board situation.
There is plenty of marching, physical training, classes on military courtesy and history. The Confidence Course is in the second week. In the Confidence Course recruits wear OBA’s (Oxygen Breathing Apparatus), carry sandbags, toss life rings, and climb through a scuttle ( a small circular door) with full seabags. It is not an individual event. It’s a team effort, in groups of four. The object is to cross the finish line as a team, not as individuals. The third week is ropes and knots, basic line handling skills. The first three weeks are a “shock” treatment, just like in the Army or Marines, nobody can do anything right. Around the third or fourth week, the RDC’s get a little more human, and the recruits realize that the RDC’s really are concerned about getting them through boot. Morale goes up and they start having fun. Week four is the initial PT (Physical Training) test. The PT test consists of push-ups, sit-ups, running/or swimming, and a sit-reach, which is sitting on the ground with legs stretched out front, knees straight, and toes pointed up. Without jerking or bouncing, you lean forward and touch your toes with your fingers for at least one second. You get three tries. The fifth week is classroom, firing range, and computer. They fire 40 rounds from an M-9, 9mm handgun, also fire a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun. There are computer classes on the Navy Knowledge Online website. Week six is the protective (gas) mask and the gas chamber, and training on damage control in shipboard emergencies. Week seven is Battle Stations Week, consisting of live fire test at the range, final PT test, and Battle Stations Test. Week eight is graduation.
The Navy has some 51 major bases in the continental Unites States, plus bases in Hawaii, Bahrain, Italy, Cuba, Greece, Guam, Japan, South Korea, Spain and England. Many Navy assignments are not actually to bases, but to a ship or submarine, which considers the base its home port. Nearly all are at a beach. Depending on the job, sailors apparently spend about half their time on a ship and half on shore, but that is not absolute. Those in the Navy Nuclear Power Program will spend almost all of their time on an aircraft carrier or a submarine.
Including reserves, the Navy has 459 ships total, 201 of those are commissioned ships, the USS ships, carriers, destroyers, cruisers, command ships, etc. There are 52 Attack Submarines and 14 Ballistic Missile Submarines. There are an additional 41 ships under construction and 25 more planned. Life on board ship varies with the size and mission of the ship. There 11 Aircraft Carriers, 1 under construction and 9 more planned. An Aircraft Carrier is a quarter of a mile long, 4 ½ acre, 20 story projection of United States power. It has close to one hundred planes and helicopters, including jet fighters, which can be launched every 15 seconds. They carry a crew of between 5,000 and 6,000, most of whom work below deck. Only flight deck personnel are allowed on deck during operations. The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is considered the most dangerous job in the military, not involving actual combat. There are gyms, dental and medical clinics and hospitals on board, as well as college teachers teaching classes. Basketball and volley ball games are played in the hangers below deck. Space is for planes and work, not people, hallways and stairways are cramped. Personal living areas include a wall locker and a rack (bunk) just large enough to sleep in. Other than flight deck personnel, most time is spent below deck. On some ships there are “hot racks”, where more than one person is assigned to a rack, because of shift work.
Sailors who write positive comments say that it is a great adventure, and they like the travel. Overall sailors are proud of the Navy and generally enjoy their jobs. One sailor wrote that even at war they would be shooting missiles from 500 miles away, eating normal meals, taking daily showers, and living in an air-conditioned space. I’ve heard many infantry grunts say “those guys have got it made”.

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