40 Years Ago Today I Started My Learning Path About “The Navy Way”

Learning Isn’t Always Fun. Maggot.

But you can believe it WILL BE engaging. Worm.

December 27, 1972 – 4 am

Or… Oh four hundred… as I soon learned to refer to it. I had to be at the AFEES in Kansas City at Oh five hundred.

Guy in Boot Camp March 1972 Official USN Photo

Good buddy Jim English – dropped me off and then rode off in his father’s MGB. We had played cards and drank all night. AFEES was the Armed Forces Entrance & Examination Station – looking at the Google Map of KCMO today I think it was on West 7th. I had been there once before – at AFEES – the prior summer – for that 2nd E thing. Which I had passed – and then I waited, and waited. For THAT letter.

I was headed to Worm Island – that part of the San Diego Boot Camp – NTC – of the US Navy where one spent the first half of the 13 weeks – I guess so one could celebrate the move – a Badge in today’s parlance – for learning how to play the game and learning the things targeted before we went off to our duty stations to serve our country. I will have to check further with Learning Solutions Magazine’s Bill Brandon – who was an officer at this little corner of NTC Hades – by design of course – a brown shoes guy of many charged with overseeing those of us entering the black shoes Navy – as I heard it referred to later on my tour.

For some reason – perhaps it was the 3 semester at college I had at that point – at AFEES I was put in charge of about 15 guys, ordered to make sure none of them lost their papers or their way on the journey from KC through Vegas to Diego. I didn’t quite yet get it – that order – to make sure they didn’t lose their stuff  – although I had been walked through each step in my journey to and through Boot Camp by “the girl friend’s” oldest brother at Christmas Eve dinner 3 days earlier – with her old man – the Commodore – nodding his head affirmative before suggesting we take Gary’s little talk to another room. For it was getting “graphic.”

It was, as I learned years later, an Advanced Organizer. Kept me from The Brig, I am pretty sure. And I am most thankful for those Lessons.

All that Gary left out was anything about our little stop over in Las Vegas. Hours spent in the dinky airport that was Vegas in 1972 – was where my real awakening, the real Learning, was to begin – as boredom from waiting was quick to come to many.

There I quickly learned about my charges, young ignorant fools like myself, many of whom wanted to wander down the street toward the bright lights of Sin City – when any fool could have told them that “there just wasn’t enough time to do that and get back in time and not miss the flight” And so I, a wiser fool, did. With threats. And I had to get loud about it. And then I had to guard the door – and then step outside to watch more closely those who went outside on a smoke break. Trust no one, I must have been thinking. Thanks to Gary.

I herded them all aboard that next flight to San Diego – where we arrived at 3 am – and began the process of being processed.

Clue Number 2+

I was at the head of the line at NTC when they called out for the person in charge.

I had the list of those who – exactly those – were supposed to be there in our little company, standing in line at attention. So far so good. I had met that exacting task. Which counted for nothing going forward. At least I didn’t start in a hole.

Then I happened to overhear two old salts at the desk talking about a prior group’s arrival. They were yukking it up over the “Dumb A” who showed up a couple of days earlier with his surf board.

“Can you believe it!?!” they chortled with each other. And then they began to describe to the other guys standing around, on how they had made an example of this “dude” from their west coast. For the benefit of all – including the “dude” himself. I didn’t Actively Listen – for there is a time and place for that to NOT be the mode of listening you employ.

Thanks to Gary’s tale of his experiences – and of my likely journey – and his eye witness accounts of the stupidity of man, his fellow man, his Boot Camp mates, and how some had attempted to resist the new order in their lives….

Forewarned I was forearmed. I saw and heard almost everything he had described – play out in front of my very own eyes and ears. It was surreal.

Therefore I didn’t resist – a natural thing for many to do – for there were examples to be made – by design – those very first few moments – for time was awastin’ – Learning-wise – and I soon witnessed my own examples of good examples and bad examples (later non-examples) for my own preface to my version of the “so you’re headed to Boot Camp” Advanced Organizer – for the soon-to-be-initiated.

Hey, I’m a humanist. Hate to see the hammer come down on the unsuspecting – “for there but for the grace of Gary, go I.”

Sometimes It’s Hard to Differentiate Formal and Informal Learning

When you make an example of someone in some appropriate situation in a Boot Camp Learning Context – it is most often for at least 75 pair of eyes.

Which means it is done using your Outside Voice. Speaking to those in the last row, so to speak. Those up front could burst an ear drum. I learned myself it is most effective for those within easy listening distance when played at rock music volumes. Perhaps that is why our guides spoke so clearly and so loudly and with such colorful terminology. But I had worked construction for 7 summer at this point – so I did not learn any new words or phrases – which I think others did. So I could listen through that, the colorful language. And it was here, outside the presence of friends and family that I began my/our learning path on the appropriate use and placement of colorful language. Which as some of you may know – is at every other word.

But I digress.

We began our group processing.

The Navy Way

I heard this phrase so often during Boot Camp that I fully expected to see it written down in lots of places during my 3 year tour.

“Gentlemen” – or more often “You f”in’ Maggots” –

“There is a right way, a wrong way, and the Navy way of doing anything.

We WILL do it the Navy way.”

And then an object lesson in the simplest of things, sweeping the deck (floor), climbing up and down ladders (stairs), going through the bulkheads (doorways), cleaning the head (restrooms), storing your skivvies (underwear) properly at all times so that water pumps would not clog when pumping out a flooded compartment (room) after taking a hit below the waterline thus potentially sinking the entire boat (ship) and crew (us), taking a 3 minute Navy Shower – not to EVER be confused with a longer Hollywood Shower – for fresh water on a ship was precious, and on and on the lessons rolled at us, roiled at us – for there is much to learn in a modern Navy.

And so too are the traditions to be learned. And the terminology, colorful or not. And that rank, has its privileges.

And that sometimes you needed a permit to just be walking about.


So much to learn – in so little time.

And those lessons that had begun in the KC AFEES at 5 am – really began in earnest at 3 am on December 28th – less than 24 hours in – at the NTC – Naval Training Command, San Diego.

I won’t bore you with more stories here. Since the death of my shipmate this past September I have dragged out my outline for my decades old intended book: “Sea Stories and Other Lies” – the tale of my 3 year Learning Path as a sailor in the black shoes Navy of the 1970s. Zumwalt’s Navy – something the old timers, at the time, hated. With the beards now allowed and other such nonsense.

Ah, the memories.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

Hurry up and wait.

This was/is ALWAYS learning about Time Management – and figuring this one out has served me well, during and post USN.

For, although no one ever expressed it this way, as most things learned are/were learned Informally – and not via Formal declaration, colorful declarations as we have already covered – Inductively I learned – starting that VERY FIRST 24 HOURS – that there are 3 reasons to “hurry up and wait” – for there are but three outcomes:

  1. Be “on time” by being there early and then safely waiting for “The Time” to roll around on your watch – never late and with only pleasant (in comparison) consequences – or more likely no Unpleasant Consequences occurred, which needed to be “severe enough” that that never happens again. 
  2. Be “on time” by being there just on time, which was always risky as S*** Happens (project managers might refer to this as “Murphy” from “Murphy’s Law”) and then those consequences need to occur – and that the crazies sometimes really enjoyed handing those out – and/or overseeing those being handed out by another crazed individual.
  3. Be late as an individual and/or as a unit and suffering the consequences – as a team – even if you were there early enough and other were not – for being late is just so ******* unacceptable that THIS SHALL NEVER EVER HAPPEN AGAIN ON MY WATCH was the non-conscious thinking of someone responsible – I am sure many learned to say/think as they devised the nastiest, most impressionable – sometimes creative – punishment – a game of Oneupmanship – with no badges ever handed out, mind you.

Missing Ship’s Movement – in the USN – was more than a BFD – in the parlance of the day – and was but one of many, many lessons to be taught Formally and Informally. Spaced Learning. Continuous and mostly consistent Learning.

And the Learning WOULD HAPPEN by god. It was on someone’s Scorecard, by another name, I am sure.

Guy in Boot Camp March 1972

Having your shipmate’s skivvies clog a water pump that then failed when pumping out a flooded compartment after taking a hit below the waterline – was a Lesson Learned too. I sometimes think about that one in my dreams – even some 40 years later.

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