14 August 2013

Boot Camp Memories, Part 2

(Part 1: enlisting in the Navy and arriving at boot camp, here.)

The first two weeks of boot camp were spent learning to march more or less at the same time, salute properly, recognize Navy rank insignia, and things like that. There's a lot of classroom work, throughout.

What, you ask, is to "salute properly"? I'm glad you asked.

A proper salute should have the arm straight out from the shoulder, elbow bent at a 45 30° angle*, and the forearm, wrist and hand in a straight line up from the elbow to the outside corner of the right eyebrow. (Yes, this was all hammered into us in boot camp, and I've never forgotten.)

Some of the salutes offered by newer recruits were comical in the extreme. We saw thumbs up, down, under, folded, bent, stuck straight out, or ... well, some made you want to say, "I don't care what you think of the company commander, stop using your thumb when you salute!"

Strangely enough to the uninitiated, much time is spent learning to fold your clothes. You see, there's an old admiral in a corner of the Pentagon who invents fiendish ways to fold skivvies. He (she?) probably hasn't seen the light of day for decades. Okay, okay ... I kid.

Sort of.

On Navy ships, each person has a small locker. Officers have a little more space, but their quarters aren't as crowded. In the WWII era, that locker was about two feet square, and one foot deep. (My destroyer was launched in 1945, so I know this from experience.) Newer ships have actual beds, rather than canvas slings like we did, so the enlisted lockers are the size of a single mattress, and eight inches deep. Modern sailors should be glad they have no idea what the tiny lockers were like.

But uniform items must be folded just so, in order to fit in the space available. In fact, that space on older ships was engineered to fit uniforms which are properly folded, and not an inch more.  Fitting in civvies along with my uniforms was tricky, so eventually I gave up and folded all my clothes like uniforms, which made things easier. But I digress.

In boot camp, we had to hem our own pants, which made me bless my mother - she wouldn't let me leave home until I learned to thread a needle, sew a hem, and sew on a button.

Thanks, Mom. :)

The third week of boot camp was called "service week".  Recruits in their third week are referred to as "service weeks", and that's when they clean, mop, and staff the chow lines at the mess hall. They bus tables, wash dishes, and take out the trash.

But some of us didn't have to do that. Some of us, being of a musical bent, had other duties.

Those who could sing were encouraged to join the Navy Chorus, to perform the Bluejacket's Hymn at graduation.

Those who could play brass instruments were encouraged to join the Bum and Droogle Drum and Bugle Corps.  So while most of our companies were slinging slop in the mess hall, or worse, we few ... we fortunate few ... sat in an upper room, practicing a couple of marching tunes, listening to the radio, or generally lounging around. Since I played the French horn throughout school, guess which group I fell in. :)

But most of our days were spent in a classroom setting, learning all sorts of things. Electrical safety, Naval history, how to follow sequential orders ("obey the last order first"), and shipboard safety in general. We were tested to see who could swim**, and how to stay afloat by using our dungarees as a flotation device.

We spent two days learning to put out shipboard fires. This is a biggie. Imagine you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and a fire breaks out.

Who ya gonna call?

Neither the Ghostbusters nor a fire department are available, so you have to take care of it. We donned appropriate gear, learned to connect fire hoses, different types of nozzles, foam applications for flammable liquids, and put out fires. We learned that crews on ships have a set terminology for fires, so that commands in those adrenaline-pumping situations are understood clearly.

And think about this: it's important to learn how to extinguish a fire quickly, without flooding the ship. Generally speaking, introducing sea water inside the ship is a BAD thing. So you learned how to operate portable pumps, to get the water back out before the ship sinks.

See? I told you it's a bad thing. :)

We marched and marched and marched, practiced the 96-count manual of arms ... what? You don't know what that is? You've seen drill teams slapping rifles to either shoulder & going through elaborate exercises in unison. Like that, without the twirling or tossing rifles back and forth.

96 consecutive moves, in unison, performed by all 80 men. We practiced until it was in unison ... and heaven help you if you dropped your "piece" (1903 Springfield battle rifles with the firing pins removed).

The final week of boot camp ... when the company no longer swayed in preparation for the first step ... when everyone started on the same foot, classes were finished, shoes were polished, creases were sharp enough to shave with, salutes were crisp ... all of which meant that we could properly follow orders ...

All this meant was we were qualified to join the fleet, and start learning what the Navy is really like. That's when our education began in earnest.

Some went to ships, but most went on to training school to learn the basics of their chosen field. But we were sailors, and life would never be same again.

* My 40-year-old memories of the situation were just corrected by PioneerPreppy in comments, below. Thanks, my friend.

** Contrary to what one might think, non-swimmers were not exempt from shipboard duty. Sailors go on ships, after all. But their service records were stamped in big black letters: NON-SWIMMER. I'm sure this made a difference to them if their ship was sinking.


PioneerPreppy said...

Interesting we were always taught you were suppose to be able to see your palm out of the corner of your right eye so the hand needed to be at approximately a 30 degree angle.

Originally a salute was suppose to be more palm out to show you were not armed. Or so I have read.

Rev. Paul said...

Preppy, the 30-degree angle is correct. Our company commander had a problem remembering that.

PioneerPreppy said...

I am surprised I remember that after all these years :)

Rev. Paul said...

Your memories are much more recent than mine, but I hear you. Clearly, I'd forgotten.

Stephen said...

Wow. I here I've tried to forget all those memories. By the way, our piece, in late 1968, was a M1 Garand, which we were made to clean with a pencil eraser.

Rev. Paul said...

Understood, Stephen; I hope these didn't stir up anything too unpleasant.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

If you want to laugh and wince at thumbs every which way, here's a great example: http://www.idfblog.com/2013/08/14/idf-bound-125-new-immigrants-from-north-america-to-join-the-idf/

Rev. Paul said...

Wing, I went there & saw ... suddenly I'm reminded of Benny Hill. ;^)

Julie said...

Interesting read, thanks

Rev. Paul said...

You're welcome, Julie. Glad you enjoyed it!

Chickenmom said...

Your Mom had the right idea! Both my boys can sew a repair and replace a button. Today, very few women know how to sew. Before I retired, my boss would bring all her sewing to the office so I could fix them for her. It was great - got paid extra for something so simple!

Rev. Paul said...

Chickenmom, sounds like you & your boss had a great arrangement there. More $ for you. :)