By Kevin Leland
For: Sea Stories
July, 1985. Great Lakes, Navy Boot Camp. This was back in the days before “don’t ask don’t tell” was repealed. It was even before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was initiated. Homosexual propositions, especially if witnessed by others willing to report it, could get you dishonorably discharged. These were also the days when a Company Commander could swear at, verbally assault and ridicule any recruit he so desired, in ways that might get him arrested by civilian authorities if they only knew. In other words, it was in the good ol’ days.
But, seriously, I do believe things have changed for the better.
I was the Educational Petty Officer in Company 194. I scored well on the ASVAB. For a smart guy, I happen to get a really, really dumb look on my face when I’m concentrating. On this extremely hot summer afternoon, on the hot smelly pavement, our Company was drilling with rifles and flags along with our sister company, Company 193. That made a total of 185 hot smelly recruits, getting screamed at by four hot, smelly and very grouchy, probably hung over, Company Commanders.
I enjoyed drilling and marching. In 30 years of civilian hindsight, I enjoy the memories of boot camp even more. Never since have I had the opportunity to be such a small part of a huge, well oiled, fine-tuned, human machine. Individualism is a great thing, but it seldom offers the opportunity to work together with a large group, fully focused and synchronized.
I was focusing, and concentrating, and doing a fine job with my moves. About face. To the left flank, march! Your left. Your left. Your left, right, left. Shoulder arms! As I concentrated, as it usually does, my jaw relaxed, my eyes drooped and my tongue began to slip out of my mouth like it had a mind of its own and was reaching for some left-over egg yolk, from morning chow, left on the tip of my chin.
My mother says I’ve done this since I was a baby. She wholeheartedly believes that it is a curse. She explained that when she was pregnant with me, her very intelligent obstetrician gave her an injection. As he did, his jaw went lax, his tongue hung out, and she lost a little confidence in him because despite the degrees hanging on the wall, over his shoulder, he looked intellectually challenged at that moment.
Suddenly the Company Commander from our sister company caught me looking stupid, even though my moves were on point. He had a sharp eye. I’m short; five and a half feet tall, so I marched in the back. Out of 185 recruits, in uniform, moving uniformly, me at the bottom of this sea of moving bodies, flags and rifles, this guy was even able to notice inappropriate facial expressions. Mine in particular. I surmise that’s why this CC led his recruits to graduate a “Color Company.”
“Leland!” He boomed, immediately getting the undivided attention of almost two hundred guys, who were all relieved not to hear their name called out in such a way that sounded much like the authoritative voice of God, rumbling like thunder from a cloudless sky. But what he commanded next, was nothing like something God would say: “Retract that f*****g tongue back into your mouth before I put something on it we’ll both enjoy!”
No one laughed (outwardly). I quickly retracted my tongue. The curse was broken…At least for the rest of the time I drilled.
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