In 2007 I was finishing my senior year of high school. Most of my friends had already been accepted into colleges or had decided they weren’t continuing their education. I turned 18 in February and had no idea what I wanted to study if was going to college. My family didn’t have the money pay for college and I was not motivated enough to pursue scholarships. I didn’t want mountains of debt for a degree in a field I may not even like in four years.
I was not the best student in high school. A lot of it had to do with whether or not I liked the teachers or the class. Sometimes both. I failed some classes for not attending or not doing the work and then I did well in AP classes that I enjoyed. To this day I’m not sure what was the motivation behind my apathetic approach to schoolwork. It could have been my lack of a vision for my future.
One day in the spring my sister Amanda came downstairs and asked my mom what she would think if she joined the Navy. Mom said “You’re absolutely not allowed.” Amanda was 23 at the time. She said “Well, I’m going to talk to a recruiter.” I said I was going with her.
Amanda wanted to do something with her life. She wanted training and education, the opportunity to travel, money and to be part of something bigger than herself and something that mattered. She figured the only place she could find all of that would be in the military and that the only branch she could see herself in was the Navy. I had considered the Navy before but didn’t vocalize it.
I wanted the GI Bill, at the time called the Montgomery GI Bill. I figured maybe in four years I would know what I wanted to study (I’m still not sure) and then the military could pay for it.
We talked to a recruiter in Leominster, MA a few days later. He was GSE1 Bocash. We talked about things in general and he asked the basic questions. He then scheduled us to take the ASVAB in Boston, which would determine was ratings we were eligible for. He also asked us what we were interested in so he could show us ratings that would be interesting to us.
Bocash wanted to recruit me as a “nuke” which is the nuclear power engineers on carriers and submarines. The training pipeline in rigorous and requires extensive study to pass. My having failed a math class due to disinterest had set me back and despite written recommendations from teachers I was not accepted for the nuclear program.
Once we had taken the ASVAB we were told we were able to apply for almost any rates we wanted (except nuke in my case) and Amanda had passed the DLAB, the Defense Language Aptitude Battery. The test is designed to measure how successful the taker would be in learning a new language. This meant Amanda could have the rating she wanted as a CTI – Cryptologic Technician (Interprative). I was still unsure of what I wanted so I began to look at ratings online and found the CTN – Cryptologic Technician (Networks) – rate.
When I mentioned CTN to Bocash he misheard me and thought I said CTM (Maintenance). Reason was because he had never heard of CTNs. The rating had been stood up in 2004 and had only been available to public recruitment for a few months before I had found it. I told Bocash I wanted CTN but if he couldn’t find me a placement for it that shipped by the end of 2007 (recruitment was limited to waves) I would take the DLAB or I would go in as a Hospital Corpsman (HM).
In May we finalized our contracts and since we were joining to become a CTI and a CTN we had what are called Advanced Technical Field contracts or ATF for short. This meant we agreed to sign a two year extension to our four year enlistment in exchange for our training and being advanced to E-4 (Petty Officer Third Class) automatically upon completion of our schooling. Normally you have to test for and be selected to advance to E-4. Inside the Navy these contracts, and the people who have them, are called “push-button E-4s” or just “push-buttons”.
As a sign on bonus Amanda was given $8,000. There was no cash bonus for CTNs but I was able to collect the “college fund” kicker, which gave me 400 more dollars a month for three years as part of my GI Bill. So it works out to a $14,400 kicker onto my GI Bill money.
On May 28th, 2007 Amanda and I went to Boston to swear in as part of the US Armed Forces.
Neither of us shipped out for bootcamp for a few months. In the meantime Amanda and I were part of what was called the Delayed Entry Program. This meant we had to go to Leominster once a month to participate in “training and workouts” though it was not much of a regimen. We had to memorize certain topics and be able to perform physically compared to how we would be expected to perform in bootcamp. This did help in bootcamp but in the end it wasn’t that serious of a program.
On September 17th, 2007 Amanda shipped out. I followed suit exactly three months later.