Author: laytonaho

An avid gamer, reader and writer.

Six Years: Boot Camp, Part 2

Boot camp is a blend of classroom and hands on training. Each week is broken down as follows:

  • Week 1: Processing Days
  • Week 2: Confidence Building
  • Week 3: Hands-On Training
  • Week 4: Live Fire
  • Week 5: Career
  • Week 6: Fire Safety
  • Week 7: Battle Stations
  • Week 8: Graduation

Processing Days

The late arrival is intentional. With people coming from all over the country it’s designed to bring everyone into RTC Great Lakes at the same time. P-Days are some of the worst days in boot camp as it is a lot of waiting and since it begins near midnight there little sleep.

Among the first things you do is change all your clothes and change into what are called “smurfs”, blue sweat pants and sweat shirts emblazoned with Navy symbols. These are what you wear during P-Days until your uniforms, which you’re measured for, are ready. This is also your first exposure to the “no privacy” and team first mentality. All of the changing you do (including your underwear) is done in front of everyone you arrived with, people who you don’t know at all.

During the first night you are issued most of your uniform items that are not tailored such as covers (hats), under shirts, underwear, socks, shoes/boots etc. All of your reading material is given as well, the Blue Jacket’s Manual and training guides.

Loads of paperwork is done, a lot of waiting. It’s all a blur at this point. I think I was lucky enough to sleep for an hour on a desk since I was processed ahead of a lot people due to my last name.

The rest of the week consists of more processing: medical, paperwork, dental, paperwork, along with preparing all of your assigned gear, better known as stamping your name on everything.

You’re given more routine medical exams and shots during these days than you’ve probably had since you were a baby. The Navy doesn’t care whether you’ve been inoculated against every disease in the world, they’re going to give you every inoculation in the  book. It’s an assembly line for shots, one in the left arm, another in the right, another in the left.

Yes, they do stick a needle in your ass cheek. Yes it is weird feeling.

Confidence Building

Week two marks the beginning of what most people imagine boot camp to be like: a lot of physical training, marching around, over tired and being screamed at until you’re deaf.

The reason it’s called confidence week is because it is designed to break down ~100 individuals and make a team out of them. To start to train them together, to reshape people who think of themselves first into people who think of the men and women beside them first.

Basic military drill is instructed. Roles are meted out among the recruits for various positions, people placed in charge of various tasks within the compartment and division. This week memorizing everything Navy gets into full swing: ranks, people, General Orders and more.

Routines that are expected during the rest of boot camp are taught. How to make your bed, how to prepare your uniforms, how to fold your uniforms, how to position the items inside your rack.

They teach you how to do everything.

The making your bed part was done over and over again until everyone in the division could take a stripped bed and make it perfectly within a minute. We stripped and made our beds so many times I have scars from my knuckles scraping into the metal frame of the rack.

Rack Scars

Hands-On Training

This is week is all about all hands on deck, literally. The division is instructed in basic seamanship, which means deck work. On a mock up a ship recruits are taught how to moor the ship, memorizing all the roles, where things have to go and again, it’s all about the team work.

Flag signalling is also instructed this week and the division is trained in man overboard procedures. The week is capped off with a simulation of unmooring the ship, then “sailing” and then simulating approaching the pier to moor the ship again. You can count on man over board being called at some point during the exercise.

I don’t remember much else about this week except that I think this is the week I had my wisdom teeth pulled. That meant I spent two days in my rack doing nothing but sleeping.

Mine came out without a fuss, though I have heard horror stories of broken pieces of teeth left in. Also of recruits waking up to people all but crouched on their chest yanking on a stubborn tooth.

The two days spent sleeping would later come to haunt me because my RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders) wouldn’t let me stand for an inspection because I was assigned to be sick in quarters. This meant I didn’t fail the inspection, but I couldn’t excel either. I was given a sat.

Live Fire

You could call this gun week if you wanted. All the training was emphasizing the proper handle and use of a live weapon. This is the week that will get you into trouble if you think you know what you’re doing. The Navy doesn’t care if you’ve been shooting guns since you were three, you will shoot it their way, when they say.

You do NOT mess around during live fire week.

They first teach people how to properly fire a weapon with laser pistols weighted to feel like a real weapon. If you don’t pass this don’t even think they’ll consider you for live fire. They also teach the proper treatment and care for the weapon and proper procedures for turning over a weapon.

Live fire consists a course with a 9mm pistol, executing what they say and how they say it. It involves fire a certain number of shots when they say, reloading when they say, switching dominant grip when they say. Depending on how you do you’re given the Pistol Marksmanship, Pistol Sharpshooter or Pistol Expert. You also fire a shotgun, mostly to see what it feels like.

When I say you don’t mess around during live fire I mean it. This is the only time I saw someone get assaulted by an RDC. To work the live fire range you have to be a certain kind of crazy: you take people who have never shot a gun in their lives and you’re counting on them not to lose their heads and do something stupid.

Some kid decided he was going to turn out of the booth with the shotgun in his hands. He froze when everyone screamed at him and was promptly tackled by an RDC then verbally berated as he was escorted from the room. I never saw that kid again, and I assume he was ASMOed.

(ASMO is short for Assignment Memorandum, which means delayed in training for either a training deficiency or to heal from an injury or to brush up in areas where they are weak which is common with non-native English speakers.)

A side note regarding the shotgun kid as well. The gun was empty as he had fired the only round loaded in it. It’s the principle of the matter though. The gun was still a live weapon.

Technically I was not supposed to attend live fire because I had pink eye that week. Since the actual live fire course is on a Friday it had for the most part cleared up and my RDCs looked the other way for me. It helps that I was one of the few people in my division who wasn’t an idiot.

Career

This is the week they talk about your future. There are financial classes among other training. A lot more emphasis is placed on drill inspections, uniform inspections, compartment inspections.

It should just be called inspection week.

Until now most inspections were prepared for individually. This week the three major inspections coincide in one week, leading to preparing for all of them together. The focus is teamwork because to pass everyone has to do it together, especially the compartment and drill inspections.

Fire Safety

Fire fighting. This week is all about training in the fire building. Learning how to use fire hoses, CBAs, proper dress,  and working as a team to fight fires.

Recruits are also trained on proper egress in the case of smoke.

My firefighting and egress chamber experience was… nothing.  I didn’t end up doing it because the day we were scheduled for the live exercise there was a power issue in the building. We didn’t have any fire and we didn’t have smoke. We just pretended as best we could.

Also this week is the wonderful gas chamber experience. The division is given gas masks and lined up in rows inside the chamber. As your row reaches the front of the room everyone in the row removes their mask together, throwing it into a trash can at the front of the room.

In each corner of the room they are burning tear gas. Down the line the RDCs go as the recruits recite their name and SSN, without choking or screwing it up. Only once everyone has said their part can the row exit the room. Some people have trouble spitting it out, to everyone’s dismay.

One fun fact about tear gas is that water activates it again. When you go to boot camp in the middle of winter they make you wear scarves over your mouth, with a ski mask on top and a wool watch cap on top of that. It gets hot when you double-time march across the entire base because it’s below freezing. The tear gas on your skin reactivates on the march.

It isn’t pleasant.

Battle Stations

This  is the part of boot camp I’m not supposed talk to most people about. What I can say is this: all the training from boot camp leads up to this moment. This is a live exercise that takes everything and puts it all together.

Battle Stations starts at 10:00 PM and runs through the night until 9:30 AM on board what is called the USS Trayer (BST21). It is a mock up of a Arleigh-Burke Destroyer that serves as the platform for Battle Stations. All the team building and training comes to together as the recruits work together in small teams all night to complete the exercise.

Battle Stations mimics events that have happened in the past as a way of training future sailors. The USS Tripoli hitting an Iraqi mine during the Gulf War and the USS Cole bombing in the port of Yemen are only a few of the real life combat situations that were used to inspire the simulator.

The only part I ever tell anyone about is the fact that I had to evacuate Battle Stations. Among all the alarms going off inside the ship a real set of alarms for the building went off. Everyone had to evacuate. For me this meant leaving the building into three feet of snow while we waited for the all clear. It also screwed our egress exercise, which we had to repeat once we went back inside.

At the end of Battle Stations there is what is called the capping ceremony. While most people consider Pass-In-Review to be graduation from Navy boot camp, and it is, Sailors see the capping ceremony as their true graduation from boot camp. Each recruit exchanges their RECRUIT ball cap for the NAVY ball cap, marking them as US Navy sailors for the first time.

Graduation

Pass-In-Review, the formal ceremony in front of family and friends and the chain of command for RTC Great Lakes. This  is where all the drilling comes in, as every division performs their drill exercises as part of the ceremony.

This is where all the pictures come from and after this ceremony most sailors are given liberty to leave base with their families, or on their own and go out into town.

Most of them end up at the Gurnee Mills Mall.

I say most sailors because I was what is called “Grad and Go”. That meant after Pass-In-Review was over we packed our things and were on a bus to the airport within a few hours. We didn’t get liberty, we were shunted off quick as they could get rid of us.

My parent’s drove out to my graduation as well, despite my being grad and go. After the ceremony my parent’s bought some T-shirts and sweatshirts with my division’s logo on it.

Too Cold

It was far too cold to be standing around taking pictures. You can see the scar on my hand.

They also brought me a suit case of civilian clothes and a lot of my electronics (cell phone, video games etc). While they couldn’t give it to me at RTC they met me at the airport in Chicago and I was home free from there. Not really, I was on my way to Pensacola, FL.

Next up: a collection of “boot camp stories” from my time at RTC Great Lakes.

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

American GodsBefore I read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman despite knowing his work and telling myself “you should read that.” American Gods is the definitive work of his I had been telling myself to read for years.

A dominant catalyst in my desire to read American Gods comes from the table-top RPG Scion, which cites American Gods as a major influence. I have always had a fascination with Norse mythology along with sagas, legends and folklore in general so combine that with a pen and paper RPG emphasizing storytelling and I was on board.

American Gods hung around in the back of my mind for several years after that as Scion wound up in a box somewhere that December when I shipped for Navy boot camp. Once I read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane though, reading American Gods shot up toward the top of my list. I finished it in October 2013 but in my almost signature manner I haven’t written about it until now.

First things first I read the “Author’s Preferred Text” which Neil explains is the original, untrimmed version of American Gods (it was cut down before it won approximately all the awards and sold over a million copies) combined with the original edited version and the original printed version. Mix and match them together and you get the version I read.

The basic premise of American Gods is that every deity in the world, whether it’s Egyptian gods, Norse gods, the loa, Native American spirit guides and so on and so forth, existed because they were believed in. Think of belief as an energy source, the more believers you have the more powerful you are. The inverse is true as well, once you have been forgotten you cease to exist.

It gets more complicated than that. Different parts of the world have their own variations of the gods. This story, if you hadn’t guessed, focuses on the American versions.

The over-arching plot is a war brewing between the new and the old. Old gods being Norse gods, Egyptian gods etc and the new gods being ideas personified, such as The Technical Boy (computers and the Internet), Media and the Black Hats (stemming from America’s obsession with government conspiracy etc).

The novel explores a man named Shadow’s role in the upcoming conflict and follows him as he works with and encounters various gods, old and new, all over America.

American Gods is an underrated book that more people should read. I myself should have read it earlier. After finishing I concluded it deserves every award it received, even though they were convoluted in and of themselves: it won the Nebula and Hugo (mostly science fiction awards), the Bram Stoker Award for horror, and the Locus Award for fantasy.

I am just as perplexed as the awards when it comes to labeling American Gods.

Other than to name it a damn fine read.

Six Years: Boot Camp, Part 1

Recruit Training Command Great Lakes is in Great Lakes, Illinois. The recruit training commands for the Navy located in San Diego, CA and Orlando, FL were closed in 1995 and 1998 respectively, leaving RTC Great Lakes as the only command for basic recruit training.

Amanda shipped to boot camp on September 17th, 2007. She graduated boot camp in November and my family drove from New Hampshire to see her graduation ceremony. This gave me a unique experience, both with Amanda going before me and that I attended her graduation.

During her training Amanda sent me letters describing what she did each week, so I had an inside view of what was going on from week to week. Being at her graduation meant I could see the base before I was scheduled to leave as well. In the end seeing Great Lakes ahead of time gave me nothing beneficial for me once I was there.

On Sunday, December 16th, 2007 I went down to Boston so I could go through processing and ship out the next day. I don’t really remember much about the processing except that it was a lot of waiting and signing forms. The Navy put me up in one of the Hiltons in Boston before a bus took me and dozens of other armed forces recruits to Boston MEPs (Military Entrance Processing).

We waited some more before given our orders and bused to Logan International. Despite arriving at MEPs early in the morning I did not reach RTC Great Lakes until close to midnight.

That would be the beginning of a long 72 hours.

Six Years: The Beginning Of A Journey

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.

Six Years Before The Flag

In 1834 Richard Henry Dana, Jr. left Harvard College to sail on the brig Pilgrim on a voyage around Cape Horn. He thought the open sea would help his damaged eyesight after a bout of the measles. He returned to Boston from California aboard the Alert. During the two year journey he kept a journal, which he published in 1840 titled Two Years Before The Mast.

December 17th, 2013 marked the end of my six year enlistment with the United States Navy. As a Cryptologic Technician (Networks) I did not have the honor of serving aboard a ship. My service was conducted behind computer screens.

Over the next few weeks I will be telling the story of those six years.

Consumerism Madness

I do not participate in Black Friday shopping. Only twice have I ever left my home before the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving. Both times I was not buying anything for myself, nor was I Christmas shopping for others. On both occasions I was accompanying someone else: one a friend camping out for most of the night for a laptop, the other did something similar for a television. In essence they were camping out for vouchers for said products, and both of them got them.

There is nothing wrong with camping out for products. I have done it before, granted the only reason I did it was because I was bored. But things like iPhones and new gaming consoles have enthusiasts lining up for hours. People even break out the sleeping bags for movies: there were people camping out for Star Wars: Episode I (see how that turned out for them!).

There is something wrong with trampling people to death to get into a store, shooting someone over a parking space and starting fights over some toy in a department store.

Every year there are stories similar to the above, always revolving around Black Friday. For the past decade Black Friday sales have been creeping further and further forward. Previously they started during normal shopping hours. Then it was 6 A.M, then 4 A.M, then midnight. This year it was 8 P.M. on Thanksgiving. Next year will probably be 6 P.M. and who knows the year after.

I did go out today, but not for some insane sale but because there was some shopping to be done. It was not at four in the morning, half awake and stumbling into the store hoping to score some swag, but instead at three in the afternoon. All the while I kept thinking of past reasons why I don’t deal with Black Friday and some things about shopping that have always been on my mind.

1) Think hard before you spend your (or your spouses) hard-earned money on a sale.

In America it seems to be it’s not how much you spend, but it’s all about how much you save: “Check it out! I can go buy this toaster for 75% off!” “But that’s $50 for a toaster.” “It’s an amazing deal!”

That exchange seems absurd but many of the deals you see on Black Friday are similar. Another could go along the lines of this: “Oh man, a 32 inch LED HD TV for $150!” “Do you really need a 32 inch TV? Where are you going to put it?” “How can I pass it up? It’s so cheap!” “I bet it’s cheap because it’s made by the same no-name company that made that $200 toaster you just bought.”

Brand names are “brand name” for a reason. I’m pretty confidant in saying that someone wouldn’t go buy an expensive television made by some company they’ve never heard of before now. But make it super cheap and liable to crap out in a year or two and you’ve got yourself a bargain. I’ve always been curious what the markup is.

2) It’s not going to kill you to walk.

Time and time again I end up frustrated in a parking lot not because I can’t find a space. Instead this annoyance often stems from being stuck behind the person waiting five minutes for someone to pack their purchases in their car and leave. In the time it takes you to wait for that spot, then park, I could have found a spot much further away and still be in the store. Same thing goes for circling the parking lot looking for that one spot that’s only six spaces away from the door. Walking from the end of the parking lot is not going to kill you. You walk through the store once you’re in there anyways.

3) It’s not the employee’s fault they’re out of stock.

If you think you’re the only one who got it in their head to wait outside for seventeen hours to buy that monstrous television for $800 dollars off, think again. Black Friday sales happen across the nation, all 3.7 million square miles of it. There are only so many of those TVs allotted to your region, then to that particular store you decided to grace with your presence. There aren’t gremlins hiding the back stealing all the TV’s just to spite you. Nor do those gremlins work for the employee trying to keep order by handing out vouchers. Screaming at them isn’t going to make a TV appear.

4) Have fun.

If you go out shopping at ludicrous hours, dealing with thousands of impatient, grumpy people, on the hunt for delicious deals you better be having fun. I have family that makes it a tradition to go shopping on Black Friday. I think they’re insane. The reason I think this is because I have nearly been run over by some psychotic woman trying to bull her way through a line of people. But, they have fun. If you’re not having fun just go home, your angry yelling and shoving is not helping.

5) Don’t blame the stores for making employees work.

During this time a year, more often in recent years due to the spread of social media, people often complain about stores making employees work on holidays or coming in at crazy hours. Sometimes they do force people to work, this is true. Other times though people volunteer to work those hours. Why? Money, dear boy. Working on holidays is often time and a half, or double, sometimes triple depending on if they’re a full time employee who already reached their hours. If it’s food service it’s about the tips. Working on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Eve often yields amazing tips. I know from personal experience. Yes there is some bad for making people work, but some people volunteer. For some people it pays the bills during the holidays when money is tight.

6) Enjoy the holidays and be thankful others enjoy them as well.

Whether you’re someone who braves crowds or someone who barricades themselves on the couch, enjoy what you do. That goes for letting others enjoy what they do as well. Don’t tell someone they’re stupid for doing something or that they’re a party pooper. Do I think my family is nuts for going shopping on Black Friday? Sure. But do I let it deter me from thinking they’re a blast to be around? No. I’m glad they’re enjoying their holidays how they choose. Maybe some year they’ll convince me to go shopping. I doubt it. But you can’t ever rule anything out.

Musical Cycles

I often go through what I call “cycles” in listening to music. Anyone who gets to know me or is around me for any decent amount of time find themselves exposed to my broad taste in music. There are certain things I will say flat out that I do not like, the most prominent being screamo in metal/punk. Even then I do find exceptions for things I dislike. I’m willing to give most anything a try.

Unless you share my musical sensibilities, being around me will probably diminish your appreciation for what I like. This is because I have a tendency become stuck in loops. If I find a song or, more often, an artist I love I will listen non-stop, all the time. So you may go somewhere with me and hear a particular band on my iPod. You may ask to turn it up, since I try to be considerate and turn the audio down in cars when other people are riding with me.

Now a few weeks go by and we’re off somewhere again, out to eat or maybe to a movie. Chances are good the same band is playing again. It’s what I do.

I love listening to music, to the point where the only tattoo I have is dedicated to music and reads: “Music is what emotion sounds like.” which is something I 100% believe. And when I love a band I want to hear it all the time. I understand not everyone is like this but it’s the way I am wired.

Those same bands/artists will play in my car, around the home, at work, often while running (unless it is not “running music” but even then, sometimes). Everywhere I go.

Constant exposure to an artist will sometimes ruin them for someone. Not for me. I love hearing the same songs over and over again because I get to know every facet. There was a game of sorts on iPods several years ago where it would play random snippets of songs from your music and you had to pick what song it was. I don’t think I ever missed one. Granted I never played with it much, I was listening to music instead.

A singular artist or album will receive constant play until I find someone new or on a whim decide to play something else. 90% of the time “something else” is a return to favorite artists, which is dominated by Muse. On many occasions listening to them will last for weeks, often months: Twenty One Pilots, a band I had never heard of, opened for Fall Out Boy in the beginning of September. I listened to them for two months straight.

That’s not even close to the longest cycle I’ve been caught in. When My Chemical Romance released their final album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, in November 2010 I believe I listened to that album for eight months. That’s not even my favorite album by them.

More examples could follow but I think you get the idea. Nor do I want it to change. I love my musical loops, otherwise I wouldn’t listen to music the way I do.

I am not inconsiderate and I do recognize that this would drive many people crazy. I do my best to change it up when other people are with me, especially for long drives. The moment everyone else has left the car chances are high my iPod will return to what was playing before.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.