You could call me a proud but accidental veteran. I didn’t join the Navy back in 1977 because I was bursting with military pride. I signed up out of necessity. The pride and appreciation came later. When I was a kid, if college wasn’t an option, and you wanted a ticket out of a dead-end future, you joined the service. As my senior year in high school was playing out its final chapter, I decided to “Go Navy.” It was one of the best decisions I ever hated making.
It was the first time in my 17 years that I did something I knew would be good for me, even though I didn’t feel like doing it. The decision to leave my family and venture into the unknown was a big deal for a kid. It was one of those 51 percent decisions.
Some of the life lessons the military taught me:
1. Keep Your Commitments You can’t just up and quit when you sign up for a four-year hitch, even if the hours don’t quite fit your lifestyle.
2. Tired is a State of Mind You’d be amazed how much work you can accomplish when your superior is continuously reinforcing the fact that you’re not yet finished.
3. Teamwork Makes for More Than Good Football When you’re 800 miles from the nearest port and a shipboard fire breaks out, you understand what teamwork means.
4. Everything is a Learning Experience I spent nearly all four years in the hellish hot, noisy boiler room of a WWII vintage destroyer. After the first day or two, I knew this was not the career path for me. Looking back, I understand what hard work really is. Three months on mess duty gave me a greater appreciation and respect for those who work in life’s trenches.
5. “Good” is Relative When it Comes to Food Canned peanut butter is pretty tasty when the alternative is canned meat. Bad coffee is better than no coffee, any day.
6. Camaraderie Depends on the Company Aboard ship, the boiler room “snipes” stick together. On base, you defend you shipmates. On shore leave, Navy men looked out for each other. But, overseas, the U.S. military watches out for our own, as well as those we are ordered to protect.
7. Appreciation for America Vets are a special fraternity. While we don’t share a secret handshake, we do share a deep reverence for our great country and are intimately aware of the sacrifices made by those who served before us and after us.
To all my fellow veterans, past and present, thank you for your service.