Autobiography: Anchors Aweigh, Part One.

“How long is Newport Bridge, indoc?”
“Sixteen long, long weeks, sir!”

I was way out of my depth, no pun intended, when I boarded the one-way flight to Providence, Rhode Island, heading for Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport. It was a Thursday evening in June, many, many years ago. I didn’t know anything about military training, except for what I’d seen in movies about it, like “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “Full Metal Jacket.” The printed literature my recruiter gave me wasn’t very informative. Written descriptions of curricula and photos of pensive young men in white uniforms holding binoculars didn’t tell me much about the impending four months of my life.

Furthermore, there wasn’t any Navy experience in my family. I hadn’t been in ROTC. I’d never even lived on the coast. Would I be up for the challenges, physically and psychologically? Would the physical readiness requirements put me in the hospital instead of that white uniform? Would my inveterate smartassery send me into the brig? Would sadistic drill instructors insult my manhood, and then force me to do a hundred pushups? In the rain? In Greenland?

I had no way to know the answers to any of those questions. I comprehended less about the experience I was about to have than almost any of the other men and women who would become my classmates the following morning. I’d arrived at the head of a whirlwind. Just 24 hours prior to boarding that white Department of Defense van in Providence, I’d had no clue that in 24 hours I’d be boarding a white Department of Defense van in Providence.

Nearly a year earlier, after going through the application process, I’d heard nothing more from my recruiter until the phone call earlier that day. I received a last-minute

My new home. Photo source: www.navydads.com

My new home.
Photo source: www.navydads.com

appointment to this OCS class when another candidate dropped out. If I’d declined, I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity. So I said yes. I had nothing better going on in my life at the time. I quit my temp job, threw some clothes into a gym bag, and headed to the airport.

The guy next to me in the van was Dave, from Pennsylvania. He had a degree in statistics; I was to learn many of my classmates were from a background like this. He was headed for a career in naval nuclear power. He was the product of a program I’d never heard of before: he hadn’t been ROTC in college, but the Navy had paid for his education in exchange for a commitment to attend OCS and serve for at least five years after graduation. The program was only for nuclear power engineering candidates. I suppose people with that kind of high-demand talent aren’t willing to forego the usual collegiate carousing for ROTC.

Dave had known he was headed to this OCS class, on this date, for many months. Asking everyone else in the van, I learned that my whirlwind whisking away, my Shanghai surprise, my ambush appointment, was unique. Everyone else had received their appointments months earlier, and seemed to have a much better notion of what was in store. They probably even read the printed literature.

It was after dark when we stumbled out of the van in front of King Hall, a barracks at the Naval Education and Training Center. King Hall perched on a cliff overlooking Narragansett Bay, and was within sight of Newport Bridge, the massive metaphor for the 16 long, long weeks ahead of us.

In miles or in weeks, it's a long way across.

In miles or in weeks, it’s a long way across.

The course was divided into two eight-week “semesters,” and each term overlapped the next; my classmates and I were about to begin the “junior” semester, overseen in part by the candidates in the class ahead of us, who were just beginning their senior semester. The mission of OCS is to teach people to become leaders, and candidates get their first experience of that by managing the class right below them.

School wouldn’t officially start until the next morning, and the new officer candidates (or “O.C.s,” but we were called “indocs,” short for “indoctrinees,” our first week) had been arriving throughout the day, in waves. You should excuse the pun. We were a mix of men and women—I’d guess at least a third of us were women. We were from all over the country, and ranged in age from a 20-year-old Doogie Howser type who’d finished college early to a 28-year-old enlisted radioman who’d come to OCS from the fleet after finishing college in his spare time. He was married and had three kids; at 28, he looked 40.

The senior O.C.s manning the quarterdeck (in the civilian world, this is called a “lobby”) berated us for arriving so late, knowing full well we hadn’t had any control over that. They made it clear that our tardiness plainly indicated we lacked what OCS required of us, and would soon “D.E.” or disenroll and be sent home in shame and disgrace. They were embarrassed, the seniors said, to see the poor quality of the incoming class. The nation was clearly going to fail, if the likes of us were who it looked to to defend it. I felt certain they couldn’t yet have sufficient information to make this sort of judgment, but decided not to say anything.

Next they gave us sheets and blankets, told us our room assignments, and marched us to our beds.

Mine never looked this good except for inspections. Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Mine never looked this good except for inspections.
Photo source: www.bryanweatherup.com

Except beds were called “racks.” The Navy, I was learning, had a different word for everything. We were two to each room, and our names were already printed on cards taped to our doors. Except for mine, that is; my name was hand-written on every label and roster, when it appeared at all.

I said King Hall was a barracks. That word may call up a picture of the Quonset hut Gomer Pyle’s platoon resided in. Really, this was a dormitory, just like a dorm anyone who’s been to college has seen. King Hall housed the student body, called a regiment: all officer candidates in the two classes. It had four floors (which we called decks); each deck was occupied by a battalion. Each battalion’s deck was further divided into three halls, or passageways, or p-ways, of rooms. Each p-way was a company.

I found myself assigned to Alfa Company, on the first floor with Bravo and Charlie companies. We were the 1st Battalion. Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot companies were on the second floor in 2nd Battalion. On the third floor, 3rd Battalion consisted of Golf, Hotel, and Juliet companies. Kilo, Lima, and Mike lived in the penthouse as 4th Battalion.

Yes, there was no “India” company. We do not speak of it!

My roommate’s name was Luke. That’s all I remember about him. After introducing ourselves, we didn’t talk much that night; it was already after taps when we’d arrived, and reveille was at five the next morning. Besides, what was there to say?

It took a long time to get to sleep that night. My mind was a churning sea of emotions. Nevermind the pun.


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