Primer to Military Life

Military Life
I read where only about 1% of the population has ever been in the military. The Selective Service draft ended in 1973. It seems as if the civilian society in the US of A has no concept of what it is like to be in the military or have a military family.

Well, I did it for 21 years, so, go draw a cup or glass of your favorite beverage, come back and set for a spell – reading.

Military life is different than civilian life, but it is life. One goes to work, one has vacation, one has three meals a day, one (in the Navy) has a bed in which to sleep, one gets paid. Civilians do too.

And that intro to military life was, for this seventeen year old in 1958 very similar to shock immersion into ice-cold water. The first day in Boot Camp they got our attention real quick. Eighty-seven of us, lined up naked, in a barracks building, with a Navy Corpsman (the Army calls them Medics) coming along to check for two things is particular. First, to see if any of the recruits has a venereal disease. The other is to check for personal hygiene, especially among the un-circumcised new sailors.

All 87 of us were crowded into a room (not naked now) that was, maybe, 15′ by 20′. There were a series of parallel wires strung the long way in the room about six feet off the floor. There was utter disbelief when we were told this was where we were going to dry our clothes. We were used to mom hanging clothes one after the other on a clothes line. We were taught, using clothes stops , how to hang clothes, each item, in parallel, spanning two wires.

We learned how to fight fires because fire on a Navy ship is the worst thing that can happen. We learned how to march and salute and to spit out on demand, any one of the Eleven General Orders for Sentries.

With Boot Camp over I was sent to 28 weeks of electronic maintenance training.

Then I stepped into a “man’s world” of adult responsibilities.

In 1959, I was assigned to a WW2 Sumner class destroyer, more affectionately known as a ‘tin can.’

I learned to get up at 3:30 AM ( 0330 ) to stand a four hour watch from 0345 to 0745, then catch a quick breakfast so I could be at work at 0800. This did not just happen once or once in a while. The Navy had a dog watch system.

From Wiki

Dog watch, in marine or naval terminology, is a watch, a period of work duty or a work shift, between 1600 and 2000 (4pm and 8pm). This period is split into two, with the first dog watch from 1600 to 1800 (4pm to 6pm) and the second dog watch from 1800 to 2000 (6pm to 8pm). Each of these watches is half the length of a standard watch.
The reason behind this watch’s existence is that, in order for the crew to rotate through all the watches, it was necessary to split one of the watches in half, to create an odd number of watches in a ship’s day. This allowed the sailors to stand different watches instead of one team being forced to stand the mid-watch every night. The choice of time also allows both watches, if there are only two, to eat an evening meal at about the traditional time.

I learned to work till the job was done. I was responsible for fixing radar and associated electronic and mechanical equipment. If it took all night and all day, that was part of the job. Fix what ever it was that was broke.

Mommy wasn’t there. If your clothes got ripped, you learned how to repair them. If you got sick, you cleaned up your mess. If you screwed up, you learned to accept the consequences.

In essence you learn discipline, patience, and self control

Married Life

The old saying was, “If the Navy wanted you to have a wife, they would have issued you one with your seabag.”

Some where along the line. I got lucky, in more ways than one, because my new wife was a Air Force brat. Her dad spent 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. She was well aware of some of the hardships we would face.

Navy wives have to learn how to be a substitute for the ‘man of the house.’

Besides paying all the bills and buying groceries, she had to take care of the car and learn a variety of other skills that her, married to a civilian who does not deploy, sisters have never had to master.

Leaky sinks, paying rent to a shyster landlord, putting up with drunk neighbors at the community clotheslines at midnight, all occur in the life of a Navy wife when hubby is at sea or has the duty.

You walk out the door in the middle of July and, while you are scheduled for a seven month Med cruise, you might not get home until April. The Navy needed your ship someplace other than home.


There are pros and cons to dragging your kids from one base to another every 2 – 3 years. They certainly become adaptable and flexible. Always meeting new people but always seeing good friends leave because their dad got transferred.

Unfortunately, the kids don’t get to put down any roots. They do not graduate from high school with the same people they were in kindergarten with. My oldest spent all of her public school years traveling in the Navy. She attended eight different school systems, one of which was in Canada, with the other seven being in Massachusetts, California and Ohio.

My wife, as an Air Force dependent went to nine different schools in one year plus schools in France and in Newfoundland, Canada.

And even if you are lucky enough to be stationed in one place for three years, the first year you may be renting in town and your kids going to one school and then you get to move on base (in the middle of the school year) and they are in a new school system.

The military life is more structured than is civilian life. Consequences are more certain. As my oldest, T, says, “There are rules when you live on base. As a ten year old I learned that this very wide ‘road’ was a runway on a Naval Air Station and that I wasn’t allowed to ride my bike on it.”

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One Comment on “Primer to Military Life”

  1. […] my parents ever did for me.  Personal hygiene – not a problem.  I used this sentence in a previous post a couple of weeks ago, ” The other is to check for personal hygiene, especially among the un-circumcised new […]

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