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My Life In the Coast Guard
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 3C
Chapter 3D
Chapter 4
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 5C
Chapter 6
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Off To Boot Camp

 

        For three years prior to my entry into the Coast Guard I worked as an emergency room security guard in the ghetto of East St. Louis, IL.  It was an exciting job for a while, but after three years of constant violence the novelty wore off.  I was living with Pamela Short who was my girlfriend at the time.  She was exerting some major pressure on me to get married. Being the responsible person that I am I told her that I wasn't going to do that until I had managed to acquire some economic security in the form of a new job.  It was obvious to me that working emergency room security was going to get me killed or at the very least result in a dead-end job going nowhere.  I had no marketable skills and this is not a world that likes to offer people an opportunity to better themselves, so there was no place to turn to except the military.  For me this really presented a problem because at the age of 17 I had taken a vow of nonviolence.  This meant that I could not join an organization that was dedicated to war and I most certainly could not accept a position where I might kill someone.  I then realized that there was one military organization that served a peacetime purpose, which was dedicated to saving lives as opposed to taking them.  It was the U.S. Coast Guard.

        One afternoon I looked up the address of my nearest Coast Guard recruiter and drove to St. Louis, MO. to see them.  They asked me if I had never been to college and I told them that I had spent three years in college, but was unable to complete my education due to lack of funds.  As soon as I told them this their eyes got wide and they set up an appointment for me to take the ASFAB test the following week.  When I took the ASFAB test it was graded on site and when the recruiters saw my score they were shocked and told me that they had never seen anyone come in for the test and score so highly.  I didn't know about guaranteed schools because the recruiters never mentioned it.  After the ASFAB test an appointment was made for a complete physical, after which a travel date to boot camp was set.  Nothing ever goes as smoothly as it appears in writing, so I must tell you there were some snags along the way.  I had to take a sophisticated hearing test because I failed the first one and I had a weight problem to take care of before they would accept me.  I addressed all of these matters with fierce intensity because I realized that if I didn’t my next address would be a dumpster behind a restaurant if I didn’t.  Pam and I were married after I received notice of my acceptance.

Swearing In
Swearing In

        My enlistment began on Feb. 2nd 1982.  I flew on a jet to San Francisco and was picked up by a transport at the airport and taken to boot camp on Alameda Island.  It was dark when my group arrived at the entrance to the training base.  I can still remember vividly the fear I experienced while we stood at the security gate waiting for someone to admit us.  I thought I was going to die.  I had made commitments to my wife so there was no turning back and failure was not an option.  We were escorted as a group to a temporary berthing area where we spent the night.  The next morning we joined a larger group of approximately 100 people where we were told to remove our civilian clothes and we were issued coveralls.  The coveralls that I received apparently had not been washed because they wreaked of body odor from the previous occupant.  It was then that we were informed to our company commander was.  Her name was yeoman first-class Walker.  The man in charge of us at this time suggested that we had one of the toughest company commander's on the entire base.  I was sure that this is what he told everybody so I wasn't intimidated.  After we had changed into coveralls we were marched out single file to a large asphalt area between four sets of barracks.  This is when we met our company commander for the first time.  She told us to line up single file and sound off from 1 to 4 and then begin again with one.  There was one moron as there is in any crowd who just couldn't seem to get it.  Unfortunately for us every time he screwed up we had to drop and give her 20 push-ups.  We must have done 600 push-ups because of this guy.  Several people in the line were about to slug it out with him if he didn't get it right.  We had no idea why she wanted us to camp this way until she used our positions in line to form us up for marching in ranks.  Then she took us out on the grinder (aptly named) to teachers have to march.  Of course none of us had ever marched before except for me because I had experienced it in military school, consequently there were many many mistakes and for each one of them we had to give her 20.  Yeoman Walker was about four feet 11 inches tall and had the worst case of gravel throat I never heard come from woman.  During one of our many screwup's while marching she said, "You little punks think your tough shit don't you.  While I'm going to drive your skinny little dicks in the dirt."  Until then I never heard a woman talk like that and was shocked when I heard it.  Sure put the fear of God in me.

        After drill instruction we were marched to the Tailor who took our measurements for our full dress uniforms.  Our next stop was the Barber where we lost all our hair.  Then it was off to a large room where we selected our boots, shoes and work blue uniforms.  Then it was time for lunch.  The food was pretty good for institutional food.  Once or twice a week we had steak and a remember a couple of times we were served shrimp.  It was definitely not the kind of food I expected to find at boot camp after hearing all the stories from other people who had been in the military that I knew.

        It was about the third night each of us was called in to speak with yeoman first-class Walker on a personal one-on-one basis.  I was surprised that she thought enough of us to do this.  It was here she revealed her human side, which totally caught me off guard.  She asked me why was there and I told her that I joined the Coast Guard because I had no skills and I just gotten married.  She asked me what I thought about the physical training and I told her that it was obvious from my weight that I was not physically fit, but I had made a commitment to my wife to make it through their program and that failure was not an option.  I told her that I was acutely aware of the living hell my life would become if I didn't make it.  She told me that 90 percent of boot camp was a head game designed to make weak willed individuals crack into not taken seriously.  She said she didn't like doing this to people but it had to be done to ensure that a recruit wouldn't choke under pressure.  She told me not to take it seriously and I would make it through.  She also said that it was only going last three months and that after boot camp the Coast Guard was pretty much like an ordinary job.  If she had not told me these things at the beginning of the program I doubt I would have made it through to the end.  Her words as briefs they were, were what carried me on.  I never got a chance to thank her for caring enough about me to get to know me even if it was only for 15 minutes, so I want to thank her now.

        Training during boot camp in the Coast Guard is about 50-50 when it comes to physical training and classroom training.  The physical training consisted of everything that you would expect during Army boot camp.  The physical training was something that I mentally expected but was physically unprepared for.  By the middle of boot camp we were running five miles a day.  Classroom training consisted of everything you would expect to be taught to novice sailors about to go to sea.  We were taught the basic knots and were tested on them by our instructors.  We were taught the proper way to throw a heaving line.  We were sent to naval firefighting school at Treasure Island and taught to fight shipboard fires.  If you've never done this its something to see and to do it will scare you to death.  There's nothing quite like the experience of wearing an oxygen breathing apparatus and marching into a burning metal box with hatches and ladders in it and its totally dark except for the fire that you have to put out.  I breezed through the classroom stuff and helped the guys who were having trouble.  The physical stuff I had to have help with.  I will never forget the night we were punished for failing barracks inspection and we ran for 4 hrs. without a break.  It got to the point where I could hardly force my body to move and I was falling behind.  The group hard already lapped me and when they passed me two guys grabbed me by the shoulders and put heir arms around me practically lifting me off the ground and carried me until the told us to stop running.  To this day I have never felt so part of a team or seen a display of so much compassion and I never knew who they were because it was dark, I was about to collapse and we had such a large company.  Thanks guys!

        As I said before the physical training in the Coast Guard is about as a difficult as one would encounter in the Army. We had the obstacle course to run and after about the first month we were running five miles every morning. Due to the fact that we are a seafaring service the Coast Guard had to make sure that everyone who graduated from boot camp could swim. Consequently there was a lot of swimming and in particular a type of exercise done in a swimming pool called pool presses. To properly to a pool press you hang on to the side of the pool and walk out to the deep end with your hands until you can no longer touch the bottom. Then you lower yourself into the water so that your arms are fully extended with your hands grabbing the side of the pool. Then you pull yourself up until you have lifted the upper half of your body out of the pool and your arms are fully extended supporting the full weight of your body. Pool presses were a nightmare, but the swimming instructor loved them like a zealot. He singled out Mr. Cheney one afternoon who was our master at arms and pushed him until his right pectoral muscle tore and he wound up with his arm in a sling for the remainder of boot camp. When yeoman first-class Walker found out what happened, she marched our company to the swimming pool, yanked the instructor out of class and dragged him by his uniform over to Mr. Cheney and proceeded to tear the instructor a new asshole in front of all us. She demanded that the instructor apologize to Mr. Cheney. We all thought that we were going to get an ass chewing for not being physically fit, but instead it was the instructor who got it. It became immediately apparent to all of us that you didn't mess with yeoman first-class Walker's company. She earned our undying loyalty that day and we would do anything she asked without question.

        One of the things that could happen to you if your company failed barracks inspection was lizard patrol. If you went on lizard patrol the company commander would take his or her company to a mud pit. The instructor would take about five quarters out of their pocket and throw them into the mud pit saying, "These are five people drowning in the ocean go save them." Then the company would crawl through the mud searching for the quarters. My company was never sent on lizard patrol but the company behind mine on the schedule did. Two people out of that company had to be carried back to the barracks and one of the two dislocated his knee, although I don't know how this happened. In any regard lizard patrol was something that you didn't want to go on.

        One of the funniest things that happened while I was in boot camp happened to our assistant company commander. In the Coast Guard there was an enlisted man who served as company commander. The company commander would then appoint recruits to serve as assistant company commander and master at arms. When the company commander wasn't around the assistant company commander was in charge. Yeoman first-class Walker told in her private conversation with me that she almost picked me for the position of company commander because I was the oldest, but that she didn't because I was too short. She said that her first assistant company commander was over six feet tall and he did such a good job that she decided that she would pick only the tall men for that position. I guess she believed that tall people were more intimidating, which is kind of strange considering that she was only 4 feet 11 inches tall. She herself may have been short, but there was a big person inside that little body and nobody doubted it. There were various times during the day when the company commander would have to make scheduled appearances at the junior officer of the decks office. This office was on the lower left corner of the building and surrounded by windows that allowed the junior officer of the deck to watch what was going on outside. In the middle of these windows was an opening about 2 feet by 1 1/2 feet. When you approached the junior officer of the decks window you were supposed to march out of ranks, squaring your corners at every turn. When you arrived at the window you were supposed to stare at a black dot that was stuck on a mirror on the back wall of the office and perform the appropriate address. During one of these times our assistant company commander lost his self-control began to laugh in front of the window. Unfortunately yeoman first-class Walker was in the office when this happened and that little lady grabbed him by his collar and yanked him through the window screaming at him for his lack of respect. That six-foot man went through the window as fast as you could blink leaving his legs flailing in the air. To be honest I never thought a little person like her could pick up a six-foot man but she did.

        About three-quarters of the way through boot camp I began to experience severe pain in my knees. It got to the point where I was unable to stand in line without experiencing extreme pain and in boot camp there's a lot of standing in line. I knew it was due to the high impact of running and the fact that I have a congenital hip joint deformity that causes weight to be born on my knees unevenly. I went to the corpsman about it but as I expected there wasn't anything he could do for me. The only thing that was left to do was press on with pride even though I knew that if this continued I was going to wind up with a permanent injury. I had made a promise to my wife to make it through boot camp and if that meant that I had to break my legs to do it, so be it. I don't know who was responsible for this but whoever they were I want to thank them because somebody somewhere saw that I was in severe pain and also recognized that I wasn't going to stop running as long as everyone else was running. Somebody somewhere decided to appoint me with the responsibility of classroom security during the night. This meant that I was taken out of running the grinder in the morning so that I could perform my duties as security guard. I never would have made it through boot camp if it hadn't been for the person who put me on security detail. Who ever you were - Thank you!

Me
Just Off The Plane From Boot Camp

 

Pam and I
Just Off The Plane From Boot Camp

 

 

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