Monday, May 23, 2011

Music Video Monday: Extreme

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day I left Basic Training. After nine weeks, I entered a boy and returned home a man. It was an exhilirating day. I made it without being set back in training (my biggest fear). On the final day, I was the last person up in the morning. I woke up and everyone was already up and doing last minute things, such as packing their seabags, cleaning the barracks for the last time, exchanging personal information with guys they wanted to keep in touch with. The day was euphoric bliss for me. In fact, the last few weeks of Basic Training was for me. We had our pass in review ceremony on May 17th (a Friday) and our uncontrolled liberty day. My family drove down to Orlando, Florida and took me to Disneyworld's The Magic Kingdom (even though I wanted to see Epcot Center).

On this day, those of us in the company with an "A" School billet boarded a bus to go to the airport. Most of us were taking two weeks leave before reporting to our various "A" Schools. I knew that I would see a few guys from my company in Meridian, Mississippi in a couple weeks. Those who didn't have an "A" School billet were the unlucky ones. They had to march to a different part of the Naval base called "AT Land" where they had three additional weeks of training in basic seamanship, firemanship, or airmanship before reporting on board whatever ship the Navy assigned them. Had I enlisted for only two years like I originally planned, I would have gone to "AT Land" and then to the ghetto of whatever ship I was assigned. The Navy guy at MEPS (where the enlistment process begins for every recruit in all branches of the military) convinced me to sign up for four years to get a guaranteed "A" School assignment. That made all the difference in the world. As I learned on my first ship, the recruits who went to their ships as undesignated seaman, fireman, or airman faced a harsh fate in the department that got them. Hazing was a real threat for newbies in Deck Department (or Air Department on aircraft carriers). I learned that basic IQ / intelligence made a huge difference in the mindset of people. I was very lucky, indeed.

This week's music video is "More Than Words" by Extreme, which was a huge hit for the guys in C093 (my company in Basic Training at RTC Orlando 1991). One guy's girlfriend had sent him a cassette single of this song and it became one of our company's evening ritual, listening to this song (as well as other songs). I can't tell you the kind of "magical feeling" that fills you after a long, challenging day at Basic Training and unwinding in the evening before bed by listening to the radio or a song like this. This song has a strong identification with my company and the boot camp experience, even though the "official song" for me is Wilson Phillips' "The Dream is Still Alive" (which I first heard in Basic Training).

Twenty years later, my Navy Basic Training experience still remains as THE GREATEST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE (yes, even more than my White House internship, which I rank as #2). For me, it was a rite of passage: the moment I became a man. More than two months earlier, I had come down to Orlando a slightly nervous teenager with five or six other guys. On this day twenty years ago, I returned to Atlanta alone, in my uniform. When I arrived back in my old bedroom, it felt strange. I also didn't know what to do with myself because for two months, every minute of my day was regimented and I was never alone. This was the first moment in nine weeks that I was alone and the only thing I could do was cry.

During my two weeks at home, I spent one week working for my Navy recruiter so I would only be charged for five days vacation, instead of ten. My job included calling friends to get them in to see a recruiter, visiting my old high school, and answering questions that newly enlisted young men had about basic training. I also got my driver's license, which caused other people at the testing center to watch me since the only car my parents had was a VW Vanagon and I had to parallel park that thing, which I did without knocking over the traffic cones. After two weeks at home, which included a request for me to wear my uniform to church, I was off to two months of my "A" School experience, which had its own set of unique experiences. The interesting thing is that while in the beginning, I hung out with my fellow C093 companymates, once my class formed, I gained new friends who were in a different company at RTC Orlando and hung out with them more. My "A" School experience had its own soundtrack and adventures.

Ah...those were the days!

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