Somebody in TAP had said this: you will start behind, but you will move up faster. I did not know it that day, but it would prove to be true.
My EAOS was two weeks away. My recent application to ECP was my last chance to earn a commission in time to fly. The letter had come back just the month before: no dice. So, that was it. I could either stay in for 20 and be a chief, or maybe even better, or I could get out. I was a Trusty Shellback and a career as an NCO was certainly honorable. But it wasn’t for me. Another 15 years of watching others fly the F-18 was not the path I wanted to follow. The problem was, what path was there now?
Well, my SeaOpDet chief answered that question, at least for the next two weeks. I was going to sea again. I was assigned to a det two weeks before EAOS. Back then, it took 30 days to complete the check out process and there was no way to finish it if I was at sea. I still remember his grin when the chief told me I would have to extend. Then a minor miracle, of sorts. They bent the shaft on the boat. I don’t know how you bend a shaft on an aircraft carrier, but they did, and we came back early. I didn’t have to extend after all. One last time, my character’s edge was honed on the blade of a small injustice that made no sense. Really, though, it was a gift.
I turned in the keys to base housing and my wife and I drove from NAS LeMoore to san Jose. I had no job lined up, no friends in the area and no prospects. All I knew was that I wanted to pursue my interest in music. So I took a job as a civil process server. I waited tables at Denny’s. I sold Kirby vacuums. I used my G.I. bill and I enrolled in Cogswell to study “Music Engineering”. It was liberating to pursue a dream.
Then, life happened. Six months out of the Navy and my wife gets pregnant. Our first child was on the way, whether we were ready or not. I wasn’t, but that’s not how life’s missions are assigned. School gave way and I advanced my career as a waiter. We moved to a small efficiency in Sunnyvale to save on rent. Life became very simple, just like on the boat. There’s comfort in the military lifestyle at times just like this. Everything else, including hope, seemed so far away. But you stand watch, waiting for something to catch your eye.
The military veteran is a uniquely tough individual. What many would find hopeless or unfair, the veteran simply sees as another mission to accomplish. It is the tenacity of the military mind that soon led to training in Novell networking and my first desk job at $1800 per month. The pay was horrible, but a door had been opened and I barged right through it and kept on going. I would never have to wait tables again. My family would be comfortable. I would find my way back to composing in due time. Five years later, I started my own business, which I still run today. And today, you can find my music on the Internet. If you look really hard.
Everything that the Navy taught me brought me through those first tough years as a civilian. Even today, those lessons serve me well. Maybe we do start behind. But we definitely move up fast.