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Biting at the Bit

The first time I saw my ship after boot camp, I was biting at the bit to get on board. And once I was on board, I could hardly wait to explore my new home. Up and down each passageway and ladder well I roamed. After investigating each compartment I was allowed into, I went back to my bunk and stored my gear, familiarizing myself with every aspect of these fresh surroundings.

Once satisfied there was nothing left to see below decks, I went topside and marveled at the view of the bay, and the other ships tied nearby. I sat in the seats the gunnersmates would normally occupy and looked out over the huge cannons with sheer delight and amazement.  I tried each seat behind each gun and could sense the awesome power they possessed, even as they lay silent. From there I made my way to the bridge, and stood at the massive brass and wooden helm. From this vantage point, I could see what I would later find out was called the Silver Strand, a beach just across the bay from where we were docked.

As I stood there, like a kid with a new bike, I could hardly wait to get underway. After a few more moments, it occurred to me that some senior sailor would know the next time we’d be going out, and I was delighted to hear from the first crew member I found that I wouldn’t be waiting long.

The night before we were scheduled to shove off, I barely slept a wink. I could hardly wait for the reveille bell to sound. As a lowly “boot” (the name given to those of us fresh to the fleet), I was to be stationed in one of the aft line handling rooms where I would assist in bringing in the mooring lines and stowing them as the ship pulled away from the dock. I waited, along with 12 other sailors, in the cramped compartment.

Looking out of the car-window-sized portals the dock lines ran through, I could see men manning each of the three bollards our ship was anchored to. These were the lines me and my crew would be hauling in when the signal was given. On the forecastle of the ship was another crew we could not see from where we were, ready to take up lines from three forward bollards, two lines on each, for a total of twelve strands of two-inch nylon cord keeping us from the sea.

Before long the order was given to “single up” all lines. This meant that the men on the dock were to release one line from each bollard while the line handlers on board worked quickly to bring the heavy braid on board and stow it. Once the all clear was given, the second line was released and stowed as the behemoth inched its way clear of its concrete and metal berth.

As soon as I was dismissed from my duties stowing the line, I clamored topside to get a better view of the goings on. Passing under the Coronado Bridge, I could see the great Pacific Ocean laid out ahead of us in all its magnificent glory, and thus began my love affair with the “big blue.”

Formidable Process of Degradation and Sleep Deprivation

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and to this day my excitement at its appearance is no less subdued. It had not been an easy process getting to this point. I had to endure the massive amounts of paperwork required at that time to be a member of the US Navy, after which, I had to spend eight weeks with a man whose only goal, it seemed, was to torture me at all levels.

I was degraded. I was harangued. I was sleep deprived. I was cussed at. I marched everywhere I had to go, even to places where the sole purpose of getting there was to march some more. I ran till my legs turned to jelly and side felt like it would explode. Every other day I was given a round of shots to stave off whatever diseases I would supposedly be exposed to once I joined the fleet. I had not one second to myself and every thought I was allowed to have was given to me by a superior. Once I graduated from these eight weeks of hell, I had four weeks of somewhat less intense, but still demanding schooling, in order to learn my new job.

All in all, to get this place I so desperately desired to be, took about 14 weeks, from my initial meeting with the recruiter to the day we pulled up the dock lines.

Value and Rewards

Was it worth it? I would do it all over again in a New York minute.

Every ounce of angst and pain was dissipated as the sun shone on the waves, and the sea gulls bid us farewell. Seven days ahead of us was a paradise I had only seen on television. Hawaii. It was going to be a sleepless journey for me and the butterflies in my stomach.

If you are in the middle of a job search right now, I don’t have to tell you about angst or misery, or pain or any of the other six million three hundred thousand four hundred and two words used to describe discomfort.

I could have never made it through boot camp without the tenacity my company commander displayed in making sure I didn’t fail.

A career professional will be just as tenacious for you if you will just reach out and allow them to push you through the mud. You will want to quit. You will get tired. You may even wonder why you’re putting yourself through all the hassle. It’s because you know at the end of it all, when the lines are pulled from the dock and you’ve gotten all the help you’re going to get to succeed from them, an ocean of opportunity will welcome you to places you’ve only imagined up to this point.

By Rob Poindexter

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