Tuesday, July 05, 2005

At the Beginning --- Part I


At this point it's looking like I'll be starting a new career as a chemistry teacher for the coming school year (this won't be totally confirmed until 20 July when I'm voted on by the school district I've been invited into). I suppose it's not a surprise, but I find myself reflecting on how I ever got into teaching, which inevitably brings me back to my career in the Navy. It's interesting as I think about it, but I've never blogged much about my time on active duty or about the things that affected me while in the service. In 22 years there was a lot that truly made me think, though there was a lot that wasn't so much a part of conscious thinking --- it was more a feeling, a sense of belonging, being a part of something. The belonging part was more responsible for my 22 years than anything else, and I suppose it was a sense of not feeling a part of the organization any longer, either because of my own limitations or a certain weariness with what was expected for me to keep moving forward, that I retired.

I think it's fair and reasonable to say that the person I am today was shaped by those 22 years in the service and if for no other reason than to have my own chronicle of that time and my thoughts about it, I'll be focusing the blog on my Navy years. I'll touch on what got me in the service (the next few posts) and on some of the experiences that affected me. There are things that come to me as I think about this that mean a lot to me, and maybe this is as good a place as any to explore that.

I graduated cum laude with a BS degree in chemistry, with a focus in biochemistry in 1980; in those days the college didn't have a degree in biochemistry. I actually enjoyed chemistry a great deal, and with that in mind applied to graduate programs and was accepted into three which would have paid for my graduate education, but I belatedly concluded that I had had enough of school. I was burnt out and just couldn't see myself going on for more schooling as I knew I wouldn't enjoy nor engage it to the degree I'd need to. Having decided that follow-on schooling was not going to work for me, I had to find a job. Jobs in chemistry for guys with BS degrees weren't exactly for the taking unless I was interested in becoming a lab tech of some sort, and they weren't exactly handing those jobs out either. Without any real family and personal connections I made my way through the papers and tried to find something that would fit.

The job offers weren't exactly pouring in, though the resumes were going out and I was talking to anyone who might be able to help me. In keeping with investigating ALL my options, I decided to see what the military had to offer. I was at something of a disadvantage at this point as I was not aware that being a college graduate entitled to me to a shot at officer programs --- I had never read about such a thing, nor, that I was aware of, had officer recruiters ever come onto the campus of my college. I was under the impression that you only became an officer through the service academies or the individual service's Reserve Officer Training Corps program. So I made my way down to the enlisted recruiting stations that were found at the junction of Fordham road and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. All four services had recruiting stations there so it was a convenient one-stop shop.

The first station I went to was for the Army. When I mentioned to the recruiter that I had a
college degree he surprisingly turned off on me; this made sense later, but at the time it caused me to wonder what was going on. I was given what I perceived to be a shuffle about how I might be eligible for something in the chemical corps, but he wasn't sure. The Air Force was out, so I didn't talk to anyone there, and the Marines I didn't bother with as I had no misconceptions about my ability to be sufficiently gung ho in the quintessential Marine Corps fashion --- don't get my wrong, Marines are great people, but to do the Corps and do it well you have to be a little bit special, in a way that many would define differently but otherwise does explain why once a Marine, always a Marine. That left me with the Navy. As it turned out the Navy recruiter was in, and he seemed a very lonely man.

As most successful recruiters are the guy behind the desk who stood up to greet me was very nice. In addition, when I mentioned to him that I was a college graduate with a degree in chemistry he didn't shut down on me, in fact he perked up. That said there was a slight element of doubt emanating from him, which I suppose could have been translated in a number of different ways but which I took to be "If you have a degree in chemistry why are you talking to me? But let's see what we have here." He explained to me that I'd be eligible for the Navy's nuclear power program and given my degree the training should be relatively easy for me and I'd be situated for accelerated promotion at the start. That said, we'd have to go to an office across the street where I'd have to take a test specific to the nuclear power program that would determine whether I had the requisite knowledge for the program or not. "Could I take the test now?", he asked. I said sure, and off we went across the Grand Concourse and then Fordham road and up a flight of stairs to an decent sized office. He went to a safe, pulled out some papers, and within short order I was working on the test. The test contained pretty basic high school level science and math questions, material that four years in a collegiate science program more than adequately prepared me for. I don't recall the total number of questions, but when done I got two wrong --- he was ecstatic.

My bonafides as a nuke prospect established, he became even more excited about me and the potential I represented for him. I didn't know this at the time but my being a potential nuke recruit meant more to him than the standard Navy recruit prospect to walk through the door --- nuclear accessions counted for more points to the recruiter who got the prospect into the Navy. The next step was for me to take the ASVAB, the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery. Normally high school students wind up taking this test somewhere between the 10th and 11th grades, and in fact I had, but that wasn't good enough, he wanted me to take the test again. I needed to come in at "Oh dark thirty", a new expression I was to encounter a lot in my time in the Navy, to go with a group taking the exam the next day. Off I went, I'd be back the next day at 6:30 in the morning.


Blogger she falters to rise said...

"don't get my wrong, Marines are great people, but to do the Corps and do it well you have to be a little bit special, in a way that many would define differently but otherwise does explain why once a Marine, always a Marine".

What a proper,nice, and true way to explain being a marine;)

Things don't change much over time. Here I am with a PhD almost in hand, and my job hunt keeps leading me to military- and national security-related groups. You can't get money to study epilepsy, but you sure can get money to study biochemical warfare.

8:14 AM  
Blogger James said...

Yeah, the biochem/WMD money is the cash cow of the decade I should think, unfortunately. The problem with that is professionally it can be limiting and lead to problems if the money ever stops coming in. If there's never an attack you can expect to see money in this direction to begin to dry up --- frankly I'd sooner that than the alternative. I hope you're able to find something more conducive to what you'd rather do, though government working for a few years can be a nice resume add-on.

As for the Marines thing --- thank you. I genuinely like and respect Marines, but know that I'd have a hard time being one due to that "specialness", as it were.

2:09 PM  

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