I always heard in the navy, “If I wanted you to have a family I would have issued you a family.” Little did they know everyone I met in the military became part of my family.
I believe the navy throws people into difficult stressful situations to prepare you to handle any outcome. Whether it’s a fire drill or living with 30 or more complete strangers.
There’s something about being in the same situation that creates a bond for life. During my eight years in the military, I have made friends all over the United States. Though I may not see them for many years, since our lives have parted ways, I know for a fact if we got together we would pick up the conversation where we left off.
My Military Family
My story involves being shipped off to bootcamp in Illinois, at 18 years old and leaving my first group of friends from my high school days. I’m not sure what it is that causes people to bond and have close ties over a hectic situation. Maybe it’s uniting over a stressful environment. For me those situations have reappeared every few years due to the military transferring me to new location. I must say though I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people whom I’d proudly call family.
Where else, but boot camp…
Will you live in a room with 80 complete strangers, sharing an open shower area. Now as a young shy buck at just barely 18, this took some getting used to. Actually I lie, there wasn’t any getting used to it. I just learned to deal with it and realized that the boot camp phase would pass.
I remember the complete awkwardness of having to be seen naked by another person, let alone 12 plus women. But then you remember that hey, I bet we are all feeling totally vulnerable; as we stare up at the ceiling, washing as quickly as we can, to hurry and run back to our safety blanket, aka towel.
It’s moments from my first night, lying in my rack, aka bed, listening to the girls giggle over that first embarrassing shower. While others talked about their fear for what lies ahead in the next 8 weeks of becoming a sailor in the navy.
After spending 24/7 for 8 weeks in bootcamp with these newly acquired friends or shipmates, as the navy would say, we were all split up and shipped off to new locations to start our navy careers and repeat the new kid adventure.
Schooling in Charleston, South Carolina
Luckily for me, my living situation improved. Instead of 80 roommates, I had one, and instead of sharing an open restroom I had a private bathroom, which I shared with only 3 women. But still I was sharing a barracks room with someone I’ve never met.
To increase the apprehension she arrived in the middle of the night. Talk about being scared out of your pants when the door opens up while you’re sleeping. I can’t remember if I was friendly with a greeting at 3am. Or played the pretend to be asleep, don’t move, so maybe she won’t notice the lump of a body in the bed, so you don’t have to acknowledge her.
However our first meeting went, it didn’t matter because AD and I became pretty much inseparable, until we transferred to different stations at the end of our Charleston schooling. She was also barely 18 years old, living across the country from home; and out on her own for the first time without any family.
Girl’s Night In
We had a mini frig in our room and AD introduced to me to Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked, half cookie dough and half brownie ice cream. We would eat ice cream and scare ourselves silly from watching The Ring. Haha we were so scared some girl was going to come out of our TV. We had to unplug it, turn it around, and put a shirt over it. Neither of us slept that night.
Maybe I bonded so easily with AD because I never had a sister to go shopping with, get pedicures with, or chat about boys. We would have slumber parties while shining our boots and ironing sharp creases into our uniforms, and criticize the demanding studying of the upcoming test. AD was my first sister. Together we shared a nerve-racking difficult period, during a very fast paced military school, which had a 50% failure rate.
After completing my military training I transferred across the country to San Diego to report to my first aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan. I was a total nervous wreck, stepping out alone to begin the next chapter.
Lost on an Aircraft Carrier
I still remember driving up to the aircraft carrier and thinking ‘Oh My Gosh it’s HUGE!’ As I stepped on board I was escorted to my check in spot. I was then shown were my new rack, aka bed, was located. Afterwards I was abandoned, and completely lost on the ship. I couldn’t even backtrack my way off the ship. There were so many hallways, stairs, and every room looked the same. And since it was after working hours no one was around. I was totally freaked out! It took 4 people the next morning to help me get back to my check in location.
I met so many wonderful people on the USS Ronald Reagan during my 5 year tour, who arrived and departed the ship during that time. Of course now everyone is scattered all over various parts of the country, but I know if I’m ever in their location they would make time to have a drink with me or show me the sites. But anyways back to my first couple of weeks.
My First Introduction to My New Family
The ship operates 24/7, so all of the new personnel in my department were put on night shift to stay out of the way of actual work going on. Well one night, some of the guys from my future department came to the classroom and asked if we wanted to do some actual work and not just study from a long boring book all night. Heck yes we will do work, if it means getting out of this classroom. This was my first encounter with my future coworkers, and what I saw was a group of guys having a fun time while cleaning electrical switchboards. They had the music blasting, singing along, and everyone was in a great mood and very welcoming. They made me feel right at home.
My Best Buddy
Some of my best friendships originated on that ship. JB was a goofy, skinny kid, whose goal in life was to make everyone laugh. He was my go to guy for anything and everything. My brother who would protect me from any danger, and a friend to have awesome adventures with. Friendships like JB are the reason I miss the military. I miss the adventures and experiences made great with amazing people. If it wasn’t for the people, the military would just be another job.
I’ve been out of the navy for 7 years now, and I still miss the friendships I made while in the military. Being stuck on a ship together for 6 months straight, facing the daily challenges the military and navy ship life brings, develops an everlasting bond between people. I mean where else can you sit in a room with the same 5 people for 5 hours every 15 hours, not kill each other, but instead develop a lifetime friendship.
Please comment, I’d love to hear about your military experiences and adventures creating your second family, your military family!