You are excited, getting signed up for the US Navy, thinking you’re going to have a cool job, right???
- Think you’re going to be a firefighter, or press buttons and fire missiles all day? Wrong. Prepare to end up excelling at cleaning toilets, shining brass, and doing basic high school janitorial jobs. Not knocking those jobs; everyone has to learn a trade. Just don’t get your hopes up only to realize the truth sucks. Oh yeah, and you’ll do 3 months of slave-labor in the galley. There, you’ll wash too many dishes and scrub more decks than you ever want to think about again. But – you’ll see lots of stuff most folks don’t.
I still vividly remember when I was told I would be leaving to work on the mess decks like nearly all junior folks do. In the Navy this is called “mess-cranking”, and it involves doing whatever the Mess Cooks need done for 3 months straight. My job was working in deep-sink, which is usually the most loathed job on a ship. For 16 hours a day, 6 days a week, I stood over a large, scalding hot sink and washed all the cook pans, huge mixer bowls, and whatever else the cooks handed me inside their galley. 3 times a day I had a large pile of dishes and a bigger collection of filthy cooking pots and pans stacked 4 ft high on the floor.
But I saw the positives; no one ever bothered me back in my little corner, and I got to know the Mess Cooks really well, especially this one swell Filipino who was quite a funny guy it turns out. He’d walk over to the door and look in through the small window, watching the Chiefs eating their food in the space adjacent to ours. Then he’d turn to me and say in his hilarious accent “Dos mudder puckers, dey goin’ back for turds and forts,” referring to their uncanny ability to walk through the line multiple times in one meal. Hey, these are the same guys who’d later be bitching at everyone else about weight standards!
2. Thai hookers and strip shows in Thailand on a West Pac are hardcore. Don’t ever ask a sailor what “the turtle show” is about; unless you really want to know, and have ear-bleach on hand.
3. All the US Navy stereotypes are true. ALL. Of. Them. Including the drinking, cussing, and hard-working, harder partying ones especially. Well, almost. Don’t ever sing “In the Navy” to a sailor like you think it’ll impress us. Actually, that’s asking for a hard knock.
4. If you’ve never cussed or drank – you will; especially if you become a Snipe (marine engineer) or a boatswain’s mate. You’ll also be expected to learn and correctly apply the many colorful euphemisms appropriate to your job; for instance, I used BFH (big fucking hammer), and PFM (pure fucking magic) on a daily basis, because those were the ways things got done. Get a big fucking hammer and beat the hell out of something to get it to fit, or pray to God, and just hope it’ll start working right, because the parts are still on backorder.
5. If you’re a female, expect some attention. There will be some stares, some comments, and some drunken guys hitting on you once in a while. Brush them off and move on if you don’t like it, and feel comfortable doing so. HOWEVER if you happen to be short and petite expect a whole lot more attention; and just get comfortable feeling uncomfortable more often than not. You are in the Navy after all. This is a testosterone dominated world that goes back centuries in tradition. Don’t go in with the attitude you’re going to change it, or it will change you. And you won’t like it. Trust me. If you want girlfriends and a nice conversation then go to college, and hang out at the mall. But if you want to see the world, have some fun once in a while, and work your ass off the majority of the time, by all means, enlist.
6. Learn how to jog. And swim. Swim? Really? Yeah, and run. Because that fire in the main space ain’t gonna put itself out – you got to be dressed out in full fire gear and down in that space to bravely fight that sucker in 5 minutes or less. That means a whole lot of running. And if by chance the whole boat does go down how do you think you’re going to get away??? Swimming: it’s useful to know.
7. The boxes of food have “Rejected by prison system” printed on them. Yes, and I have credible witnesses in case you don’t believe me!
8. The Navy has its own language, culture and its own rich traditions; folks are shocked when they hear that. I thought most folks knew this? Apparently they don’t. Bonus questions: what are scuttlebutts, gee dunk, and “The keys to the seachest” all about???? They are: a drinking fountain/rumor, junk food, and a joke played on newbies. And if anyone can pronounce athwartship, Forecastle, Boatswain’s Mate, and gunwales, you have reached expert level, and earned a free beer!
9. Don’t depend on Hollywood to tell you what the Navy is, either. The film “Battleship” is a huge glaringly awful example: Officers, Commanding Officers, and Chiefs don’t normally hang out with junior enlisted folks (nor do they speak to them on a nickname level like that, especially in the workplace). I have met plenty of cool officers and Chiefs but they have professional boundaries. Especially officers.
ALSO – just so you know – it actually takes 24 hours to get a battleship from cold iron to full steam. Not 10 minutes. And NO we don’t have rail guns on naval vessels! (But it is a cool idea)
10. Last but not least – the top thing US Navy recruiter’s won’t tell you: you will work with some of the most difficult people, in the worst conditions, and you will absolutely hate your life as you battle loneliness, constant conflict, and daily hangovers. You will regret enlisting, and you will at some point contemplate going “UA” (unauthorized absence.) Everyone does.
Just don’t give up. At some point you’ll get out, and you’ll miss it. You’ll also have made friends with some of the awesomest folks you’ll ever meet who will be friends with you till the day you die.
You’ll figure out what NAVY stands for; but most folks find themselves signing back on for another stint, or even working towards a 20 year career. Because there are those perks that make it all worth it when you get higher in rank.