NAVY CLUB of the United State of America MILITARY EXCELLENCE Award
“Presented to the graduating recruit who best exemplifies the qualities of enthusiasm, devotion to duty, military appearance and behavior, self-discipline and teamwork.”
This was the highest honor any recruit could be awarded.
I won that sucker in ‘85.
Before I went to Boot Camp, aka in Naval Parlance, “Recruit Training” my recruiter told my wife:
“Hey, If Lance wins this award, The Navy will pay for your plane ticket and lodging at Great Lakes Naval Recruit Center so you may see Lance graduate. But of course, it is very unlikely he will win. I mean the odds are against it, but who knows? Lance has scored the best on his ASVAB and he looks to be squared-away.” Blah Blah Blah.
My wife was an Army Reserve Vet, a Non-Com in the U.S. Army Reserve, and for her day job, a probation officer. She should have smelled bullshit. So should I. But neither one of us did. We were poor. I promised her before I left for Boot Camp:
“Janet, I am gonna win that award and you are gonna be so proud of me. The Navy will fly you to Chicago and we will be together before I ship out to SEAL training. Don’t worry: the Navy is an honorable service. They cannot make these claims if they are not true.”
She put me on the plane and I headed off to Great Lakes RTC (Recruit Training Center). I arrived at 0400hrs and somewhat scared shitless, even though I was twenty-seven and a veteran of one war zone already (see SFM). But I had seen too many movies and I knew my next nine weeks would ‘test’ me.
About 0500hrs, just after I had reached that REM status, some asshole threw a shit can (55 gal. trash can) down the middle of the barracks.
“Clang Clang! Bounce! Clang! Fucking CLANG!”
“Wake the fuck up Gentlemen! Welcome to the US Navy! Get your asses outta your racks! Spit and Shine! Fall the Fuck OUT! Do it! Do it now! Line the fuck up in front of yer racks!”
(Just like in the movies.)
Every morning for the next few weeks it was like this. Never enough time to piss, take a drink of water, take a shit, take a shower, eat, think, miss home. Never time for anything, except learning how to fold our skivvies.
This is what I signed on for? For Fuck sake. My CC (Company Commander) was twenty-four years old. I was twenty-seven. Do I really need this shit? Well, ‘Call me Ishmael’. You do what you must. I had to endure long enough to get to SEAL training: Then surely my REAL Naval Career could begin. (BUD/s)
Somewhere about week six of boot camp, my CC informed me that he had nominated me for the Naval Club of the U.S. Military Excellence Award.
“Sir! Yes Sir! Excuse me Sir! But Sir! What the fuck is that?”
(We were encouraged to use profanity—meant we were men—yes)
“Rick!” (All recruits are called ‘Rick’–‘Rickie Recruit’ in Naval Boot Camp) “Rick!” He continued, I have nominated you for this award. I have stuck my neck out for you. There are twelve companies of Ricks for this cycle. That means about eleven hundred recruits. Every division picks the one best recruit from their company to go head to head against the rest. You are my choice. Do not fuck this up!”
“Sir! What do I do?”
“You will be called to see the DIVO (Company Division Officer) and he will interview you to make sure you are qualified to represent our company and the division. He is a senior officer. You better impress the hell outta him, or I am gonna look like an idiot.”
“Sir! Yes Sir! I will do my best!”
“Marcom! You better do better than your best! Dismissed!”
Wow! And I had been trying to stay somewhere under the radar. Now I had to perform for an award I did not seek nor want.
Few days later I was summoned to the DIVO’s office.
Standing outside his door, sweating my ass off, I waited to be ordered inside.
Another Rick came up to me and said, “You can go on in now. Just be sure to knock on the door like a MAN. Give the door a good loud knock and wait until he says ‘Enter’. Then God save you.”
“Thanks Asshole” I remember thinking.
I approached the door, took a breath and whacked the hell out of it.
Manly, I threw the door open. Seated behind an oak desk was the DIVO, a full Commander. I had never spoken to an Officer at this point. I was scared shitless.
“Step Forward Son!” he commanded.
I took two steps into his office and remained at attention, no small feat—difficult to walk while maintaining the ‘at attention’ status.
“ABOUT FACE!” he yelled at me.
I had never learned to perform a proper About Face. Just did not seem important to me, as I was the Geek in the company, and no one had noticed or cared about my ‘Geekiness’.
I made an effort but got my feet tangled up and damn near fell on my face.
“What the Fuck Almighty is that shit Rick!?” He screamed, standing up and walking over to face me. I could feel his breath on me now and I was truly scared.
He took a step back and ordered again, “About FACE!”
I tried again and failed.
“Son, why the fuck are you here wasting my time?” he bellowed. “You have been nominated by your CC to represent the proud history and tradition of this Division for the Military Excellence award. And YOU CANNOT EVEN Do A PROPER ABOUT FACE?! Drop the fuck down! Push ups! Until I get tired.”
Unfortunately, My CC walked in at this time, expecting to meet with the DIVO and hear about what a great candidate he had submitted to represent The Division for The Award. What he discovered, to his horror, was me in the ‘Leaning Rest’ prostrate on the floor of his boss, obviously humiliated.
After some stuttering from my CC, and our being thrown out of the DIVO’s office, we made it back to the barracks.
CC took me aside and confided, “Marcom, I know you are a good recruit, but my ass is on the line here. You can succeed in this. All you have to do is learn how to do a proper about face. You have one week until they call everyone in front of The Board which decides the awardee. I suggest you practice… or kill yourself.”
I did. I practiced and practiced and practiced. I just could never get it down perfect. Everything else I had to offer was squared away, but if I could not do the simplest, most basic military step… well, I was fucked.
The day of the Review Board came. I could not eat morning chow for my nerves. At 1000hrs I was summoned to The Building to stand in front of The Board. There were twelve of us nominees all nervously waiting our turn to be called in to the room to be tested. As I recall, my name came up tenth. No way was I going to have a chance at this. I had checked out my competition (Why did I feel like a contestant in some fucking beauty pageant?), and I had found me lacking and wanting.
I stepped up to the door and gave my hearty three knocks.
“Don’t show fear,” I said to myself. “They will smell fear.”
I took my requisite three steps forward and faced the three officers seated behind a folding table, “Seaman Recruit Marcom reporting!” I shouted.
“Very well. About Face!”
(“Oh Shit!” I thought. “Please don’t let me fuck this up.”)
I executed a passable ‘About Face’.
“Have a seat Son” one of the officers instructed.
I took the lone chair which stood in the Spartan room, sat rigidly and waited for the rest of the ‘interview.’
Happily, I answered all their questions to their satisfaction, but after I had been dismissed and returned to my peers, I knew I had screwed the pooch with my lame-ass about face. The twelve of us stood outside the room at ‘Parade Rest’ for about twenty minutes before one of the officers came out and announced,
“Gentlemen, we have reached our decision. Seaman Recruit Marcom is our Military Excellence Award recipient. “Congratulations Seaman Recruit Marcom,” He said, handing me a sheet of paper, then standing in front of us, all lined up like martinets, he ordered, “About Face!”
We all executed the command, but I got my feet tangled once again. Another officer had come out of the room just in time to witness this. I saw a look of horror on his face. The officer who had just pronounced me the most ‘squared-away’ sailor out of the eleven hundred who had been eligible barked, “Dismissed!” And we got the hell out of there, smartly. I ran back to my CC with the documentation in hand, proving that I had, in fact won the award. He snatched it from me, no preamble. Read it, then went some kind of ape-shit happy.
While I was basking in the glow of the accolades of my shipmates in the barracks, CC came running out of his office and screamed, “Marcom! Front and Center! Double Time!”
“Oh shit!” I thought. “They done changed their mind.”
I ran up to CC and said, “Sir! Yes Sir!”
“Double time it down to the DIVO’s office! Do it now!”
I beat feet over to DIVO’s building and office. Walked up to his receptionist and announced, “Seaman Recruit Marcom here to see DIVO.”
“You may go in now Rick,” she said.
I gave his door the hearty whack.
“Enter!” came his booming voice.
I strode into his office, taking my three steps, then announced, “Seaman Recruit Marcom reporting Sir!”
He looked me up and down, paused, and then shouted, “ABOUT FACE!”
I proceeded to perform the only perfect ‘about face’ in the history of my naval career.
“Thank Fucking God!” He yelled. “Now get the hell outta my office!”
“Yes SIR!” I said and as I turned to depart, he said,
“Congratulations Marcom! You did the Division proud today.”
Tears welled as I left. I cannot recall a happier moment in my life.
Three weeks later at graduation, I was presented my award. I had not had a chance to talk to my wife since the day I had been selected but I assured her that as soon as my recruiter had the official word of my award, she would have her plane ticket to Great Lakes Naval base and she would be escorted to the graduation ceremony.
During the entire three hour graduation ordeal, I kept my eyes searching the bleachers for my wife.
She was not there.
After the graduation I went looking for her.
She was not there.
She had not come.
She was NOT There.
Someone had lied.
She WAS NOT THERE.
I never forgot that day.