Joining the Navy
One rainy fall day, after slogging through thick mud pushing a wheelbarrow full of cement at his construction job, Ross came home and said he didn't think he wanted to do that for the rest of his life.

Great! Could we talk about college again?

No. He wanted to talk about the military again. He'd been talking about the military for four years. And I'd been crying about it for four years. I'd had a few not-so-friendly run-ins with military recruiters. And I'd bothered the principal of the high school a few times about letting those recruiters into the school. Why, why, why must they let them come there? Leave my little boy alone! Don't they know these are children?

Recruiters would send stuff in the mail and I would throw it out. I'm a mother. I like my child just how he is, with all his arms and legs attached. At one point, Ross asked me to sign him into the military when he was seventeen, when it requires a parent signature.

Are you kidding? My grandmother signed my father's little brother into the Marines when he was seventeen, during World War II, and he was killed on a Pacific Island. So. I don't think so.

But Ross was eighteen now and he had already scheduled an appointment with a navy recruiter to go to Beckley, West Virginia, a couple of hours south, to the military entrance processing station there. I asked him what else he'd done without telling me. Was he married? (No. Whew.) The navy recruiter called the next day and I grilled him. He almost made me feel like it might be okay.

Ross wanted to be a Seabee. Seabees are the construction engineers of the navy, and it fit with his interest in building and doing things with his hands. He had taken the ASVAB (general military entrance exam). Only when he went to Beckley to sign up, there were no positions available in the Seabees. The economy had created a backlog in the military for new enlistees.

Oh, happy day! No more military. If only. There were still two jobs needing enlistees in the navy. That would be Navy SEALs and nukes (the nuclear program). SEALs and nukes were in demand because these are positions that require high qualifications.

I actually had some experience and knowledge about navy nukes. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a navy wife. I was married to a nuclear submariner. He was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, though he ported out of King's Bay, Georgia. He was, in fact (of course), Ross's father, my ex-husband.

To be a navy nuke is prestigious --- and difficult. It requires a six-year enlistment due to the two-year educational training. There are big bonuses and advanced pay grades. It's rigorous and only the smartest of the smart get in there.

Ross threw his Seabees dream out the window, but he was bound and determined to join the navy. He didn't want to be a SEAL, though. He'd do that nuke thing. That'd be fine. The navy recruiter took another glance at his less-than-stellar high school transcripts, which didn't include classes like, say, physics, and told him that he didn't think that was going to work out.

Ross + high school = girls + cars.

Sorry, there wasn't much (or any) time for that studying thing. Or taking real classes.

His ASVAB score wasn't high enough. He'd have to take the separate nuclear test and pass it with flying colors. The navy recruiter advised against it. Maybe a job requiring less qualification would come up. Ross decided he'd take the nuke test.

He went home and asked his eleventh-grade football-playing little brother, Weston, to explain physics to him. Another job in the navy, requiring less qualification, did come up. The recruiter called. Ross refused it. He went back to Beckley and took the nuke test.

And passed it.

Only he didn't pass it very high, so if he was going to get in the nuke program, he was going to have to go back yet again and retake the ASVAB and earn a very high score to qualify.

The navy recruiter said he'd never had anyone retake the ASVAB and improve their score. At all. Much less by a significant margin, which was what Ross needed to do.

He thought Ross was wasting his time. He gave him two weeks to prepare.

I cried a little bit more, then I bought Ross a study book. Ross decided to learn everything there was to know about physics in two weeks. (Teenagers are so funny.) And I decided that if he could really make it into the navy's nuclear program, I was okay. It was safe. He'd be living in a submarine and sleeping on a shelf. I've been inside a navy submarine. I was a navy wife.

Ross took the study book in hand and said, "I don't know how to study. I can't remember the last time I studied."

I replied, "Well, it wasn't in high school, was it?"

He went back to Beckley and retook the ASVAB. He scored so high that, if he'd done that the first time around, he wouldn't have even had to take the separate nuke test.

He was scheduled for boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, the following spring, and two years of nuclear school in Charleston, South Carolina, to be followed by four years of sea duty. There was a total six-year commitment. He volunteered for submarines. I was proud of him, in spite of my fears.

--- From Chickens in the Road
©2013Suzanne McMinn
Published by Harper One
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