Proud Americans

28 Jun

rtc orlando

Halfway through boot camp in Orlando in July 1991. Morale was low. Our daily schedule drained us as much as the heat and humidity did. Wake up at 3 am, dress in inspection-ready uniforms, have our bunks and our gear squared away so we could march to the galley in the pre-dawn darkness to prepare, serve and clean up after breakfast. Change into PT gear so we could condition ourselves to pass the fitness test in a couple weeks. Change back into our uniforms then out to the grinder for another grueling day of learning to march as a company.

Even our RCPO, the Recruit Leading Petty Officer, was frazzled. Column right, left face, about face, many of us bungling recruits still weren’t getting the hang of it. Midway through the morning a fortunate few were dismissed to return to the galley to repeat the breakfast performance for the noon meal. Afterward, more training. Classroom instruction conducted to teach us recruits Navy core values, rank/rate recognition, rape awareness, equal opportunities, sexual harassment and fraternization. We learned about naval history, laws of armed conflict, money management, shipboard communications, aircraft and basic seamanship.

But they didn’t teach us how to get along with each other. On communication blackout, none of us was permitted to contact family or friends on the outside. We were supposed to bond as a unit, and learn to rely upon our shipmates.

But instead of having each other’s backs, the eighty young women in our unit were at each other’s throats. The tougher females among us were victimizing the weaker ones, “borrowing” their possessions, blaming the inept and untrained when we failed an inspection or went over time using the showers. No one went as far as hazing, which would result in immediate discharge, but tempers were out of control.

Our CO’s noticed the deterioration of unit morale and gathered us together in the dorm. The CO from the adjacent male unit was brought onboard to talk to us. Expecting a lecture on good order and discipline, we braced ourselves for the tongue-lashing.

But CO Robards didn’t yell at us. He ordered us to sit on the floor, place our heads on our knees and close our eyes. In a soft, preacher’s voice, he began to remind us of why we were there. We left our parents, siblings, friends, and some of us left children behind so we could enlist in the most powerful Navy the world had ever seen. We wanted to defend the strongest nation and uphold the constitution. The CO reminded us that our traditions and customs were taught and followed not to inconvenience us, but to bind us to more than two hundred years of a rich history. We traded creature comforts and electronic conveniences for a military life because we cared about a future beyond ourselves. He talked about the freedoms that American civilians have, that we could choose our elected officials, we could decide whether we wanted to worship a God and how we wanted to practice that. If we wanted to, we could write letters, news stories, books and internet articles about any subject that struck our fancy.

We could have relationships of our choosing, and marry the loves of our lives, no matter their race or gender. Or we could remain single, and live the lives we dreamed. We could follow fashion, or make our own styles when we dressed. No one in government could tell us what we had to wear or eat, or think, or write about.

The CO reminded us we were sacrificing our dearest relationships because we aspired to a higher calling, because we were better people, because we wanted a future not only for ourselves but our families for generations to come. As he soothed us, sniffles were heard and tears fell. Some of the girls scooted closer and hugged. Tissues were produced and shared. The CO began singing softly, crooning

“If tomorrow all the things were gone

I’d worked for all my life

And I had to start again

 

With just my children and my wife

I’d thank my lucky stars

To be living here today

Cause the flag still stands for freedom

And they can’t take that away”

All the girls joined in:

 

“Cause I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free,

And I won’t forget the men who died

Who gave that right to me

And I gladly stand up

Next to you and defend her still today

Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land

God bless the USA…”****

As we sang, we arose from the floor and circled up, arm in arm, to finish the chorus. The CO sang the next stanza while we hummed and smiled at each other, bonded at last.

**** Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA”

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