Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Things of Fitness

Once there was a beautiful city by the shores of a big lake. The city was noted for the generous ferocity of its climate, the generous oner of its work, and the generous warmth of its people. Here the Navy had a boot camp.
All military camps are interested in physical fitness and their training camps are very rigorous. But the Navy adds a special twist to its rigor: emotional training. Young men brought up on the myths of rugged individualism and the wide open wild west spaces are crammed together in a confined space with no off time. Ships are like that. Naval regulations permit each seamen a bunk six feet long by 24" wide by 18" high. that was the space from the top of one bunk to the bottom of the next. On shipboard they might be stacked six high. We called them racks. All your personal belongings fit in a locker 2' wide, by 15" deep by 18" tall. Living in such confinement is a psychological challenge. To train young men to live in such close quarters as a team completely subservient to the Captain is the function of boot camp.
The process begins with stripping. All your civilian clothes -- even the ones you stand in -- are packed for shipment to your former home. You join an immense line of several hundred nude men shuffling around the perimeter of a drill hall. Think of a large football field inside a hangar. Doctors poke and prod. Corpsman inject. Audiologists check hearing, Oculists examine eyes, Dentists oversee group self teeth cleaning as we brush with pumice laden bristles. The trench sinks run with gore.
Finally we are measured and uniforms are issued.
One canvass sea bag
Three sets dungarees
Bell bottom denim pants and long sleeved chambray shirts
Three sets White Summer Uniforms
Two undress short sleeve shirts, one dress middy blouse, and bell bottom pants.
Three sets Blue Winter Uniforms
Two undress middy blouses, one dress middy blouse with piping, bell bottom trousers with the thirteen button flap. One button for each of the thirteen colonies. Take hold of the flap corners and tug smartly and it opens faster than a zipper at need. Tug lubberly and you get to resew the buttons.
One jacket.
One pea coat.
One rain coat.
One ball cap.
Two Dixie cups.
The traditional silly white thing sailors wear. it is useful, at need, to carry water.
One pair oxfords, one pair boondockers.
New words -- new jargon -- issued with the clothes.
One neckerchief.
One Blue Jackets Manual.
Think of the Boy Scout Manual expanded to include such items as removing blood stains from whites, how to use your neckerchief as a tourniquet or sling, etc.
Various Smalls: Tees, shorts and socks.
A ditty bag
Of needful items from razors to wash powder.
And clothes stops.
But no little red wagon to carry them all, just your arms and shank's mare.
What are clothes stops? Something only the Navy would have. Patience.
Laden with all the possessions we are permitted we stagger into the stenciling room and proceed -- under direction -- to stencil every article of clothing with our name and serial number. These daubs of white or black paint in specific places not ordinarily visible to the world, and our rank and rate (job) insignia, are the only differentiation allowed among garments.
At last we are permitted to pull on one set of dungarees. And the boondockers, or high top work boots. We clomp over to the Navy Exchange building, hoicking our seabags along as best we are clumsily able, to pass under the buzz clippers of the scalpers (putative barbers). We emerge as bald pated teens, old beyond our years and as uniform as possible in our appearance: Cowed, and ready.
In the barracks our company commander (actually a first class petty officer) informs us that our new clothes are filthy and all must be washed -- by hand -- and hung to dry in the yard. So we scrub and so we dub. Then we tie our clothes to the clothes line with the clothes stops which are short lengths (6-8") of 1/8" cotton line. The navy has a particular way to do this, of course. In the middle of the clothes stop tie an overhand knot around a corner of a shirt tail or belt loop. place this in proximity to the clothes line and wrap the ends, in a tight coil, around the line for 6 or 8 turns, then tie the ends together in a square knot. Neat and trig. Shipshape. Even.
And that was the first day.

The Navy is obsessed with cleanliness. Our company's ugly duckling was forced to suck his shorts in front of the company because the commander found shit stains on them.
After fire training -- in which we were locked in a closed space adjacent to an oil fire to emerge ready for a minstrel show (even the blacks among us) hacking and coughing. Those who pushed against the iron bars came away with stains. These did not wash out. In trepident trembling we faced the CC who informed us that "Those are clean stains and will not be noticed at inspection."
Twelve weeks more and the Navy considered us ready to train for our jobs.
We were stretched, or trimmed, to suit the requirements of the service.
-- ml
nb, 2/18/2007: This is the third part of a series nominated for a 2006 Koufax. A final explanatory part is here.
Technorati Tags: , , ,

No comments:

Post a Comment