It was thirty years ago this morning when I woke up before the crack of dawn and officially entered the United States Navy. My mom and dad drove us through the early morning DC traffic the long way from our house in Great Falls, VA to the Baltimore MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Center), then at Linthicum Heights. It was my dad’s 47th birthday. Coffee hadn’t kicked in so there wasn’t much conversation, I recall.
About the time the sun was rising we arrived, I said goodbye to my parents, and got my first taste of the “hurry up and wait” that the military is famous for. I would be poked and prodded for my medical examination, be drug screened, retake the ASVAB test, select the job I wanted in the Navy, and finally be sworn in: the point of no turning back.
It was a two-day ordeal. The government put us up in a nearby cheap hotel because our travel would begin in earnest early the next morning. I was assigned a roommate; a slight, probably gay, Navy-bound African-American kid named Bernard (pronounced BUH-nard, he took pains to remind me) who was more interested in going out for one last night of partying than sleeping. I chose to sleep (as I usually do) and boarded a plane with Bernard and others at BWI early the next morning, bound for Orlando.
Orders in hand, I stepped off the plane at the Orlando airport and was motioned over to a large group of somewhat nervous-looking young people milling around. The adventure the Navy had promised me was just beginning. It was as life-changing as I thought it would be.