Naval Boot Camp Adventures

March 16, 1970 — Day One

On the day when my enlistment in the U.S. Navy officially started, my parents drove me to the Federal in Building in Denver Colorado. It was a bleak and snowy day, and we had to get up very early to get me to the building on time.

I had signed up for the Navy because it was the Viet Nam War era, and I knew that the Selective Service (also known as the Military Draft) was breathing down my neck. I had signed up in August of 1969 for a two-year enlistment as a Sea Bee. I would be one of the sailors who usually worked on construction sites. I figured that my experience in driving trucks and large farm equipment would be beneficial. And when I got out I would have the G.I. Bill to aid in my continuing education.

My dad was driving. I could tell that he was putting on a brave face as we drove through the snowy countryside between Flagler and Denver. We had to be in Denver before 9:00 a.m. My Dad had been in the Army in World War II, and now he reminded me (again and again) not to volunteer for anything, and told me over and over, “Don’t be a hero.”

When we arrived at the Denver Federal building, I said goodbye, and my dad got out of the car and handed me my suitcase, and shook my hand and said good-bye to me. He gave me one last piece of advice: “Don’t be a hero. Don’t volunteer for anything.”

I entered the Denver Federal building and headed for the 5th floor, where my papers ordered me to report. They took me into a room where I put my belongings and had me wait to sign a bunch of papers. There were a bunch of other draftees waiting in line. After I had signed the papers, they added me to another line for a physical exam. They listened to my heart and pulse and prodded me in all sorts of ways. One of the exams that I remember in particular was the hearing exam. They took about ten of us into a soundproof room and played notes that we listened to. We were supposed to raise our finger when we heard something. They closed the door and started the sounds. At about this time a bunch of fire trucks went by outside the building. They continued going by for the remainder of the test. I figured they would tell all of us and we failed or that we would have to take the test again. But no, when the people giving the exam came in, they said we all had passed.

Finally, we finished the exam and we were told to wait in the hall. We waited and waited. Finally a chief came out and saw us sitting there, and asked us what we lazy bums were doing just sitting around. So he ordered us into his office and told us that he has a lot of paperwork to do, and he gave us a few rubber stamps, and we started stamping his signature on a pile of paperwork. We did this for what seemed to be several hours.

At last, someone came out and told us that the bus to the airport would be arriving shortly. We were given tickets to San Diego, California and we headed out. There were about ten of us going to California.

This would be my first time on an airplane, so I was very excited. The aircraft was not very full, and once we were airborne, the stewardess invited me to come into the lounge area of the plane and sit with the other men who were bound for military training in San Diego. The stewardesses were very nice to us; they chatted with us and offered us snacks and drinks during the flight.

When we got off the plane, it was getting dark. We asked the information desk where we would catch the bus to the Naval Recruit Training Facility. She said that the guy who would take us was behind the baggage pick-up. So we found the baggage pick-up, then we wandered around trying to find him. Finally, he appeared, and told us to form ranks and stand at attention.

Most of us had no idea what standing at attention was like, and he just hollered at us, “Get to attention!” Then he or one of his assistants, would get in our face and order us, “Get to attention! Didn’t you hear me? Get to attention! Are you a mama’s boy or something? Are you gonna cry? Get to attention!” He left us standing at attention for long time. Then he told us to stand at parade rest. I had no idea what parade rest was like. Some of the other guys changed their stance, so I tried to mimic them, but that was not good enough, and I would be hollered at again. This whole time, new people kept arriving and they would be added to the formation. Finally, about midnight, the Navy bus came and we were ordered to double-time getting on the bus. So there was a mad scramble to get on the bus.

The bus drove a short distance to the Naval Recruit Depot. Several drill instructors got on the bus and told us to double time getting off the bus. We would check in to the barracks and find some place to sleep. They would wake us up tomorrow when Boot Camp would begin. I guessed that it was about 2 AM at that point. (We were not supposed to bring watches with us.)

So we went into the barracks and tried to find a bed to sleep on in the dark. We had no idea what the barracks looked like, or how they were laid out, and we were stumbling over beds and suitcases and people were loudly complaining about all the noise. Finally, I found a bed that was unoccupied and got in for some sleep.

Day Two

Bootcamp
T.L. Hutton BT1, our company commander.

At about 4 AM. the barracks erupted in all sorts of mayhem. The company commanders came into the barracks banging trash cans and hollering at the tops of their voices that it was time to get our lazy asses out of bed and line up outdoors. I think we had about two minutes to get outdoors and stand at attention. Then they called out each of our names and told us to go stand in the two lines behind our Company Commander. My Company Commander was BT1 (Boilerman Technician Petty Officer 1st Class) T.L. Hutton and my Company was 70-156 (it was the 156th company formed in 1970).

There were about a half dozen Company Commanders there that morning and they all said their names. I didn’t get any of their names, because I was barely awake, cold, and it was dark. However, I had no trouble hearing them, because they were not speaking quietly. I think a large percentage of the new sailors were as befuddled as I was. There was mayhem from the beginning. Finally, after considerable turmoil, everyone was in the correct company.

I very quickly I got to hate my Company Commander…

We marched (at least that’s what we thought we were doing) over to a warehouse that contained lots of Navy uniforms. The company commander and several of his assistants went along with us, say encouraging things in each individual’s ear like, “YOU ARE OUT OF STEP!”, “EYES STRAIGHT AHEAD!”, “WIPE THAT SMILE OF YOUR FACE!”, THAT’S NOT HOW YOU TURN A CORNER!”, etc. This was said at full volume, inches from the individual’s ear or face. We could feel the spittle all over the sides of our heads.

We arrived in two lines, and were ordered to halt and wait for the previous companies to get their uniforms. Finally, it was our turn. We marched up to the door of the warehouse, where someone measured us and wrote the size on a piece of paper. Then we proceeded through the warehouse, where we got our complete uniform. Once we received the uniform, we put on our new dungarees. We put our original civilian clothes and our other non-essential civilian belongings into a box and we addressed it to where we wanted our clothes sent. I put my parent’s address, “Bill and Helen Pickens, Flagler Colorado 80815” on the box. I was told that was not enough of an address. Finally, I convinced them that it was, and they told me “If it was lost don’t blame them”. (I later learned it had arrived at home with no problems)

Bootcamp
Walking across Nimitz Bridge.

Finally, it was time for breakfast. We marched across the bridge that separated the novices from the older recruits. We marched to the galley and started waiting for our turn to enter the mess hall. More sailors kept coming and our company commander kept cramming us into a smaller area. Eventually he had us standing shoulder to shoulder and as close front to back as we could comfortably stand. But he was not satisfied. He called out “NUTS TO BUTTS!” again and again, until we were packed like sardines in a can. My claustrophobia really set in — all you could see was the head in front of you, and if you lifted up your legs you would not fall. The Company Commanders was still not satisfied, they were yelling “There are more Recruits coming and we need to make room for them!” Finally, we were led in to breakfast. The cafetera is the T shaped building below, and we were packed into the area just left of the intersection of the two buildings. Finally, we were marched around the building to the right and entered on the side.

Camp Nimitz, a part of Nimitz Naval Training Center, located in San Diego, California. Mess Hall is in the center, Grinder is the large empty area above the Mess Hall. My barracks were the third building on the right-hand side of the photograph, directly facing the Grinder. (And If I had known where to look, the house where Marilyn’s family lived was at the top of the hill above the camp, only two miles away.) This area is now filled with hotels and other businesses, and the nation’s only Naval Boot Camp is currently located at the Naval Station Great Lakes, in Lake County, Illinois.

Camp Nimitz Barracks

I was starved and there was a lot of food. I piled my tray full and found our company table. I had not been sitting down for more than a minute or two when the company commander came over from where he was eating and told us it was time to go. “Form up out front!” And then we were marching over to get our hair cut.

We marched back to the bridge, broke formation as we crossed the bridge, and resumed marching in cadence when we cleared the bridge. The bridge was a creaky old wooden structure that crossed an estuary. It was explained during our training that soldiers always broke formation whenever they crossed a bridge, because everyone picking up their feet and putting them down at the same time would set up harmonics in the bridge structure, which could cause damage and the possibility of collapse. Many years later, the wooden bridge was replaced by a concrete bridge.

Bootcamp
Getting a Navy haircut.

Our first military haircut was more of a shearing. First we stood in line waiting for a barber. There were several barbers cutting hair. They would first take the hair clippers and take off a strip of hair from one side of the head to the other, then they would take off everything else. In a few minutes they were done and calling “Next! It reminded my of a movie I had seen of Australian sheep herders shearing the wool off their sheep.

The sheared heads were ugly. Some of them looked like they had not been washed for weeks. There were spots where the barber had drawn blood, or other sores, and there were sometimes long pieces of hair that the barber had missed cutting. The shaved heads took a while to get used to, even when we were looking at them every day. Luckily, we had hats that covered them up.

After receiving our military haircuts, we were marched over to our new barracks and were indoctrinated into our new life. We first learned how to put all the new uniforms into the small lockers, and if the task was not done the right way, the company commander or his assistant would tear them out and we would have to start over.

We then learned how to make our beds in less than the allotted time. After the Company Commander showed us how to make the bed, we were required to make it to his satisfaction within the allotted time. This required numerous attempts, and if it was not to his satisfaction he would tear everything up and we would have to start all over. Finally, we got so we could make our beds, but not in the required time. So he told us that we would have to sleep on the bed and not between the sheets and not pull the wool blanket over us. Just jump off of the bed, tighten it up and stand at attention at the end of the bed. My heart sank. It was the middle of winter and we were supposed to sleep with no blankets. Plus, I would shortly learn that we could not close our windows because of fears of meningitis, which was a common problem when people were living in close quarters.

At that point I was glad I went to San Diego and not to the Great Lakes training center! Open windows in California was not as much of a problem as it might have been in the northern end of the country. As a side note, I should mention that the company that was below us in the barracks, during the second part of our Boot Camp training, did have a case of meningitis, and they did have to go into quarantine. Guards were posted at the entrance to the infected barracks and food was brought in for the recruits to eat. They were delayed in graduating from Boot Camp until they could complete training, after the quarantine.

We learned how to come to attention when anyone entered the barracks. The first one to see the new person come into the barracks was supposed to yell “Attention on Deck!” Then everyone had to stop whatever they were doing, snap to the foot of their bunk, and snap to attention. Of course, anyone outranks a new recruit, so we were always having to do this.

Also, when we were outdoors, we had to salute everyone who was not a recruit. When we finally got out of Boot Camp, we just had to salute officers. We spent considerable time in training to get our salute just right. Most of the recruits wanted to salute like they saw it done on TV, but that was wrong. In those first days, we spent a lot of time getting it just right, and we worked in a group, doing it in unison. Of course, if just one person messed up, we all had to do it again and again until all 50 of us got it right.

My Time on Camp Nimitz

After the first day of Boot Camp, the time seemed to fly by. I remember bits and pieces of what happened, but I certainly don’t remember the order in which we did things. This is a random assortment of memories.

Washing Clothes

When I joined the Navy, I figured that we would send our soiled laundry to a cleaners or at least have washing machines that we could use. But no, early in our training we had to learn to wash our clothes by hand.

There were two large washing tables made of concrete with a lip around the edge that stopped water from running over the edge. We had to lay our clothes out on the table, get a bucket of water and scrub our clothes with a brush and a harsh bar of soap. Then we would rinse the clothes and hang them out to dry on a clothesline overnight.

That night we would have to post guards to make sure that no one would steal our clothes. And during the night the Boot Camp staff always made regular rounds to see that none of the guards had fallen asleep. If they found a guard asleep, they would write up the sailor, and then the next morning the whole company would be held responsible for this failure of duty. Each guard session was two hours, but when we got to the real Navy each watch was four hours.

Cleaning the Head (Restroom)

On our second day in Boot Camp it was time to clean the head (the restroom in Navy language). I was on the team that was assigned to do this. We went in and really made it shine in the allotted time. The Company Commander came in to inspect our work. According to him, the head was a pig sty, and we had to really, REALLY clean it. There were just a few minutes left to get it right, and he pointed out some of the dirty spots.

So we sprang into action, and we cleaned the spots that he pointed out. A few minutes later he came in again to give us our final inspection. He said that the head was still dirty, and he pointed out that the bases of the commodes were filthy, and we were over our time limit. “SO GET BUSY!” So we grabbed our rags and started scrubbing again. He let us scrub for a long time before he came back in. Finally, he came in again, and still he was not satisfied with the results. He really got mad and ordered us to go get our toothbrushes and come back and use them to clean the stains in the crack at the base of the toilets, or commodes also he wanted the gaps between the tiles on the floor and the shower stalls cleaned. He left us to scrub for some time. Finally, he came back and he finally found the head to be declared that we had spent enough time on the toilets and we would have to come back and continue later.

It was an ongoing battle until I reached DS2 at which point I was ordering subordinates that they had to keep cleaning. On the ship I was on, it was surprising how dirty the restroom could get when 70 people had to us the two urinals and toilets.

An hour or two later, after dinner, the Company Commander handed out new Navy issued toothbrushes to our group. I was very happy not to have to brush my teeth with my old toothbrush that had scrubbed all that bathroom crud.

Cleaning the Barracks

I was assigned to clean the head in the first days so I don’t have any stories to tell about cleaning the sleeping quarters. But it was always really clean. They cleaned the windows, shined everything that could be shined, dusted every nook and cranny, wax and polished the floor both concrete and tiles. Everything!

Dental Exams

The dental exams started several weeks into Boot Camp. We marched over the bridge to the dental building and waited in a long line for several hours while the dentist examined each individual. When everyone was examined, we returned to the barracks.

Individual people then returned to the dental department for follow up work. In my case, I had no follow up, which surprised me just about everyone was called back. A lot of people had to go back to have their wisdom teeth removed, but they never asked for me to return. Then years later, when I was out of the Navy, when dentist told me I had to have my wisdom teeth removed, I was skeptical.

Medical Exams and Vaccinations

Bootcamp
Physical check-up.

We were tested over several days for hearing, vision, heart problems, and other pre-existing conditions. Among other things, I received two pairs of ugly, unbreakable new glasses with a strap around the neck to keep them on in combat. Everyone got a lot of shots for everything. We would line up and several teams of Navy Medics, one standing on each side, would use special medical pressure guns to deliver our required vaccinations.

Swimming Test

Bootcamp
Survival training – using trousers as flotation device.

I felt sorry for the sailors who had trouble swimming. The instructors were really harsh with them and they had to go back again and again until they could pass the test. If they could not pass it within a certain length of time, they failed Navy training and they were washed out of the Navy.

Intelligence Exams

We spent days taking exams.

Early in our time at Navy Boot Camp, we were given many tests, that would determine our future role in the Navy.

Marching

In Boot Camp, we marched everywhere. When we would go for an exam, a meal or a movie we would march. Our Recruit Chief Petty Officer would give the commands and we would follow them. Various individuals had specific duties such as the flag bearer, and the guards. The guards were mainly used for crossing streets. When we would approach an intersection, they would run out and stop the traffic and allow the marchers to cross the intersection. On military bases the marchers always have the right of way.

Smoking Breaks

After working for several hours, we would really be ready for a break. Then Company Commander would call for a smoking break. Everybody would stop, and most of the men would grab a cigarette, but there were a handful of us who would not. After a few minutes, the Company Commander saw that not everybody was smoking. So he ordered the people who were not smoking to get their piece (rifle) and start doing pushups until the break was over.

All future breaks had the above requirements. The group of non-smokers shrank rapidly. I held out about the longest, but finally even I started smoking. As soon as I got out of Boot Camp, I stopped doing it and I have not been tempted to try smoking ever again.

Marine Boot Camp Next Door

Our barracks was close to the back fence, and there seemed to be an easy escape route for the Naval recruits if the Navy Boot Camp or the sharp-tongued Company Commander had become too much for a wild young rebel. All a guy would have to do was stealthily get up late at night, when everyone was asleep, and run over to the back chain-link fence, which did not seem to be much of a daunting perimeter for the Navy Boot Camp training area. Hopefully, a rebellious young recruit could find a hole in the fence or climb over it, and he would be gone. The fence didn’t look all that daunting. It seemed to be a quick, easy path to FREEDOM!

Little did the rebel recruit know that on the other side lurked the United States Marine Corps Boot Camp. The Marines were a whole lot tougher than the Navy. The Marine Corps had much better security and a Navy escapee would be picked up almost immediately. The stray sailor was always quickly assigned to a USMC Bootcamp unit, and then negotiations began on returning the sailor to the Navy, and his punishment for going AWOL. The sailor would have to stay on the Marine side of the boot camp fence, doing regular training exercises with the Marine recruits, until everything was figured out. Usually, it took two to three weeks before the Navy escapee was back on our side of the fence. Neither the Navy nor the Marines were ever in a hurry to resolve the situation.

So every morning when we got up and went out for our training, we would see the trainee Marines about half a mile away on the other side of the fence, dressed in their green uniforms and doing their energetic morning run, under the surveillance of a gruff old drill Sergeant (who made our Company Commander seem almost like a normal human) and sprinkled in amongst them were occasionally a few woebegone sailors, struggling along at the rear in their blue dungarees.

Training Movies

Bootcamp
Early morning theater

In the morning, we would wake up early and march over the bridge to an outdoor theater to watch a training movie, then return for breakfast. This was a multi-purpose area. The Protestants held their Sunday services here, and at the other end of the spectrum, if any of the men got into disputes with each other, they would duke it out here on this platform, in what the Navy traditionally called a “smoker.

Second Phase

For the second phase of training, my company moved across the bridge, from the barracks circled in red on the right side of the picture to the barracks circled in red on the lower left side of the picture. Each barracks had two floors and we were on the lower floor.

Finally, after several weeks of training, I moved with my company from Camp Nimitz to the main Boot Camp area. With this move came a lot more freedom. For example, we could make telephone calls. Several pay phones were mounted on poles on the parade ground in front of the mess hall, and there was always a line waiting to make calls. However, the line could be no longer than three individuals and each individual could only talk for two minutes. So, to make a phone call home, I had to walk around while keeping an eye on the line. When someone would leave the phone, there would be a mad dash to fill the line again.

Most sailors did not have the change for a phone call. So they would have to call collect, but calling collect required more time, so most of the time was spent making the connection. For the one or two calls I made, I knew what I was going to say and I said it rapidly. For example, “I’ll be arriving on flight AA 960 Saturday, March 23, at 9:30 PM at Denver Airport.”

World War II Barracks in Phase Two

The first barracks we had in our training were made of concrete and looked like they would last forever. The new barracks we were assigned to were made of wood and appeared to be of World War II vintage, when they were mass producing everything at record speed. These barracks were fairly well-constructed, but at the same time they seemed old and not up to the current building standards.

san diego navy training base | School, NTC San Diego (Basic Electricity &  Electr... #base #B... | Navy training, Navy day, Camping san diego
Our new barracks.

Fire Fighting School

An important skill that the Navy emphasized during my training was fire fighting. In 1967, few years before I joined the Navy, the U.S.S. Forrestal had a big fire on board while it was in the Gulf of Tonkin. An electrical anomaly had caused a Zuni rocket on a F-4B Phantom aircraft to fire, and it struck an external fuel tank on an A-4 Skyhawk. Flammable jet fuel spilled across the flight deck, ignited, and triggered a chain-reaction of explosions, killing 134 sailors and injuring a further 161. The damage to the ship exceeded 72 million dollars, which did not include the damage to aircraft.

This disaster had prompted the Navy to revise its fire-fighting practices, and also to modify its weapon handling procedures. A deck wash down system had been installed on all aircraft carriers. And a newly established Farrier Fire Fighting School Learning Site in Norfolk, Virginia, was named after Chief Gerald W. Farrier, the commander of Damage Control Team 8, who was among the first to die in the fire and explosions on the Forrestal.

And so it was decided that every sailor in the U.S. Navy should be trained for a similar situation. We spent lot of time in Boot Camp learning fire fighting skills.

Here is a video about modern day fire fighting in the Navy.

Firearms Training

We spent some time working with the M1 Carbine rifle and the Colt 45 1911-A1. One day we went out to a range near Naval Air Station Miramar and spent the day shooting and handling firearms. On board a Navy ship, we would go to the ship’s armory to check out guns and bullets if there was an emergency situation. We were required to qualify with our weapons once a month.

Poison Gas Training

One day we went to a facility near Naval Air Station Miramar and we learned about all sorts of various poisonous agents and gases. We also learned how to don protective gear as quickly as possible.

There were numerous chambers where they demonstrated various chemical agents, from very lethal to mere irritants.

Final week of Boot Camp

First Shore Leave

On the last weekend of Boot Camp, we were allowed our first shore leave. Half of our company got four hours on Saturday afternoon, and the other half of company got four hours on Sunday afternoon. On Friday, the day before the shore leave weekend, we attended a class about going on shore leave. They handed out pamphlets that described San Diego, with maps of where we could go, as well as the places that the Shore Patrol (SP) said were off limits for us. They also explained how to use the bus to get downtown and gave us a warning about not coming back late. The areas we could visit were the area around the base along Nimitz Boulevard, and downtown San Diego, around the Armed Services YMCA, along Broadway from the bay to 5th Avenue. They suggested that we use the Armed Services YMCA as our base while exploring.

So on Saturday, I and several of my friends headed downtown to explore. Our first stop was the Armed Services YMCA, where we wandered around, getting an idea of what was there. We took a leisurely stroll along Broadway, from the bay to 5th Avenue, and then we turned around and headed back to the bus stop, because we wanted to get our ride back to the training center before our shore leave expired. Along the way we met some of our fellow training camp graduates, who were also exploring the area. Many of them had used their first shore leave to get some of their first alcohol since we had started boot camp. They were having a good time before returning to base. Of course, we were in our uniforms and we were easy for everyone on Broadway to spot, and we were asked many questions by various tourists, and we got all sorts of offers from doormen standing outside the restaurants and bars, offering us drinks.

First Paycheck

Bootcamp

We had been at Boot Camp for about 10 weeks (although it seemed much longer than that!) and it was time for our first paycheck. I was finally going to get some money to go home, to eat out and all sorts of other things. We got about $100.00 before our uniform cost was deducted, which was $60.00, giving me $40.00 in pocket money (which went much further than it would today). I had leave for a visit home, and then I had to report back to my next assignment.

Next Assignment Orders

Receiving Orders to Next Duty Station.

During the last days of Boot Camp, all of us were very anxious to see where the Navy would send us next. When we signed up, we had selected what we wanted to do in the Navy, and I had chosen service with the Seabees. But when I got to Boot Camp, several of my friends said that they were signing up for electronics training school. Digital computers were brand new, and everyone wanted training in this new field, although the training slots were very limited. The best electronics school, in nearly everyone’s opinion, was the Naval Tactical Data Systems school in Vallejo, California, and the second best was the Electronic Technician school at Treasure Island, near San Francisco. So I put down Naval Tactical Data Systems as my first choice school and Electronic Technician as my second choice school. (In Otero Junior College I had excelled at computer programming and math.)

Finally, when I received my orders, I found that I was to return to San Diego, where I would go to the Naval Training Center for the Basic Electronics training course. And upon successfully completing that course, I was then ordered to report to Naval Tactical Data Systems school in Vallejo, California. I could not have been any happier. I got my first choice of schools! I would be going with Albert Popp, who had survived Boot Camp with me.

Graduation Ceremonies

9-5 Day finally arrived! The ninth week and the fifth day (Friday) after our Boot Camp started, it was all over. We had formal graduation ceremonies, which, as I remember, involved a lot of marching around in military formation in full dress uniform. There was a flag corps, a marching band, an honored graduating company, a color guard, a recruit choir, and special honors for some of the individual graduates. Many of the graduates had proud family members and friends attending, sitting on the bleachers and watching as we paraded. I had already been through two civilian graduation ceremonies, and I had not expected or asked my parents to attend this one, but for some of the recruits getting through boot camp was a big occasion, especially if they were from a military family.

After graduation, we were all ready for some rest and relaxation before we went on to our next assignment. I made a quick trip back to Colorado, and then I reported back for more training in the Basic Electronics School at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. I was back at almost the same location, but now I was free to explore the area. I bought myself a bicycle and I rode up the hill to Old Town and Presidio Park, and discovered the little Congregational Church in Mission Hills, which I attended during the time I was at the Basic Electronics School.

Departure at Last!

The Old Blue Jacket web site has a lot of information on Boot Camp:

http://www.oldbluejacket.com/bootcamp.htm

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