Wednesday, June 10, 2020

To one of my Navy boot camp drill instructors

Hello, Rick.

So, my thought process went something like this:

“I was one of thousands of recruits that he shepherded through Great Lakes. There’s no way he’ll remember me…
“…Of course, I was one of those recruits that made the mistake of standing out in the crowd—a habit that dogged me through the rest of my brief naval ‘career…’
“…He was also the guy who made sure I was always on watch for company inspections because my dark beard could always be counted on as a hit regardless of how recently I shaved…
“…I was one of those short, hairy recruits so he did give me the nickname ‘Ewok…’
“There’s also the photographic evidence…”

All that being said, you have an uncredited appearance in a 2019 documentary short that I produced in the form of what they call “archival” footage—which is actually a photograph from the Company 099 “Cruise Book” insert from the spring of 1993,. You can see it in the attached link at around timecodes 01:48–01:50.

If you don’t remember me, that was somewhat expected and probably a good thing.

If you do remember me, I formally apologize for being a pain in the ass and triple-failing all my PT tests. I also feel that I should relate to you the following anecdote from my time under your instruction:

At one point—as many recruits do—I seriously fucked up…

I was standing watch at the rear entrance to the building, right outside the compartment, then occupied by Company 099. As I stood at my post, I could hear a commotion inside. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time. You and Petty Officer Kevan were pissed off about something that had happened. It wasn’t long before I witnessed drill instructors from other companies in the building passing my post on their way to participate in correcting the entire company for some unknown error—at least it was unknown to me at the time.

My heart raced—even worse than it is at this moment, as I recall the experience—as I listened to 80+ recruits being subjected to punitive calisthenics. A muffled question was asked and I heard the combined voices of all those young men recite, “Skinny-fat-fat-skinny!” in response. It was at that moment I realized that the error my company was being punished for was mine. The mistake I made was failing to properly stow a uniform item—which, of course, had my name right on it. At one point, my peripheral vision alerted me to the presence of one of the recruit section leaders, peering at me through the window in the compartment door. I turned and saw holding up the uniform item that caused all the ruckus, pointing at my name stenciled on the fabric, and smiling at me.

As I stood outside, listening to everyone getting cycled, hating myself, and dreading the moment that I had to walk back into that room, you appeared, stood in front of me and said, “You WILL go to I-T!” Words that I always dreaded to hear and yet I knew that they’d catch up to me eventually.

At the end of my watch, I returned to the compartment. The drill instructors had left for the day. No one said anything to me. Then the announcement came over the 1MC: “All I-T candidates, report to the quarterdeck with your hard cards…”

I walked to the front of the compartment, stepped into the empty drill instructors’ office, grabbed my hard card—the Naval recruit’s equivalent to the mythical “Permanent Record” of our youth—and left to face the music.

As I stood at attention on the quarter deck with the other “candidates,” a drill instructor that I didn’t recognize approached us. He took my hard card, looked at it, looked at me, and asked, “Why are you here?”

All I could say was, “I fucked up, sir.”

He looked at my hard card again and said, “No, I mean, why are you here? There’s nothing written on your hard card.” All I could do was stare at him in disbelief. He looked at it again, then handed it back to me saying, quietly, “Go back to your compartment and don’t say anything.”

“Yes, sir.”

I did as I was instructed and I-T remained a dreaded mystery to me for the rest of my time at Great Lakes. Back then, I figured that you had a lot going on that day so you may have simply forgotten to record my mistake and its attendant consequences. Only now, do I wonder if you actually forgot, or if you “forgot,” because some part of you wanted to spare me the punishment you knew I was terrified of receiving.

I honestly do not want to know.


Joseph L. Puente
(Formerly) CTR3 USN