The Admiral and the Recruit

We were chatting in the office, a co-worker, my boss, and I, and as these conversations often do, the subject of the conversation flitted from one topic to the next. Somehow, I don’t remember how, the topic turned to our military careers. My boss, who had never been in the military but has been supporting the fleet as a civilian employee of the DoN for more years than I think would be polite to mention, has made it a habit to hire ex-military guys. In fact, ex-military is all she hires.

Anyway, she had mentioned that she knew from the first day I started working for her when I was still in the Navy that I wasn’t a career guy. There was just something that didn’t fit. She was right, obviously. I left the Navy after ten years to work for her as a civilian, and I suppose you could say that the military lifestyle never stuck with me in full. At the same time, though, my ten years has given me a unique perspective, a perspective I think is important to put on display today.

There’s something of a folklorish tale/urban legend that exists in the training culture of the Navy. It’s a parable, really, maybe a fable, either way it comes with its own moral, and I’ve never seen anything remotely close to it happen in real life.

It begins with a young, pimply faced recruit in boot camp. His head’s freshly shaved, his uniform is pressed with knife sharp creases and he answers in tight, “Yes Sir!” and “No Sir!” He, like most sailors at that point of their career, is beyond proud of who he is, and what he’s becoming.

One day, the recruit’s division is lined up in their barracks, and a surprise inspection is popped on them by a three star Admiral. “Attention on DECK!” cries the watchman at the door, and the long, open room is filled for a brief moment with a cacophony of boots scuffing along the deck, and arms slamming down against thighs as the entire division as a unit snaps to attention. All is silent after that.

The silence is eventually broken up by the clacking of dress shoes against linoleum, and out from one behind one of the bunks blocking the direct view of the barracks’ door appears the Admiral. He’s tall, towering over most of the division, his chest is covered with ribbons, so many that half the division expect the man to turn around and see them continue to cluster down his back. His crisp white uniform looks more like it was carved than starched and ironed, his salt and pepper gray hair looking as though it were machined out of some block of metal. He wears a grim look on his weatherbeaten face, and his eyes are sharp and powerful as they sweep the room.

He carries his cover under his arm, and a few moments later a quick shuffling of boots announces the arrival of a Lieutenant with a clip board tucked into the crook of her arm and a pen poised and at the ready. The inspection begins.

Our young sailor watches the imposing figure of the Admiral as he moves from one sailor to the next. He’s giving them a solid look, grilling them with questions about their general orders, or the chain of command, or the ranking insignia of commissioned officers in the Navy. He does this all down the line opposite the sailor, turns on his heel, and starts working his way closer to the young recruit.

The young recruit begins sweating, repeating his general orders in his head, trying to look over his uniform in his mind’s eye to see if he missed any loose threads, or if he ironed out any double creases. Still, he can’t help letting his eyes shift off to the right, to the Admiral who continued to close in on him.

He was only three sailors away now. Two. One. As the Admiral turned to inspect the recruit, the young sailor saw something. Something very important.

But he snapped his eyes front in time to keep the Admiral from docking him on military bearing. He adopted that “thousand yard” stare that the entire division was practicing. The Admiral’s face became a blur, the ribbons, all of it. He could hear the voice, muffled under the sound of his own heart beating in his ears, like the high ranking officer was talking through a box full of cotton, and the recruit had to force himself to answer.

“Sir! My fifth general order is to quit my post only when properly relieved, Sir!” he barks. The Admiral continues inspecting, whispering comments to the Lieutenant at his side. Finally, after what seems an eternity, the Admiral says, “You look good son, excellent.”

“Sir, thank you, Sir,” the recruit says, and before the Admiral has a chance to pivot and move on to the next sailor, the recruit adds, “Permission to speak, Sir?”

A strange energy all of a sudden flooded the room. Everyone was already as still as stone, as silent as a mausoleum, but you could tell the apprehension and angst that was leaping from one recruit to the next they way they snuck bewildered looks over in his and the Admiral’s direction.

“What is it?” the Admiral asked, his brow furrowed.

The recruit didn’t even look the Admiral in the face when he said, “Sir, your gig line is off, Sir.”

This time there was movement. Heads turned and mouths fell open in amazement. The young lieutenant’s eyes bulged, not at the thought that an Admiral would have a gig line out of alignment, but at the idea that an E-nothing recruit would correct him on it.

The Admiral’s eyes narrowed, and the muscles in his jaw worked furiously. He looked as though he was going to explode, but at the last second he looked down, grabbed his belt buckle, and pushed it over two inches so its edge would perfectly match the zipper flap of his trousers, and the line of his shirt such that there was a neat, straight line that went from his neck down to his crotch.

“I was wondering when someone was going to say something about that,” he said with a grin on his face. He then asked the division why he had to get down to almost the last sailor before someone corrected the Admiral on his failure in military bearing. No one answered. “Drop!” he ordered, and immediately the entire division flopped to the ground, body straight, knees locked, arms holding them in the up position for push ups.

“Not you,” he told the recruit who had corrected them. “They’re getting push ups, you’re getting a promotion…”


It’s been a while since I heard or told that story. What brought it up in my head was this item over at Think Progress. Here, Republican congressman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina refers to a solider who challenged his security clearance and refused to let the man go to the gym as a, “Two bit security guard.”

He doesn’t get it.

Could the soldier have said, “Oh, this guy’s a congressman, go on sir, we don’t need your paperwork, you’re good”? Sure he could have. He might have gotten reamed for it, but higher ups also get to slide an awful lot too, so there’s a chance the soldier would have been just fine, too. It depends on the command, really. The point is, he was doing his job, and a good chunk of that job at that moment was keeping his unit, and this congressman, safe.

For this he’s called a two bit security guard.

This could only come from someone who has neither an understanding or at least a deep respect for the culture of the military lifestyle… But, hey, those Republicans really love this country and support her troops, don’t they?

More from Memeorandum: The Carpetbagger Report, Firedoglake, Eschaton, Daily Kos, Balloon Juice, AMERICAblog and Oliver Willis. Also, VetVoice, Comments from Left Field and Blue Girl, Red State




(editorial blessing by DrGail)

4 Responses to “The Admiral and the Recruit”

  1. Danube of Thought says:

    Who says it was a soldier? Was it even an American?

  2. Dustin says:

    Do you really think anybody but an America would have direct access to a US Congressman, in the green zone, alone? Come on, don’t kid yourself.

  3. Chief says:

    Nice story. Gives one goosebumps, I suppose. I don’r know what Navy has divisions of men. The Navy I was in had Companys in Boot Camp. A destroyer squadron of eight ships had two squadrons, 4 ships each. the can I was on was in DesDiv 222.

    People like Rep. McHenry make me wish for a mandatory draft. Everyone of those sorry-ass Repubs should be forced to serve in the military.

  4. Hey, Chief. When I went through, fall of 96, they had shift boot camp companies to divisions… Can’t remember how much earlier, but I remember a couple of older petty officers referencing it. When I got to the ship, we were all in divisions. I was in RL Div on board Ike for about seven years before I left it.

    I don’t necessarily want these people to have been drafted, or to voluntarily serve. I don’t think military service is mandatory for elected service, and I don’t think pandering is a necessity, though, in Hampton Roads Virginia, it kinda is. I just want people to respect the service. If they don’t understand something, then say so.

    That’s kind of the same deal with Tuzlagate. I don’t care if she didn’t have to duck sniper fire. I really don’t care what Hillary did as the first lady. I just want her to be up front with what she brought to the table. If she picked up a few things in the White House, that’s fine, but if you’re pretending you’re commando first lady co-president, I have issue with that, you know?

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