My decision to join the Navy was not a very complicated one; I simply loved the ocean and everything about it. I had vactioned in Pensacola Beach, usually semi-annualy because it is my absolute favorite place on earth thus far in my life, and I fell in love with the life of the sailors I met each time I went. I contemplated going in right after graduation from high school, but my mother convinced me to use my state funded scholarship for at least a year first, and if I was still unhappy, I could revist the option. I did follow her wishes, and used my scholarship at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, but I had some bad experiences while enrolled and choose to go to school the following semester at a community college in Mississippi that my mom was working at.
My semester there was going fairly smoothly, I was taking eighteen hours and making good grades, working side jobs, and spending time with my friends in Little Rock. As spring break approached, my mother found out I had been sneaking around with my then banned first boyfriend and my best girl friend and really freaked out. We had a huge argument as I was leaving the house with my father for Florida. I spent the week in Pensacola Beach really contemplating my life and where it was going. I knew what I needed to do for myself, but I was scared. I met a few sailors, including females during that trip, and became more intrigued in entering the military. I returned from Florida still confused, hurt, and very lonely.
A few days after my return from Florida and school for the week I was laying on the couch in the back den of my parents home. The phone rang and it was a Navy recruiter; he wanted to know if I still wanted to join. I quickly stated I was interested and within a week I was a pledged memeber of the delayed entry program, as an Aviation Electronics Technician. I finished up my semester in Mississippi and spent as much time with my friends and family as possible. I went to boot camp and finished my requirements to perform in pass and review, and was shipped out to Pensacola for A-school. We arrived to Pensacola late in August of 2001. I had no idea the day I joined the military that my first official Navy watch would be the morning of September 11, 2001 or that the world as I knew it was about to completely change.
We spent the first few weeks of A-school waiting to class up and we were basically cleaning or standing watches during the day. My first scheduled watch was the morning of September 11. I was supposed to ask everyone entering to show id, grant them permission to come aboard, etc. A first class petty officer came whirling through the front door of the barracks about thirty minutes into our watch. He was carrying a television and did not saulte the flag or ask permission to come aboard. Fearing I would be in trouble for not standing a proper watch, I hastily asked him for his ID. “Shut the Fuck up,” he screamed at me. I was shocked so I shrunk back behind the podium in horror that I was going to be punished. He ignored me and plugged in the TV.
All we could see were that one of the twin towers had been hit by a plane. As we watched with intensity, a second aircraft came into view and slammed into the other tower. Cursing and frantic screaming began to take place. Our base was quickly locked down as we heard reports of bombings at the Pentagon, parents were calling the phone lines with such intensity they never stopped ringing. I finally got to talk to one of my parents that afternoon on a payphone as I did not have a room phone. He wanted to know how I was and that I was safe, but he had other news to share as well.
On September 10, 2001 my cousin, Brooke and her son Dylan were involved in a fatal car accident. Brooke died on the sceen and Dylan died earlier in the morning on September 11. My heart felt like it was exploding as I talked to my Nana on the other end. Her sobs are a sound I will never forget. My first thoughts were, I have to go home. I have to hug my Nana. I have to tell my cousin goodbye. As I made my way back to my room to figure out my next move, I had no idea it was already figured out for me. We classed up the very next morning; they were pushing us through school and getting us out to the fleet to prepare for war.
As we lined up for class that morning and began to make our introductions and I was informed that I would not be able to take any leave until after my time in school was over. That was day I learned for the first time that the government owned my body, my freedom, and everything about my life. As I walked around base with my ID card above my head in the prescribed uniform of the day as to not get shot by the marines gaurding the sidewalks I thought what is the outside world like now? We were locked down for two weeks, and the only people coming and going from base were our instructors.
Things finally started to calm down a bit as parents realized their kids had to finish their A-schools before they were going anywhere near the fleet and the military realized our nation was no longer at great threat to be under attack. We began to get some freedoms, but I still was not allowed to come and go as I pleased. There were so many rules, and so many ways to get into trouble. I began to drink to cope with my depression of being physcially separated from my family during our time of trauma and attempted to cover it the best I could by pretending everything was ok.
My friends began to get disillusioned with the military and had began to be counted as UA from school and the barracks. Because I often signed out with them, the command constantly harrassed me to tell them my friends’ whereabouts, but I did not even know where they were staying at the time, purpousfully, so that I had no information to give to the those questioning me. As Christmas time came near, I met with my friends one night before they were going to be processed out. We were with some civillians, but I was also spending time with some military friends on the other side of the hotel.
As per the norm, a sailor got out of hand in a room, and the Escambia County Sherrif’s Department were called to the scene. Upon the end of their investigation, they knocked on the door my friends were staying in. There were two UA military members, civillians over and under 21, and they had alcohol and drugs in the room. My bag was still in there, although I was visiting sailors on the other side of the hotel. They began searching for me and as I was walking back towards my friends room to see what was going on, they grabbed me and started questioning me and my other sailor friends.
They blamed us for having drugs and drinking underage and called the military police. We were scared out of our minds, but knew we had done nothing wrong. They loaded us in the Paddy Wagon and escorted us back to base; and let all of the civillians and my UA friends go. We were given breathalyzers and drug tests and placed on legal hold. I freaked, mostly because I had just been told school would be shut down for two weeks and we could take leave if we wanted to and had the days on the books. I wanted more than anything to go home and being on legal hold meant I could not put in my leave chit without special permission.
I told my story to our chief and he aggreed I was not a flight risk and allowed me to go home. Once I made it to my house, I was so relieved to be away from base. I got to hug my Nana for the first time since Brooke and Dylan died, and I got to participate in family tradtitions I had always taken for granted. I knew my decision to join the military would impact my life, but I had no idea how drastically the nature of the military and the climate of our country would change overnight. I knew then at 19 I was preparing to head to war, and that was something I never thought I would have to face.
People tried to tell me, Bush was going to be our president and we would be going to war most likely. They all begged me not to join the military, but of course I thought, what do you know? The Vietnam Veteran catfisher pleaded with me not to go, but not even he could talk me out of it. I was a true patriot back then, as far as following the constitution. I felt that my decision to join the Navy was something that I was supposed to do, and I planned on fullfilling my contract, but for the first time in my life I really felt as if I had absolutely no control and I didn’t. I thought I had little freedom living with my parents, I had no idea how little freedom I truly had in my life until I joined the military and it frightened me beyond belief.