I originally signed my enlistment paperwork on June 30th, 1997. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and there’s a lot that has stuck in my head about that time. It was the culmination of a couple of long days. The doctor at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Fargo was supposedly a real stickler, and my recruiter was afraid that he would disqualify me because I had hepatitis when I was a kid. As a result, we had to make the much longer drive to Sioux Falls, SD. There was a series of physicals and interviews, and I gave away more bodily fluids that day than I care to remember. Weirdly, the most vivid memory from that time is sitting in a lobby and watching the ceremony where England relinquished control of Hong Kong back to China (in my head, the symbol for me joining the Navy will always be the British flag descending and a Chinese flag taking its place).
I then spent a full year in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP) before reporting to boot camp on June 30th, 1998. I was enlisted for a few years before receiving an officer scholarship and going to college. After graduation, I was commissioned as an Ensign, and I’ve now been a Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) for almost 8 years. All told, it’s been over 15 years since I first took the oath (unfortunately, the 1 year in DEP and 4 years in college don’t count towards my retirement). To borrow a poker term, I’m pot-committed at this point, but even if I weren’t, I would probably stay in the Navy.
Over the past decade and a half, I’ve obviously been asked about my reasons for joining up quite a few times. My standard answer is, “It was the quickest way out of North Dakota.” While that is certainly true, it’s not the real answer. Honestly, the real reasons are so complicated and intertwined that I don’t even know exactly why I joined.
I had other options. There wasn’t any money for me to go to college, but I was smart enough and athletic enough that I could have earned some scholarships and grants to smaller universities and junior colleges (especially if I would have applied myself during my senior year instead of taking it off because I already knew where I was going). As an agriculture and oil-based economy, North Dakota is usually a fairly easy place to find a job as well. That didn’t really seem like the right fit though.
My father was in the Navy for a few years during the 70s, but he never really talked about it, and I don’t remember any fundamental need to follow in his footsteps. There was certainly some patriotism involved, but not enough to justify signing away my entire early adulthood. There may have been some of the “join the millitary, see the world” type motivation as well. For a kid that had never seen the ocean, the Navy can be a very tempting (and terrifying) prospect.
The reality is that I just always knew that I was going to join the Navy. From a fairly early age, it was all I wanted to do. I don’t remember wanting to be a firefighter or astronaut like most kids. I was going to be in the Navy. I was going to be a sailor. I used to joke that I was my recruiter’s favorite quota because I simply walked into his office and signed up. There was no work on his part at all.
Personally, I just think that my subconscious mind was calculating all the various factors and came to the conclusion that the Navy was for me. This makes a little bit of sense if you’ve ever studied Naturalistic Decision Making, but I won’t bore you with the details here.
Whatever the reasons were, it worked out well. My patriotism is satisfied every morning when I put my uniform on. I understand some of my father’s experiences. I have seen the world and sailed in every ocean except the Arctic. I have earned a couple college degrees, and I get to say that I am living my childhood dream. And yes, it did get me out of North Dakota incredibly fast and efficiently.
So, if you started this short novel hoping for a solid answer on why I enlisted or if you googled “reasons to join the Navy” in the hopes of making your decision, I apologize that I haven’t been more helpful. I’m always willing to answer any questions and bust any myths that you may have heard, but my experience probably isn’t the best guide for others. I will say that I don’t regret my decision, and If I could do it all over again, I would still be where I am.