The Journey Begins
We've heard it said many ways: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," "Focus on the journey, not the destination," "...it is the journy that matters in the end," but I think Tolkien said it best, "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road,
and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." I read The Lord of the Rings when I was in ninth grade, so maybe that's where my love of adventure began...who knows. This is the tale of my journey, my adventure, into the United States Navy.
I guess I should probably give you, the reader, a little bit of back-story about what’s going on. I grew up in a small, rural area of West Virginia, known as Big Otter. It wasn’t a city or a town, or any other classification of living area—at least in the minds of most people. In West Virginia, it was known as a ‘holler.’ Yes, I grew up in a little West Virginia ‘holler.’ I really don’t know how to describe it more than to say it was just a little speck on the map out in the middle of nowhere in the big, central backwoods of the hills of West Virginia. I had ridden on a school bus for over an hour each way to the only high school in Clay County for the past four years, and those days were officially over—finally. Today was the to be the first day in a new chapter of my life, a chapter which would lead me away from the hum-drum doings of ‘nowhere, West Virginia’ and into the larger world that I wanted to learn more about. Today, only a few short days after graduating high school, I was joining the United States Navy, and I had it all figured out—or so I thought.
I guess most kids in my situation probably went with their parents to meet their recruiter in order to pick up their orders and plane tickets. They probably rode to the airport with their parents, and waved goodbye as they boarded the aircraft that would whisk them away from the normality of civilian life. I was not “most kids,” it seemed. My recruiter was coming all the way from Charleston to pick me up because my family didn’t have the money to drive me to the airport, that and because they really weren’t very interested in making sure I made it to the airport.
I think it’s safe to say that no one in my family, immediate or extended, were excited to see me leave that day. Military service was not a tradition in our family. No one in recent family memory had ever actively served, aside from my Uncle—but he had married into the family and therefore technically wasn’t “family.” Their fears, fears that I would “go out and get myself killed” or “go to war and get myself killed,” were among some of the most heated arguments ever heard in our family as that fateful day approached.
I had gone against my family’s wishes in deciding to enlist. More than that, I had gone against Grandma’s wishes when I made that decision—and you rarely, if ever, went against Grandma’s wishes—and you always paid the price when you went against Grandma’s wishes. It was only the first step in my becoming the black sheep of my family, but that’s a story for another day.
I remember my mother’s tears, and that final hug, as I crossed the freshly cut grass—grass that I’d cut for the last time only the day before—and climbed into my recruiter’s vehicle. Mom had shed tears of sadness, but the tears welling up in my eyes were tears of joy. I was stepping out into the world on my own. I was setting off on an adventure that would encompass the next nine years of my life, and I was eager to get underway. Underway, a term that I understood at that point, but true understanding of what it meant to get Underway would not come for a few more months—not until I arrived at my first duty station aboard the USS Belknap (CG-26.)
We didn’t say much on the way to the airport, my recruiter and I. He related a few stories about his own first experiences, but I don’t remember much about those stories. I was writing a story of my own and living in the moment, relishing my first few moments as a Man. While it was an adventure, that much was sure, I looked at it as a research project as well. I knew I wanted to be a writer even then, and I wanted to learn everything. I had decided, in my infinite eighteen-year-old wisdom, that the best way to learn to write about spaceships was to learn everything I could about real ships—and what better way to do that than joining the Navy, right? Well, I was young, and the logic seemed sound at the time. I never expected my research project to take me down the many rabbit holes, side-tracks, and diversions that it did. But here I am, still researching, still learning, but finally writing.