Navy boot camp was very difficult for me. In fact, it took a medical miracle for me to even complete my training and earn the chance to call myself a United States Sailor.
I spent two weeks at Great Lakes on crutches not knowing whether I was being sent home, surgery or possibly back to training. I was put in such a position by a motivated first class petty officer there named Moore.
Petty Officer Moore made my life especially difficult. About a week into training, he guaranteed me he would put me in crutches and out of his Navy.
He came very close to keeping that promise, and on the day I packed my seabag and left his division to report to the division where they keep the injured recruits, he took time to ridicule me in front of 70 other recruits and declared my injury to be fake and declared me to be a washed-up, useless waste of taxpayer money. He told me I would never make it to the fleet, and that even if I ever did, I would never amount to anything in the Navy.
I was fortunate to heal and return to training, but the bad memories of that Sailor haunted me for a long time. A still unexplained miracle saved my chance to be a Sailor. X-rays and CT scans showed multiple stress fractures and chipped bones in my hips and one knee. Two days before I was supposed to have surgery, a final CT scan found no trace of the damage, besides faint scarring.
The doctors at Great Lakes were befuddled and confused, but having no reason to keep me from training, sent me back to work. I was eventually nominated for honors by my division commanders and graduated only a week later than my original scheduled graduation.
When I reported to school in Maryland, old traces of the knee injury caused me significant pain during the three-mile runs three times per week. I was offered the chance to fall out of the runs, but every time it happened, I just remembered Petty Officer Moore. I remembered that smirk on his face when he was laughing at me on my crutches trying to balance my seabag on my back. I ran and ran.
I ran so much that eventually my knee just accepted things and by the time I reported to my first ship, I was regularly particpating in 5k runs. Physically, I had overcome boot camp and proven Moore wrong.
That brings me to the present. I no longer run 5k events, but I have stayed in shape and can perform the physical requirements for my age. Just today, I had to prove that again during the fall physical fitness assessment (PFA). The basic idea is we have to do as many push-ups and sit-ups as we can in two minutes and then we run a mile and a half.
I had been a little bit concerned with the run because it has been a while since I ran anywhere at all. But in the back of my mind, Petty Officer Moore. His ridicule and his brutality. If I needed more inspiration this morning, I had my upcoming transfer to shore duty, which would have been put on hold for at least six months if I failed any of the three portions of the PFA. The way I was looking at it, I was a mile and a half from shore duty.
When I reached the halfway point, the old knee trouble started up. All I could think of was shore duty and boot camp. During the second half of the run, I walked at times. I calculated just how much I could walk and still pass and I was taking advantage of each chance to walk a few steps. The last 100 yards I ran harder than at any time in the last three years and I passed with 40 seconds to spare.
And then it happened. As I was walking around near the parking area trying to recover from the run, I caught a stare coming from the driver’s seat of a car parked near the finish line. A familiar face smiled at me and the man spoke.
“Don’t I know you?”
Sitting there at MY finish line, out of 313,000 Sailors in the Navy, sat Chief Petty Officer Moore (Recently promoted to Chief and reassigned to a ship a few piers down from my ship).
It took me a minute to recognize him, but then he smirked and I immediately remembered him.
“Yes, you do. You sure do know me. The knee healed up just fine,” I said.
“Glad to hear it,” he said.
“Remember what you told me, that I would never make it,” I asked him, doubting he would remember, although he had remembered my face.
“Yes, I do remember that. You were in division 331, right?”
“That’s right. Now I serve on USS HARRY S. TRUMAN. I am Mass Communication Specialist Second Class (Surface Warfare) David Cothran. And, so far, I have made it. I have been wanting to tell you that for a long time.”
He laughed and we parted ways. In all of that, I had forgotten just what that passing score meant to me. It means I will report to shore duty without delay once the time comes. It means I can reenlist in the Navy next week for three more years. It means that my wife and son will soon be living with me again. It means that my days at sea are numbered and few, and that my days playing father and husband are drawing near with no more obstacles.
For just a moment, facing that demon and declaring victory was more important than anything else. But it was just a moment. The moment was mine. I waited three long years for it.
Fair winds and following seas Chief Petty Officer Moore. Thank you for the extra inspiration. I needed it when I started the day.