03 July, 2009

Notes from the USO

Since I've been accused of being a "Jarhead Doxie" and also occasionally "poaching on Maggie's territory," I figured I'd indulge that characterization (talk about leaving oneself open to snark!) with a repost from my aborted attempt to create a new blog. This was originally posted elsewhere in the end of May."

What is it with Naval Officers? Seriously. And it's not just the pilots...

If I somehow fail to ID them simply by how they walk into the room*, I'll soon have it figured out by how they interact with me. It's like they're programmed to flit: "Ooh, it's female and under 40 years old. Flirt... on!" And then it's smiles and eye contact and teasing, whether they mean it or not.

It's tremendous fun, but it's always surprising--they can't all be like that! I'm surely stereotyping them, but I don't think I've met a single one at the USO who didn't at the very least smile just a bit more when he spoke to me. I'm beginning to think it must be something like a sport for them--something they do to pass the time...

Yes, they're very fun.

Marine recruits are fun too, but in an entirely different kind of way. This week a number of recruits were starting a couple days late. One of them proudly wore a shirt with USMC emblazoned on the front and a large Eagle, Globe & Anchor graphic on the back as he lounged with his soon-to-be brothers near the front desk.

A couple of his fellow recruits came from Marine families and they told him he shouldn't have worn that shirt, told him he'd get "extra attention" for it from the Drill Instructors. He brushed them off with a confident "My recruiter said it's okay."

I couldn't help myself. I blurted out with a laugh, "Yeah, and what did you do to make your recruiter hate you so much?" His buddy from the same town agreed, saying that it was obviously payback for them having eaten all the recruiter's food all the time. But the recruit was unmoved. His fellows and I imprecated him with both jokes and earnest suggestions, but all to no effect. Did he really want to be noticed the first day of Boot Camp? Apparently so...

Wondering if perhaps I'd been making too big a deal of it, I talked to our director, formerly a senior NCO within the recruiting and training command for the Marines. He said there had been some efforts to change things, then promptly picked up his Blackberry. I heard him ask for "Sergeant Major _____" as I gave him privacy and went back to my work.

A few minutes later he strolled past the front desk, Blackberry still clutched to his ear. Mildly exasperated words escape as he passed--something about "off on the wrong foot." He rummaged around in a closet in the back, then walked back across the room holding some white fabric in his hands. Blackberry still attached to his ear, he threw it gently at the recruit without a word and without breaking stride.

I laughed along with everyone else who had seen it happen. The kid unfolded the fabric to find an unadorned t-shirt, then looked at me questioningly. I shrugged, "He obviously thought you could make use of it..."

The errant recruit set it aside and returned to his confident and disinterested air.

Twenty minutes later, the young man had shown no sign of making use of the new shirt. Maybe I'm just soft-hearted, but I decided to make one more effort. "What you do with that shirt is entirely up to you, of course," I told him casually. "But I just wanted to make sure you had enough information to make an informed decision. Do you know anything about the guy who gave you that shirt?"

He didn't. I told him the position the director had held in the Marine Corps until a few months ago. "I asked him whether you really shouldn't be worried about wearing the USMC t-shirt, and his response was to pick up the phone and call the local MCRD's current Command Sergeant Major to check," I said.

Eyes got big. "What did the CSM say?" he asked, displaying a bit less of the easy confidence he'd exhibited before.

"I don't know. But the end result was that he decided to give you that shirt. Food for thought..."

I shrugged and tried to look light and friendly. "Like I said, it's your choice. I just wanted to give you information so that you can make an informed decision."

Five minutes later I turned around and he was wearing the new t-shirt. One of the recruits called out, "He's trying to decide what to do with the other shirt. I say he should just leave it here." Other recruits began to offer their suggestions, demonstrating that they'd already given the kid a well-deserved nickname.

Again, I couldn't resist. I smiled my warmest, most earnest smile. "Well... since you seemed so intent on being noticed, I think you should give it to the DI as a welcome present when he arrives to pick you up. You know, show him how much you appreciate him." The boys just about fell off the couches laughing, including the recruit in question.

Yes, I'm bad... :D

And it's fun!

*There was once this spring when my radar failed me. One afternoon, a dozen or so lieutenant JGs came through in groups of twos and threes. They were not in uniform, but I was surprised that until I saw their IDs I had no idea they were naval officers (which I can usually spot a mile away). Finally two very relaxed and upbeat young men came in, all smiles and friendliness. I immediately pegged them as naval officers and greeted them with, "What is this, LTJG/ENS day at the USO or something?" They informed me that all the other young officers coming through were here for carrier qualifications (first time landing on a carrier).

"Ah ha," I said, "That explains why they I didn't pick up any sense of swagger when they came through the door... they're all nervous. But how come you two are obviously feeling so good?" Turns out they were just there to observe; it was going to be a little while before they had the joy of attempting something a normal human brain would say is impossible/insane. As for me, I was just relieved to see my naval aviator/officer radar wasn't entirely haywire.

And yes, then the two young men--surely a decade my juniors--proceeded to flirt with me. I got brave and blurted out (with a friendly smile), "Tell me, why is it you guys have to flirt with every female that crosses your path? Is it covered in basic flight training or something?" Without skipping a beat, one replied, "Yup. It's required." The other quickly deadpanned, "It's in the Pilot Code. We have to flirt with all the girls."

And then they both just stood there, eyes twinkling, grinning at me.

Of course.