At ease, sailor

I was recently paging through a Reader’s Digest and came across an anecdote in the Off Base section of the magazine. That’s the part that features little funny moments that revolve around military life.

The anecdote was about a man who was promoted to colonel and asked to speak at a squadron commander’s meeting. When the man walked into the room, everyone snapped to attention, including the newly promoted colonel. After an uncomfortable few moments, a lower ranked officer nudged the colonel and reminded him the standing at attention was because of his presence.

It made me chuckle, because it reminded me of my own reaction to seeing people salute my husband Eric while he was in the U.S Navy.

Eric spent seven years as a boiler technician, working down in the “pit” of the various ships he was stationed on. To put a fine point on it, decorum down in the pit was pretty low on the list of important things. They were more concerned with stuff not blowing up and making sure the ship would go. Eric came home greasy and smelly and looking like a gutter snipe, which is a nick-name for boiler techs.

The last three years of his active duty, he served as a company commander at the Great Lakes Naval Training Base in Illinois. From nasty denims to starched whites. It was not an easy transition. For either of us.

Having joined the service at age 18, Eric was in his mid 20s when he became a company commander, which is the army or marine equivalent of a drill sergeant. Suddenly there were a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old recruits saluting him everywhere we went. It gave me the giggles every time.

“Look it, honey, they’re saluting you,” I whispered one day as we were walking across the base.

“I know,” he answered, barely restraining the urge to roll his eyes. I know this because I can hear that in his voice.

I found it strange that people would salute the guy I’d been hanging out with since the ninth grade. It gave me a different perspective on what he did all day while I was at home kid-wrangling. I was scrubbing floors and handing out kool-aid, and he was being saluted and ordering people around.

On a side-note, guys that push boot (act as company commanders) tend to get real order-y after doing it for awhile. It made for some interesting moments between daddy and baby. Guess who doesn’t follow orders? A 1-year-old. Guess who doesn’t take it well? Daddy!

Other than the salute thingy in Illinois, our first real brush with the higher-ups in the service was the day Maggie and I stopped on the ship to bring Eric a lunch he had forgot, or say hi, or something like that. Mags was about 18 months old (she’ll be 24 on Sunday, so this was a while ago) and she was dressed in the sailor outfit Daddy had bought her — the navy colored blouse with the kerchief around the neck. Even little shiny black shoes.

As we were standing on the gangplank (or whatever they called it) waiting for Eric to come up from the boiler room, there was a flurry of activity on the dock. The captain of the USS Barney DDG-6, Eric’s ship, was about to come aboard with his entourage.

I tried to melt into the background, but it’s a ship. Not a lot of room. I contented myself with just pretending to be invisible, but as the captain walked past, Maggie made herself known.

“Hi!” she bellowed and reached out to grab some shiny brain on his uniform. Eric appeared around the corner just in time to see his captain grabbed by his baby daughter. Eric and I both froze, but the captain just laughed, stopped to flirt with Maggie a bit, said something to me (I have no idea what – my brain was not in gear) and walked away.

In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I was pretty frozen. If not, I might have thought I needed to salute and dropped the kid in my attempt to do so. Or poked out her eye.

It’s always fun until someone loses an eye.