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Humor in Uniform

Just to flip the coin a bit... here is a bit of the other side of military service. Most of us have read or heard war stories, and at one time or another watched movies by the dozen that hammered home the bleak and bloody side of warfare. There are few TV shows and movies that show another side of life in the military. Lest you get the idea that time in the military is dull and dreary, or just a series of unpleasant experiences, allow me to recount a few of the more humorous events that took place during my Navy days at Mare Island, located across the bay from San Francisco. I spent the majority of my time in the service attending advanced electronics and Talos missile tech schools at the Naval Schools Command on Mare Island.

The Schools Command was host to many naval personnel who came from different countries around the world. There were South Vietnamese, Argentineans, South Koreans, Frenchmen and Germans, among others I couldn't discern where they came from. American sailors have always been proud of our uniform, the way it looks and fits. But our uniform is rather drab next to the flashy uniforms worn by some of the other nation's Navies. A lot of the foreign sailors dress uniforms had more brass and gold braid on them than our own beloved U.S. admirals. At times it was difficult to tell foreign enlisted men from their officers.

New U.S. sailors, and some officers straight out of OCS who were taking advanced electronics classes at the school spent their first few weeks wearing their right arms off at the shoulder saluting every foreign enlisted man they passed. Eventually we learned to tell the difference between the officers and lower ranks from the foreign countries. Needless to say the foreign sailors got a big kick out of all the salutes they were receiving. And they always returned our salute, adding a big ear to ear grin to it. Often we could hear chuckles.

Of all of God's creatures, sailors hate seagulls the most. Starting in boot camp we came to loathe them with a passion surpassing the most virulent hatred ever known to mankind. Standing in the hot sun on the grinder, wearing a freshly washed set of dungarees and white hat, a sailor is the number one prime target for every seagull within 50 miles. In boot camp they delighted in dropping clams and other shelled bombs on us. Getting hit in the head with a hard shellfish gives one a serious headache. Then there was their proclivity for dumping their waste products on those same uniforms. They seemed to take extra special delight in dropping their poop on sailors wearing dress blues minutes before inspection.

After leaving boot training and attending Advanced Electronics and Talos Missile School at Mare Island, one course we took was in the use of Navy radar systems. We were shown a safety film concerning those systems. The film demonstrated some of the hazards radar has aboard ship – intense microwave radiation can explode light bulbs, ammunition and cook you from the inside out before you know it. The film gave us a brilliant idea on how to get even with our feathered nemesis. After receiving enough instruction we soon became proficient in operating the radars. During training we noticed the system was sensitive enough to lock on and track a seagull.

The hapless bird didn't know what was happening to it as the radar beam followed his every maneuver. The gull would swoop, climb, dive and careen through the air trying to get away from whatever it was that was making it feel hot. Then the wings would flutter weakly and the bird would drop out of the sky, cooked from the inside out.

We could always tell when someone locked onto a gull. A quick look at the radar antenna would reveal the dish making short rapid up and down and side-to-side movements while it tracked its victim. Another look around and we could spot some poor gull going through a series of aerial acrobatics. Technically, it was a forbidden activity but all of our superiors looked the other way. Officers hated the gulls as much as we did.

True, service in the military can be dreary and deadly. I can't speak for every service man or woman, but all my comrades and I were able to find humor and reasons for releasing the pressures and tensions of our circumstances. Granted, those who never served in uniform sometimes find our sense of humor a bit raw and coarse. When duty puts your life on the line anything that brings a sense of relief and a smile is welcome. There are some Americans today who need to quit getting so out of shape emotionally they have to destroy property. So calm down and develop a sense of humor. Everyone's life would be better.


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