Yesterday, I met a few Naval officers while climbing. They were ex-roommates who had just graduated from the Naval Academy last week. Both of them were Destroyer Officers (SWO) and were on the way to Europe on leave before going to San Diego for more training. We didn’t chat for too long, but it reminded me of the life I almost had.
During my senior year of college, I was going through the enlistment process to join the Navy. I had previously talked with the Marines and was in the Army ROTC program for a few weeks, but that’s another story. With my college degree, I would have enlisted at at E-3 rate, which would have paid barely enough to cover my student loan bills. I went through the process, got my medical records sent in, passed interviews, passed the physical readiness test, and got through the medical processing. I took the ASVAB test with all the high-school students who didn’t have many other options available. Since I was more educated than the test accounted for, I scored in the 99th percentile which qualified me for any job.
After waiting for hours, I was called in to meet with the career advisor. He told me that everything was full except for the Nuclear Propulsion Program. The deal was, 4 years active service then 4 years inactive reserves. I’d go in at an E-3 rate with a $15,000 bonus. I would attend about 2 years of training to learn all the Nuclear Propulsion systems, specifically on the subs. I could make more money when deployed at sea, and more on top of that if I was on a sub (which I would be). After leaving the Nuclear Program, I would (supposedly) be recruited immediately to make six-figures utilizing my training in the private sector. I could travel the world and get paid to do it. My Criminal Justice degree paired with actual military experience would have opened doors in the Federal agencies. The top-secret clearance I would get could have ensured a high-caliber government position. Materially speaking, it would have worked out quite well.
Looking back, I’m not entirely sure why I decided against joining the military. It would have made a lot of sense and my life would be in a much more reasonable place right now. While it would have been a good move, I’m not convinced it would have been the best possible decision. The fact remained that it would have been just a job to me. A means to achieve what I was looking for and pay my bills. Trouble is, to live on a sub for months at a time, to put myself through difficult training and live a high-intensity, physically demanding life for years, I would have to really want it. And I didn’t.
Thankfully, I had a reasonable recruiter and we talked about my leaving the program before shipping to Basic. He agreed that if I didn’t really want to join the military, I shouldn’t. The military isn’t a job, it’s a life. Unless I could commit to that lifestyle, I had no business pretending that I could. Later on, I went through the process to join the Navy as an Officer (and actually use my degree). I decided against it again for similar reasons.
Even though I will probably always look back at what my future could have looked like, I don’t regret my decisions. I maintain that it would have been a good call, but not the best one for me.
Of course, I write this from my parent’s guest room two years after graduating, still living in a part of the country I’m trying to leave. So my life hasn’t worked out any better thus far.