I totally respect the young men and women who put themselves in harm's way. I don't always approve of why they are sent there, but I do respect them for going. But I have an evil secret to admit- I resent the hell out of them.

Maybe for you to understand that, you need to know a little bit about me. In 1994, I graduated from high school with an thorough briefing from all my parents, teachers and what not that not only should I attend a US Service academy, but it was my birthright to do so. I remember being just a little mite and hearing the tales of honor and debauchery told about the Naval Academy, that was a few short minutes from the home where my Mother spent her teen-aged years. I also remember my Dad telling me that I would never be allowed to join the Marines, as it was my duty to him, having had lousy advice and joining the Marines at 18, to make an officer of myself.  I was told by my 9th grade guidance counselor that I shouldn't join the maritime science classes, those were for blue collar kids, I needed to take drafting classes as thats where engineers came from.

In short, I got some very bad advice and applied to and was accepted at the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1994.

The few days I had between getting out of High School and reporting into the Academy were spent on the Outer Banks of NC with my family and a young blond girl in a stars and stripes bathing suit. Those few days were magical and the launching off to a career in the service seemed so ultimately perfect.

When the time came for me to head back to Connecticut my Dad drove me home and I said my goodbyes to my high school friends and watched "An Officer and Gentlemen" as my Dad thought it would be good birth control for me against all the girls who would try to hook me once I was an officer.

And so on July 13, 1994 at 8AM in the morning, I brought my 10 pairs of boxers, shaving kit and change of civilian clothes with me to the front gates of the United States Coast Guard Academy and reported to the Cadet Commander that I was ready to become an adult and join the Military.

That summer was AWESOME! I played sports daily, ran obstacle courses with shouted words of encouragement from my platoon mates, marched in formation and got up at dawn to job around the the perfectly manicured grounds of the New London Coast Guard installation. During the days we would sit in official sounding classes like "Leadership Principals" and "Your Body and You". Energetic, bright faced service personnel who were trying to be mean, but just couldn't find the heart to yell at a sweet faced 18 year old kid who scored 1550 on the SATs, would lecture us about being sure to wash our crevices and what life would be like once the school year started.

There was also the Officers who thought very highly of themselves and walked among us lowly cadets as Generals looking over their troops in preparation for battle. Mostly they were junior grade officers who got a plumb assignment before they were to be shipped off to Washington, but they, like us felt we were at the top of our game and we had the world by the balls.

For the most part the summer was a time to learn and sweat. In 95 degree heat with 90 humidity we climbed on one another in dark closed in companion ways, pretending ship was going down while a cadre would spray us down with hose water before telling us to "hit the Deck and give me 50". Dutifully, me and 25 other guys and 4 females would slosh down on the linoleum, slipping and bleeding on the concrete, but never quitting for fear we would let down our classmates.

As hellish as it seemed, I really loved it. But like all good things, the time had to come when it ended and when we returned from a cruise aboard the USS Eagle, we would be officially part of the Corp of Cadets, no longer "Swabs", but real Fourth Class Cadets.

The school year was an entirely different notion. Rather than march in formations of 50 or 100, we marched in small groups of four or five, as Fourth Class were not allowed to walk alone across campus. We also were not allowed to eat normally, but had to eat what they called, "Square meals", a process of looking straight ahead while not sitting back in your chair. Your body was to be one fist away from the table and as you brought the fork up from your plate, you had to make a perfect 90 degree angle from your plate up to your mouth. While you were trying to sustain yourself in the proper form, you were also expected to provide the upperclassmen with a continuous supply of food that was brought in family style to the table by non-english speaking civilian contractors. I lost 10 pounds the first week of school.

By October the air had cooled and classes had become a bit more regular. Up at 5 AM daily for formation, then to breakfast, then to classes on navigation, english and chemistry, a short lunch, back to class for the afternoon, and then I would head down to the waterfront for sailing practice, (I had a dream to sail in the America's Cup one day). While on the waterfront, I was allowed to be normal. Most weekends we would sail off to a yacht club race where the club would feed us and get us drunk. While away we were treated like real people and the rigors of cadet life were allowed to remain back at the Academy.

Every once in awhile a tough-assed officer or firsty would lay into you if you wandered too far from the path, but for the most I was too afraid to ever step out of line. I never touched a beer or got dirty or for that matter even talked to a girl. I was always afraid I would get caught and get demerits, which I was told was miserable. You were forced to spend a Saturday marching in circles in the Quad if you messed up bad enough, and I pledged to never mess up, a lesson I should have learned sooner, is impossible in that environment.

Despite the semi-comfortable patten I tried to adhere to, things seemed to be going wrong for me. I was losing weight like gangbusters and had constant headaches. I began going to the Medical facility a couple times a week complaining of chills and fever, and a constant pain in my forehead. A Captain who was supposedly a psychiatrist informed me that I had a sinus infection and that I needed to be on Antibiotics. Everyone at the Academy was on some pill or medication. We all had a stack of bottles that we dragged around with us to meals and the head, that kept us going one more day. And after enough One more days, they supposedly would graduate you and you would go out into the fleet as an Ensign and set for life. So the pills made sense.

The pain didn't really go away and the antibiotics didn't really help, but my nose started running all the time. Thick cloudy, yellow mucus caked my pillow at night and clogged my throat.One day, to stop the running  nose, the Captain ordered me to take a super powerful decongestant to dry up my sinuses. That afternoon, the pain went from bad to worse and soon I could not fit my hat on my head as my forehead began to swell.

The following morning I reported to the clinic, my eyes swollen shut, my ears pounding from a loud ringing and my nostrils packed tighter than the lead that filled the muzzle of my drill rifle. The Captain sent me to bed and for five days I layed in bed in agony. On the fifth day, my dad came to visit me and I was unable to raise me head. Tears streamed down my face and I think I had an ashen appearance. I could really tell, because I was half blind from the pain and my glasses wouldn't fit over my enlarged face. But by the sound of my Dad's voice, a man who never once said he ever loved me ever in my life, he sounded panicked and when I heard him down the hall threatening to call a his senator. He sounded pissed and I knew I was in trouble.

I was rushed across the river to the Navy Hospital where a talented young ENT surgeon performed an x ray on me. He said my sinus were collapsing on themselves and the infection was invading my cranial cavity. He wanted to do emergency surgery to relieve the pressure and drill a hole through my eye socket and into my skull. I was on a morphine drip at that point so they could have amputated my head and I wouldn't have cared. But when I woke from the surgery, I could feel my nose packed with gauze and a straw hung from my left eye socket, but I was in no pain for the first time in at least a month.

Three days went by, and Columbus day passed. They removed the straw from my eye and a big bloody mess drained from my nose. Each day I felt a bit better and by the time the leaves had fallen from the trees, I was allowed to leave the hospital and ordered by the Navy Doctor to go home for three weeks to recuperate as my sinus could perforate with even the slightest strain. The Coast Guard Doctor ordered me back to duty.

Sure enough, two weeks later, I was back from another emergency surgery. The wound wasn't healing and the infection spread to the other side of my face. The head of the Coast Guard Medical team, a Captain Burke came in my room one day and asked me what the problem was. I said, "Captain, my sinus are collapsing". He nodded and walked out. A corpsman came in and told me to get dressed, I was going back to the dorm.

With a bag full of antibiotics and my newly acquired scars, I wandered back up the the barracks and tried to resume my classes. It was almost Christmas and I was so far behind that I thought I would likely have to repeat some of my classes, but I was told there was no need, it would just put us behind. They gave me B's across the board and I was sent home for a few days at Christmas.

Once home, I really couldn't relax. I polished brass, ironed my shirts and shined my shoes every minute I could get.  When I wasn't prepping for drill, I was trying to heal, popping the antibiotics as ordered. When I returned from Christmas to the Academy, I had a new problem, in addition to my chronic sinus infection, I also could not go to the bathroom.

To make a long  story short, the sinus infection had become drug resistant and my colon was devoid of any living bacteria due to being on antibiotics for six months. The Captain who my father argued with came in and told me one day that I was to be put up for a medical board to determine if I needed to have my intestines dissected and a colostomy bag installed. I was 18 years old, I weighed 118 pounds, I couldn't really walk any more let alone run, and six months prior to that I was running 10 miles a day and doing 100 push ups. Something was wrong I needed to get real medicine to get it checked out. I was forced to leave the Academy and resign my position.

Two weeks after I returned home under the care of a real doctor, I had gained five pounds and could sit up by myself. My head no longer throbbed with pain and guess what my colon started to work again. I wasn't really sick after all, I just need some proper care, But unfortunately to get it, I had to give up a pension, a college degree, a lifetime of privilege and benefit and I had to become a civilian to do it. I tried several times later in life to rejoin the USCG or Navy, but there was always a reason why I wasn't acceptable any more. But now that I'm on the verge of being too old to join the military, I think back at what I could have had if only I had known then what I know now. And every time, I see a commercial for how proud we are as Americans of our service men and women, I'm brought back to my time in the Military and wonder if I had just enlisted in the first place, would things have been different.

 

Published by Christopher Richard