For Parker…

I’m going to do something I seldom do—give advice. In fact, I try to never give unsolicited advice, it will be ignored. However, I am making an exception this time.

Parker is a young man who just graduated from high school. We, his friends and church family, have watched him and his brother and sisters grow up. Parker is the youngest of the four.

He has made a significant decision for his life, one I approve. He will has enlisted in the Navy. His boot camp will be at Great Lakes Naval Training Center starting next month. He has been preparing for boot camp for a year. I believe he will do fine.

But that is not what I will be giving advice…no not advice, that’s only worth what you pay for it, let’s call them ‘suggestions.’ My suggestions will be focused at that time when boot camp is over, when A-school and further training is over and he is at his first duty assignment.

Parker, until you have reached this point, you’re going to be busy—very busy. Doing well in training is important. It can make all the difference in your later naval life.  The most important thing to learn…is how to learn, how to be a self-starter, how to be a self-trainer, how to teach yourself. It is a skill all too many never acquire.

Boot camp is to be endured. My initial Air Force training was over forty years ago. I was unprepared even with years of AFROTC training. I just kept my head down and finished training as quickly as I could. I believe you, now, are in a much better position that I was. Endure boot camp, excel in A-school and in B-school if there is one.

Now, you’ve finished training and you are at your first assignment. What is the worse thing of being at a duty assignment, ashore or on board ship? Boredom.Even with a routine of eat-work-eat-sleep-eat-work, you will still have hours of time to pass. Ashore, you’ll have friends who will want to party every liberty, every weekend. Who are they? They are the ones who get written up come Monday morning, who will appear before Captain’s Mast, who gather at the ship’s store after duty hours…doing nothing. And being bored, looking for something to do.

Don’t be one of those sailors.

Instead, do something productive. Training doesn’t end, now it is OJT, On-the-Job-Training. Excel there, too. Take extra OJT training if it is available, always be working on one, it matters not if it is for your current grade, or the next one. Unless things have changed radically since I was in, your can’t be promoted until you have completed OJT requirements for your current grade. Always be working on ones for your next promotion and on the ones after that.

Still have time on your hands? Learn a new skill. I don’t know how well you did in school, nor how well they taught grammar (if they did.) Learn to read well, and just as importantly, learn to write well. You will always be writing and knowing how to do that and make what you write be understood easily, is another skill that will do you well throughout your life. If you need help, sign up for a class through the base or ship’s education office. There are many, many classes available by correspondence. If you have a shore assignment, there are classes available, through the base, in nearby civilian organizations.

If you have a long-term plan for life after the Navy, take courses that support your plan. The Navy will help pay for outside training. There is a lot available for little or no cost if you look for it.

Money—don’t waste it. There are credit unions on every military base. Set up an account and have payroll make an automatic deposit every payday. Tithe as you can, and remember to tithe to your self. When you leave the Navy, whenever that may be, you should have a sizable sum to help you shift to civilian life. (And don’t, ever, buy a brand new car as soon as you complete training. If you need a car for a weekend, rent one. When I was in the Air Force it was common to have a couple of car-rental agencies on base.)

Learn how to handle your money. The Navy will cover most of your cost of living. Make a budget and never go into debt. There will be many who will try to sell you stuff, stuff that puts you in debt, a lot of debt. Don’t do that. If you can’t pay in cash, you don’t really need it. Look at your friends. Which of them are always broke, which ones aren’t. Pay attention to those who aren’t and watch how they handle their money. Don’t be a sailor who runs out of cash four days before payday.

My primary suggestion for you is to never be or get bored. Always have something to do, whether it is directly for your rating or for something else. You never know when some isolated bit of knowledge suddenly becomes pertinent.

I’m sure a number of my readers have been in the military much more recently than me. Some, I know, were in the Navy and others in the other branches. I would ask they comment and contribute their suggestions as well.

What I do not want for you, is for you to complete your enlistment and leave the Navy with nothing more than completing an obligation of citizenship. Military life can be very beneficial. It can provide you with a number of opportunities. It can also be very hazardous. Life isn’t safe. But, you have an opportunity to make life better with a few appropriate decisions made at the right time.

Do well, Parker. Keep in touch as you can.