When I joined the Navy, I was an idealistic young man who joined for patriotism, and not college money. It was a time when so many were joining because they wanted the GI bill. Not me, I declined it. I wanted to serve.

The military and the way that it works taught me more about life, government, and country than I ever bargained for. You get used to hearing things like: “We don’t care about your family. If the Navy wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one.”

One of the worst things that happened to me while I was in was an indirect result of the Navy’s beneficial suggestion program. This was a program where a sailor who saw waste, fraud, abuse, or a way that the Navy could save money, could make a report to the chain of command. If the Navy adopted your suggestion and saved money, the sailor making the suggestion would get a percentage of the savings.

In 1989, there was an explosion on the USS Iowa. In the case of the Iowa battleships, there was a flaw in the firing system. The silk making up the 50 pound bags that the gunpowder comes in were famous for leaving embers behind in the chamber of the 16 inch guns. Ramming them into the breech too quickly while those embers were still there was a recipe for explosions. They had been known to cause mishaps in those guns for decades.

However, those cannons were a huge PR point for the Navy, providing tons of photo ops and bragging rights for recruiting commercials. So when the Iowa had an explosion, instead of blaming a faulty process in a 50 year old weapons system and hurting their recruiting tool, they blamed a sailor who they alleged was a jilted gay lover.

The Tailhook scandal broke in 1991. It was such a huge deal that they made everyone in the Navy take sexual sensitivity training. Officers were exempt, which was ironic, since every person involved in the Tailhook scandal was an officer.

Back to the beneficial suggestion program. So the Navy had light fixtures that lit up the runways. These light fixtures were low voltage, with a transformer that stepped the power for that fixture from 120 volts down to 12 volts. The light fixtures would often fill with water, and this would short out the transformer, overheating it. The overheated transformer would then catch fire. I submitted a suggestion with a redesign of the circuit.

I was told that the command could authorize an award of up to $500, and my idea would get me more than that. It was so valuable that they were sending it to Atlantic Fleet command. A month later, I asked the Lieutenant what had happened to my idea, and he told me that LantFleet could only authorize an award of $5,000, and this was worth more than that. They were sending it to Navy Sea Systems, where my award could be as much as a million bucks. Wow!

A year later, we went into the shipyards for a 6 month long repair cycle. While we were in there, I helped the yard workers incorporate my changes into the ship’s runway lighting circuits. I asked why we were performing this change, and where my reward was. They said, “what reward? This was the lieutenant’s idea.” The lieutenant that I had brought my idea to wound up getting a sizeable reward from the beneficial suggestion program.

By the time I got out, I was often heard to say, “Oh, you don’t like my attitude? It’s the one I was issued.” I left the Navy wiser, more cynical, and less trusting of government than I was when I entered as the idealistic, patriotic believer that I was when I entered. I was still patriotic, but I had discovered that my government and the people who worked in it were not.

Categories: Military


Joe Blow · May 18, 2023 at 5:22 am

Your experience is not unique to the Navy, or any branch of the military, nor just the United States. Its human nature. People will fuck other people over for fun and profit.
Congrats, you’re now an adult. Its called coming of age. I’m doing it to my kids early so they don’t get fucked over in their early teens/20s like most people.

Bristol Stomp · May 18, 2023 at 5:36 am

Pappy wrapped up his 30+ year career in Philadelphia at the Army/Navy base in the late 1980’s.
As I helped him lug heavy green boxes in some NJ hole he said you sign up for this and I will beat your ass to a pulp.
If it only gets worse also zaps the CPUSA (D) right out of existence then it will be worth it…if there is anything left.

dc · May 18, 2023 at 5:53 am

I did 20 years 10 months and 29 days. Can you tell what I thought of the whole Free The Non-rates experience? I served with Heroes and villains. I’m glad to make them pay me monthly for the rest of my life.

dave in pa. · May 18, 2023 at 2:55 pm

yeah, I reup to change careers, I was a grunt the first time. went to X-ray school. anyway, did the training and then got sent to some hell hole of a hospital. 55 bed and I was the only tech for 2 months. I fucking lived in the damn clinic ! had a major try to write my ass up for sleeping at the desk. then the hospital co
told him I was it. the only tech 24/7 until they got more people in.
after about 2 weeks or so, you start loathing the people who come in with a stub toe after hours. and then after 4 months I got passed over for E-5 for some dumb shit.
any kid that asks me about the military I tell them the truth
once you raise your right hand, they fucking own you !
do as you told or get fined or prison ,sometimes both.
and he a fun bit, when the NCOIC came in, he was not on the duty roster. I still hate that asshole today. I pulled call every 3 fucking day there. and if you worked the night before, you still
had to come in and stay until 1300 hours- his rules
I think I spent more money on gas than I did on food back then.
anyone else remember RED, WHITE AND BROKE ?

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