Big Country asks why people would join the Navy. He asks, I will explain. Back when I was in high school, I took the ASVAB. That sucker is widely considered to be the best vocational aptitude exam ever. I got one point short of a perfect score. The only section that I didn’t get a perfect score on was called “speed coding.” It was the section where you are given a decoder sheet of random letters, an encoded message, and are asked to decode it for time. I missed a perfect score by a single point. IIRC, a perfect score at the time was a 99, and I got a 98.

So as a result, the offers poured in. Now I was one of those guys who had known that I wanted to serve for as long as I can remember. I was young, naïve, and loved my country. With this being the Reagan years, and being a kid raising himself on a diet of Heinlein, Mack Bolan, and the like, I wanted to serve. But where?

  • The Coast Guard wanted to send me to the academy and make me an officer. I would have owed them 8 years of service.
  • The Army was going to make me a Warrant Officer and a helicopter pilot
  • The Marines wanted to train me as an avionics repairman as an E3
  • The Navy wanted to make me a Nuclear Power plant operator for 6 years, with a rank of E4
  • The Air Force wouldn’t promise me anything in advance, sign up for 4 years and take your chances

As an 18 year old, I wasn’t ready for the 12 year commitment of the Coast Guard. The Air Force worried me, as I didn’t want to wind up as a wing washer or a cook. My father convinced me that the Navy would teach me skills as a power plant operator that I wouldn’t get in the Marines. He said that Avionics repair in the military was just swapping one black box for another. I took his word for it.

So it was between Army and Navy. The Navy recruiter’s pitch sounded sooo much better. What I didn’t know at the time was that the Navy was having difficulty filling the ranks with people who had done well on ASVAB because the Air Force was taking all of them. That’s why the AF didn’t have to make promises or offer big promotions.

So how did the Navy fix that? They promised all sorts of money, tech school, and promotions. Once you were in, they found every reason that they could to wash you out of the two year long training pipeline. The only program in the Navy with a higher washout rate is the SEAL program. That way, they can fill the ranks with smart people who otherwise would have been lost to other branches of the service. That’s why the washout rate is over 80%, even though the Navy claims its only around 10%. When I was in boot camp, one in five recruits were nukes, but the vast majority wouldn’t make it. This was before Top Gun made everyone think they were going to be a pilot and sleep with hot chicks while thumbing your nose at officers from the motorcycle you would ride down the runway.

I was washed out of Nuclear Power School and sent to the fleet. For what?

The school had a policy that you were assigned a study plan. The minimum GPA to remain in the program was 3.0. There were three levels to the plan: Voluntary, Suggested, and Mandatory. Being assigned suggested 16 meant that they suggested you study 16 hours per week. What we were learning was classified, so all studying had to be done in the classroom. Your notes had to stay in the classroom. Study hours were 2 hours a night Monday through Thursday and eight hours a day on Saturday and Sunday.

I had a GPA of 3.4 and was assigned mandatory 20. Another guy in my class was assigned voluntary hours, but his GPA was 3.2. When I asked about the disparity and pointed out its unfairness, I was told “That’s as good as I think he can do, but I think you can do better.”

Being a rather immature 18 years old, I wasn’t about to submit to this injustice and study 2 hours every weeknight plus six hours each on Saturday and Sunday, so I didn’t do it. Like I said, I was immature. Not only that, I don’t get a benefit from studying like that. I’m not that sort of learner. Not making excuses. It was immature and stupid on my part, but that is how washouts happen. They regularly catch people for various offenses and send them to the fleet. Someone has to mop floors, clean spaces, and serve officers their dinner as waiters in the officers’ mess.

So I went to NJP, was dropped from E4 to E3, got booted from Power School, and sent to the fleet, becoming what Navy people euphemistically call “Nuke Waste.” I was shocked when I arrived at my command, an aircraft carrier, and more than three quarters of the 200 non-nuclear electricians on board were nuclear waste. I still had a minimum of four years left on my enlistment. The guy who had been on voluntary hours? He got washed out the same week I did for drinking underage, also as an E3.

I spent nearly two years mopping floors, doing dishes, cleaning, and generally being untrained labor before finally being promoted back to E4. I spent the entire time wishing that I had taken the deal to be an Army helicopter pilot.

Does it come through that I am bitter? It should. I think that the six years I spent in the Navy was wasted time that I could have better spent elsewhere, although I know that college at the time would not have been a good idea for me. (Immature, remember? I would have found some other way to get in trouble.) Still, we make the best of where we find ourselves. I’ve done OK. I still discouraged my own kids from joining the military.

Categories: Me


oldvet50 · May 2, 2023 at 7:55 am

I came of age when Vietnam was raging and it was get drafted into the Army or join another branch (my family could not afford for me to get a student deferment). Since I heard that the Navy could be out to sea for months at a time (NO GIRLS!), I chose the USAF, or chair force, as it came to be known. Since I scored high on all their tests, my recruiter said I could have just about any job I wanted. (That was another running joke back then….”My recruiter promised me…”. ) Since I did not know I was color blind, I was not allowed to become an Air Traffic Controller, so they made me into a cop. The upside is, since I was color blind, I would not be allowed to continue that profession as a civilian. It all worked out – I didn’t go to Nam – I lived through it to go to college under the old GI Bill and I still have fond memories of the time I was forced to serve. BTW, thanks for your service since you are young enough to have done it by choice without the threat of the draft.!

Bigus Macus · May 2, 2023 at 9:01 am

I went navy as well, I had an ASVAB of 98 and ended up in the Advanced Electronics Program, with 6 year commitment, a friend warned me not to go nuke. My rating was DS (data systems technician) a computer repair of the day. I spent 2 years at Mare Island CA going to CSTSC (combat systems technical schools command. My first assignment was CVN70 and later CV66. I got out at six and went to work for Sperry Univac. Later I went civil service and just recently retired with over 40 years working for the Navy.
Joining the Navy was the best decision I ever made next to meeting and marrying my wife of 35 years.

Big Country · May 2, 2023 at 9:58 am

Yo DM!
Damn man… the fickle finger of fate… That sucks. I’d heard stories like that as you and I joined around the same time. For me it was, quite honestly, I don’t like to swim where ‘stuff lives’… surfing is one thing, but as I aged, I realized ‘entering the food chain’ wasn’t my bag. Goes sort of (in my head) like this:
BC IN NAVY: BC on boat, Boat sink, BC in water, shark in water. BC now in shark, The End.
BC IN ARMY: BC on land in truck, Truck blown up, BC goes back (if not blown up w/truck) Gets new truck. Charlie Mike. The End.
Much preferred to take my chances on land as opposed to sea… sorry you got screwed man…

    Divemedic · May 2, 2023 at 12:27 pm

    Forgot to mention- Top Gun came out right after I joined. It was crazy how many people joined so they could be like Maverick.

Anonymous · May 2, 2023 at 10:56 am

Same here, but earlier in the 70’s. Good scores, AF recruiter never in his office, Navy guy with lots of promises. Signed for 6 but I don’t remember anyone getting washed out of Nuke School (Vallejo). I think they were really desperate for new nukes. In the end, running a reactor was boring, so I got out at the 6-year point. Never worked as a civilian RO, but the tech training was a good foundation for engineering. The unfairness of your situation is galling. Now that they have all gone woke, I no longer recommend the military to anyone. Very worthwhile blog. Thanks.

    Divemedic · May 2, 2023 at 12:15 pm

    If you went to NNPS in Vallejo, you likely joined in the Carter years. The Navy didn’t have staffing woes then, because the military was being kept small. I joined under Reagan, when the USN was hurting for people in an expanding service.

Anon · May 2, 2023 at 11:01 am

I would say that a third to half of the EM’s on the Enterprise while I was onboard (81-85) had dropped out of the nuclear power program. The funniest thing to me was the ones that made it to the boat and reenlisted for another 2 years for the $14k? bonus.

That money was spent in a couple of months.


Vitaeus · May 2, 2023 at 11:22 am

Sad you felt it was wasted time. I did sub service as a nuke electrician. Thirteen and out. Stopped being enjoyable. Should have left at ten. Served in the 90s, the navy changed from do the job, to do well on inspections. Did some amazing and unique things. Agree I don’t want any of my kids to serve, it isn’t worth it anymore.

    Divemedic · May 2, 2023 at 12:22 pm

    The reason I say that it was a waste is that being a Navy electrician gets you nothing. No one accepts it for anything, as most Navy stuff is obsolete garbage. We still had amplifiers with vacuum tubes, for crying out loud.
    So I spent two of the 6 years as a glorified janitor, with most of the rest of it learning how to do things that don’t translate to the civilian world: PMS, passing ORSE, damage control, doing NAVSEA paperwork, etc.
    I did get an NEC as an electric motor rewinder, but there aren’t many jobs doing that outside of places like Detroit. My other NEC (electric motor controllers) is obsolete stuff that no one uses any more.
    Once I got out at 24 years old, I found myself years behind where I would have been, and didn’t wind up attending college until I was 30 years old. I would have been better off working a McJob for 2 or 3 years until I grew up and matured enough to go to college.

EN2 SS · May 2, 2023 at 12:11 pm

No tests for me in 1968, I did visit the Air Farce Lackland base. I chose the Navy, did Boot Camp in San Diego and took all their tests. I deliberately failed the morse code test and the typing test for good, to me, reasons. They spent a couple of weeks trying to talk me into Nuc Power school in Idaho, turned it down. In Boot Camp I requested Engineman A & B School and went to Great Lakes for that. Requested Sub school out of there and was sent to New London for that. Requested a Diesel Boat in Charleston, went there. Promoted to E-5 within three years, hazardous duty pay from the day I reported onboard for duty, even though I spent the first 3 months as a mess cook. Boat was involved with the Scorpion search, sad but exciting for a non-qual.
Several of us were sent our draft notice to report while in Boot Camp. Most, if not all, were promised that we could be anything in the Navy that we were smart/good enough to qualify for it. I may be the only one that asked and received all my requests, but I doubt it. And yes, some I know were seriously screwed from day one, I guess some pencil pushing asshole just didn’t like the way they looked.
I thank all for serving in all capacities, you’re welcome for my service, I enjoyed the hell out of it most of the time, was scared shitless several times and finally lived through the worst of it. ;-))

Skyler the Weird · May 2, 2023 at 1:26 pm

In Army ROTC they let us choose our best five choices for MOS and duty post. I choose Armor, Air Defense Artillery, MP, Or Ordnance, or Finance. I ended up with my very last choice: 11B, straight leg infantry. Needless to say I was not a happy camper and didn’t last long in Jimmy Carter’s winding down the post Vietnam era army.

JNorth · May 2, 2023 at 2:43 pm

I’m like the Jimmy Buffett song, Son of a son of a sailor, my dad was a radioman in the Navy during Nam and his dad was an officer in the Army transportation corps (the second largest naval force at the time) during WW2 and a commercial fisherman in Alaska after the war (only ever had two deckhands, my dad then me).

So I was a sailor before joining, I started commercial fishing at 12, like farming there are no child labor laws if its family. I signed up with the delayed entry program during my junior year of high school. I went to boot camp and FC A school in Great Lakes then TAS C school in Mare Island (TAS is the search radar for the Sea Sparrow system) then spent 4 1/2 years on the USS O’Brien (DD-975) out of Yokosuka, Japan. Overall I had a good time, did three gulf deployments, pulled into 14 countries. Probably should have transferred to a stateside ship before getting out but, eh, wouldn’t have made that big of a difference.

The electronics used when I was in were on par with most commercial stuff, the only tube in my system was the traveling wave tube for my main amplifier and they are still used for some radars, it was about a foot in diameter and 4 feet long, specialized tubes like that still do things solid state cant do.

I got out in ’98 when all the dot.coms were crashing so I figured (correctly it turns out) that there would be a glut of electrical engineers looking for work so I went with Mechanical Engineering but ended up do Civil work (highways, bridges, etc).

Unknownsailor · May 2, 2023 at 6:34 pm

I served USN for 20, 1994-2014, and I was in supply, no NEC at all for 20 years. 2 time rating merger victim AK -> SK -> LS (Logistics Specialist), 3 time uniform change victim.
I was good at my job, but I never particularly liked it.
I scored an 87 on the ASVAB, and got suckered into coming in undesignated. I got lucky and got overseas shore duty for a first duty assignment, so I was able to strike for a rating before I got to a ship, so I avoided most of the glorified janitor stuff. I still got to do my mess attendent time, and I was in security for a bit, but I spent most of my shipboard time actually doing my job.

    Big Al in Georgia · May 2, 2023 at 7:47 pm

    I enlisted in the USN in 1970. Don’t remember my ASVAB score but it was good enough to go into the Advanced Electronics Program. I went to ETA school at Great Lakes. I was assigned to communication side so I was an ETN-3 when I graduated from ET school. My first duty station was at the Naval Communications Station in Asmara, Ethiopia. I worked at the Gura transmitter site that was in the middle of nowhere. I worked on transmitters and the microwave system. After an 18 mount tour, I came back to the states and went to a couple of crypto schools. I was stationed on the USS Salinan, ATF-161, an ocean going tug. Served 2-1/2 years on the Salinan. Went all over the Caribbean and one North Atlantic cruise. Got out after six years, started college and joined the reserves. The reserve unit I was in repaired R-390 radio receivers that came from the fleet. Got out of the reserves when I graduated college. My dad, a WWII sailor and a chief told me that I wasn’t in the real Navy, I agreed with him.

    I thought the Navy was fair, they held up their end and I held up my end of the bargain. I thought ETA school was pretty hard with a 50% drop rate.

KurtP · May 2, 2023 at 9:15 pm

Went in in ’80 wanting to be a BU (because that was what my grandpa was). Took the ASVAP and got an 89 and the recruiter started offering me NUK, FC, ET and other high skilled rates.

I told him “No, I don’t want to be on a boat. That’s why I want to be a Seabee.”
He told me there were no openings for BU, but they have some for a CE but there was a two month wait. I said fine, let me sign.

Great Mistakes for boot camp, Orlando for BEEP school and Gulfport for A school then to the best Battalion in the NCF NMCB 133. Never been out of work unless I wanted to be.

Iwoots · May 2, 2023 at 9:48 pm

Member of the proud 90% attrition rate. August 1986 through April 1987 in Orlando for boot camp, and then EM “A” School. Got dropped 2 weeks before getting that ‘push-button’ crow, and the extra year that went with it.

Most of the electricians and a fair number of the machinist mates aboard the Lawrence DDG4 were former Nuke school (not sure about the ET’s as I didn’t hang out up there); including some guys who were just shy of graduating, but got sent to the fleet to finish their full 6 years.

Tsgt Joe · May 3, 2023 at 9:04 am

Barely graduated High School in ’67. I went to work in an auto factory, not having any idea what I wanted to do with my life. Took the Air Force tests and aced them, but didn,t follow through. early 68 I get a notice to report for my draft physical and ran over to the Air Force recruiter begging to be let in, I was willing to take anything. In basic I received orders to go to “metal processing” school. Turns out metal processing is welding, heat treating and electroplating. I spent 12 years in the AF and was up for E-7 when I got out. It was get out or lose my kids. The last 6 years I took advantage of the educational opportunities available. I got an associates, then knocked out my bachelor and had 1 class toward my masters. Took a few years to get settled on a career.

EN2 SS · May 3, 2023 at 11:37 am

Just FYI:

It’s officially in the shitter, now.

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