Mama Told Johnny Not To Go Downtown

NOTE: I wrote the following a few years ago, shortly before shipping off to OCS. While a bit dated, it’s still good advice for any prospective Officer Candidates.

There’s an old running cadence (See: Jodie) in which a concerned mother warns her son not to venture into the urban population center of some unnamed city because the big, bad recruiter was hanging around. The song is reminiscent of the days of Vietnam, when you could walk down to ye olde local recruiter’s station and be on a bus headed for one of the happiest places on earth the next day (See: Parris Island, Fort Benning, Great Lakes, etcetera). Unfortunately for those still gung-ho about a military career these days, it’s no longer that easy.

With all of the talk of budget cuts and drawdowns, the military is starting to lower the amount of accessions they take on. What this means is, that yours truly has had to fight an uphill battle of sorts to get in. At present count, it’s taken three applications to Annapolis, three for a contract with Naval ROTC, and two tries with applying for direct accession (See: O C S). Luckily, I managed to snag a spot on my second try with the selection board. What has followed my selection (Called “Professional Recommendation”) has been a mountain of paperwork, a thorough investigation into my lengthy medical history, and a security clearance background check. Much to my chagrin, the Navy Medical Community has proved to be rather ornery and sticklers for tidy paperwork. I can’t say I blame them, seeing as how their approval could mean that I will be lent the keys to a pointy-nosed, fire-breathing, fighter/attack aircraft. It is not a decision to be made lightly.

I must say though, that the experience has been very much like that of wooing a woman. Just like courting a fine lass, the military has multiple hoops that a man must jump through in order to prove himself worthy. There are reams of forms and boiler plate that cover all kinds of topics ranging from your birthplace and citizenship to your education background and religious preference. All of this paperwork is then submitted to the selection board which is composed of men and women who hail from the warfare community that you are applying to join (I selected Student Naval Aviator, naturally). You see, when dealing with direct accessions in the Navy, you must apply to a specific warfare community (Surface Warfare, Submarine Service, Civil Engineering Corps, Special Operations, etcetera) and if they have an opening for you and you are qualified, they will accept you in. It’s not dissimilar from applying for a job working for General Electric or Ford.

Once you have secured a professional recommendation from the board, the real fun begins. The two major hurdles standing between the selectee and his final orders to Naval Station Newport are an extensive security background check and a visit to the wonderful world of MEPS (See: Military Entrance Processing Station). The background check is to ensure that you are a trustworthy enough individual to be allowed the supreme privilege of handling the country’s secrets. Naturally, it covers employment history, places of residence, citizenship information, and whether or not you’ve ever been a member of an organization dedicated to the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Ironically, there is a section asking about any contact you may have had with anyone of foreign disposition. The questions are run of the mill: Do you have any foreign contacts? Have you advised or supported foreign businesses? Have you ever had contact with officials of a foreign government? The answers available gave me a chuckle, though, as the respondent has the ability to answer “Yes,” “No,” or “Official Govt. Business.” Your humble author was mightily tempted to check the latter option, seeing as how he is a fan of literature of the cloak and dagger variety.

If the applicant is not yet exhausted from amount of paperwork required to apply for a security clearance, then he will undoubtedly be fatigued by the ordeal that is a standard MEPS visit. MEPS pairs the joys of paperwork with the excitement of a thorough medical examination. Contrary to popular belief, the rumors of the dreaded “oil check” are greatly exaggerated. Anyway, MEPS takes an exceedingly long time, and even more so if you have a lengthy medical history.

Once you have been blessed by Navy Medicine and whatever shadowy organization performs security background checks, you receive your Final Select letter which is the document where one signs their life away on the dotted line. And as soon as you place your John Hancock on that piece of paper, you’re property of the U.S. Navy.

So what advice do I have for those trying to make it as a Naval Officer? One, don’t ever give up hope. Two, document everything, because you never know when you might need a piece of documentation to prove something.

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