Why Don’t You Join the Navy?

This entry was contributed by Terry Greel, Sr. as part of the “Sentence That Changed Me” series…

Why don’t you join the Navy?

January, 1976. Shortly after graduating from high school with a certificate in auto repair, I was working in a service station pumping gas and doing small repairs on cars. The most important things to me were my girlfriend, partying, and fixing up my 1958 Chevy sedan delivery wagon. It was brutal, working outside in the cold and having very filthy hands at the end of each workday. Took me 20 minutes of scrubbing and the backs of my hands were still black in the creases–not ideal when you’re going to pick up your smoking hot girlfriend to hang out with for the night.

My girlfriend, my friends, and my car kept me distracted from a rather chaotic home life, a life I shared with my Mom, stepdad and two brothers. My mother had remarried my stepdad a couple years before. He was a career Navy man working his way up from the lowest enlisted rank to the officer rank of Commander after 24 years in. It was my mother who first asked me – Why don’t you go in the Navy like your oldest brother? I think she wanted to get me out of the house too. 

October 1976 found me in the same situation, living at home, but things were about to change. I found out that another guy at my job was getting paid more than me, even though he was only pumping gas and I was doing repair work. I had an auto repair certificate that I earned in high school so I felt like I should be paid more. I asked the owner of the place for a raise and you know what, the bastard fired me! Months later, I did manage to win an arbitration hearing against him for unemployment payments. At the same time, one of my best friends signed up to join the Navy in its delayed enlistment program. He was going in next August, two months after graduating from high school. So he asked me, why don’t you join the Navy too? He had signed up for a special 6-year program to learn advanced electronics. I decided that was a great idea, to get a new vocation that didn’t involve having to scrub your hands like crazy all the time! 

The Navy wasn’t easy but I graduated with honors from the training, and advanced to the grade of E-5 faster than most of my peers. Another benefit from the Navy was further developing my leadership skills–skills that came naturally to me. The training and experience I gained from working aboard ships for four years was tailor made for my current career. Although the Navy was good for me, I hated being out to sea. I knew I could not make a career out of it. I started at a company in Gloucester called Varian right after leaving the Navy as a system level technician. 34 years later I’m still there, but have moved up to being a Production Manager. I manage about 100 people now. I make a good living and I’m looking forward to retiring at the fairly young age of 62. All that, and my hands look nice and squeaky clean right now as I type this little story….

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